What is life like with the world-famous dressage stallion, Totilas? Just 12 months ago if you asked German A-Squad member Matthias Rath what he would be doing this year, he would be one of the last to tell you it would involve riding Totilas, the most famous dressage horse in the world. But after the dressage stallion was sold to Ann Kathrin Linsenhoff and Paul Schockemöhle, Totilas' reins were handed to dressage rider Matthias Rath. Fresh off his hattrick with Totilas at the 2011 CDIO Aachen, Matthias Rath had a chance to sit down and talk with Dressage Today about how things have changed since the record-breaking dressage stallion came into his life under the ownership of Ann Kathrin Linsenhoff and Paul Schockemöhle.
Dressage Today: How have things changed for you now that you are riding and competing the dressage stallion Totilas, now under the ownership of Ann Kathrin Linsenhoff and Paul Schockemöhle?
Matthias Alexander Rath: For me, it changed a lot in the beginning. In January, I moved for four months with five dressage horses to Paul Schockemöhle's to train with Totilas. It was a big change to live somewhere else. Since then, everything is focused around him. Even now, we ride Totilas first and everything happens with him first. There is also a change for me in public. For example, we were at a show and when we went to leave, there were 50 people outside clapping just because Totilas was coming out of his stall.
What is a typical day like for you?
I finished [my degree in management studies at Goethe] University [in Frankfurt] one month ago, so the day has changed a little bit now. Before, I rode in the morning and then went to university and then went to ride in the afternoon. Now I start at 8 a.m., riding big training sessions with walk-trot or hand-walking again in the afternoon. Totilas is the first in the morning, but I have six or seven horses that I ride every day. Now that I have more time, we will try to get seven or eight in for the winter, but we also have to do office work at home so I have no more time than that.
Does your new schedule include teaching or are you focusing on training right now?
We have some [Young Rider] students my father and I train at our stables. I like to train other people. That is something that can grow in the next year as well.
Do you see yourself expanding into other aspects of the sport?
Every rider has to think about the judging, but I do not see myself as a judge. Maybe when I am older, but there are many years until I will think about that. What is really important [when I am not riding and competing] is organizing events. I am involved in the World Cup in Frankfurt and helping with that. Since 2002, when my stepmother's foundation [the Ann Kathrin Linsenhoff United Nation's Children's Fund (UNICEF) Foundation] started, the whole family has organized events for UNICEF at home. My parents went to Asia to see where the money goes, and hopefully next time I can go. I really want to see that and what we do with it because I think it is really important. The life we have is good and that is not normal in Germany or the rest of the world. There are children that don't have that money to live from, and it is important to help them however we can.
Editor's Note: Rath serves as an official ambassador for his stepmother's foundation along with his three mounts, Sterntaler UNICEF, Triviant UNICEF and Renoir UNICEF. According to the foundation, "Ever since the four-legged ambassadors have entered competitions with UNICEF affixed to their name, the prize money that they win goes to the Ann Kathrin Linsenhoff UNICEF Foundation."
Many people talk about the pressure you are under, riding the most famous dressage horse in the world. How do you handle that?
My family is the most important part of my team, but there is no pressure. I have worked with a sports psychologist since 2008, and he is really good. I also bring a physical therapist to every show to help me get ready. Also at the shows, I sit in the lorry, just alone, before the test for 30 to 45 minutes. I always do my exercises the same, as a routine, before getting on a horse. When I do them and they are always the same, this calms me down and this can be more important than their benefits for warming up.
You seem to have a very comprehensive approach to yourself as an athlete. How does that translate to how the horses are prepared for competition?
When you are a rider you cannot just sit on a horse and ride. We always work with therapists and acupuncture, so there are many things we look at when we think of the horses. Every detail matters, down to things like feed. For example, Totilas gets three feedings of hay each day, and that is really important. He also gets pellets and muesli and in the evening he gets mash. He really likes mash. He also gets electrolytes when he needs it and minerals.
Speaking of Totilas, what is he like around the barn?
It is hard to take the star power away and think of him as a normal horse. Even without his success, he is a horse that would have a lot of expression. When you come to him, he is so self-confident but he is not arrogant. He is friendly to everyone. For a stallion, he is breeding a lot but he is concentrated when you work him. When you shorten the reins, he is completely focused on your aids. Not just at a show, but also at home. That is amazing to ride a horse that gives everything for you. He is more than a horse to the family, he is a really good friend.
What advice would you give to younger riders who hope to pursue dressage competitively?
Sometimes things change really quickly. One year ago in Kentucky, I didn't have a clue what this year would bring. Never give up and always be open to criticism. We analyze the ride every day and it is important that you look at yourself critically. Remember each horse is unique. See into the horse. They are all different, so be patient. They all need time, and you have to take the time to teach them. Don't put too much pressure on them.
In the future, do you have plans to come to the United States to compete at any of our shows?
I have never competed in a show in the U.S., but I was with my stepmother when she went to [the World Cup in] Las Vegas. Because America is such a big country and it is hard to see a big international show every weekend, in Las Vegas I had the feeling that people were really into it and clapping their hands to the music. Here in Europe, they only clap at the end. That was fascinating for me to see and I would love to ride in the U.S.—perhaps to show in Florida during the winter season.
If you enjoyed hearing from Matthias Rath and would like to read the complete interview with more behind-the-scenes photos of Totilas, the full interview was originally printed in the October 2011 issue of Dressage Today. To gain up-to-the-minute access to all Dressage Today has to offer, consider subscribing.