She’s called the dressage queen for a reason. Germany’s Isabell Werth has the honor of being the most decorated equestrian in Olympic history with 10 medals, and an additional 9 Dressage World Championship medals, and 13 European Championship medals. Not only will she be attempting to add yet another win to her illustrious record in Omaha, but she’ll be giving her first-ever symposium on U.S. soil.
A native of Rheinberg Germany, Werth began riding at the family farm, never anticipating the incredible journey she’d take in the sport of dressage. “I started riding on our family farm and joined the local riding club. I did all the normal activities as a child until I was lucky enough to be able to ride for Dr. Schulten-Baumer. That is when my career as a dressage rider really started,” says Werth of her early days on horseback.
Prior to her distinguished riding career, Werth studied law while simultaneously riding for Dr. Schulten-Baumer, the renowned trainer who also coached Nicole Uphoff to Olympic stardom, and would follow that time with a two-year stint in a marketing department. “It was after that time that I really decided to make riding my full-time job,” says Werth of her decision to dedicate her livelihood to dressage.
Since Werth began snatching up medals in the early 1990’s, she’s seen many great horses and suggests the breeding and development of these horses as athletes has been the biggest change to the sport of dressage. “The sport has changed at lot mostly due to the quality of the horses. Careful breeding systems have been developed during the last 20 years; both the standard of movement and rideability has improved,” says Werth.
Werth has had a number of top horses, though perhaps none match her past and current superstars, Gigolo and Weihegold OLD. With Gigolo, Werth achieved unfathomable success: winning nearly all of her championships from 1992-2000 with the liver chestnut Hanoverian. Her current star, the striking Oldenberg mare, Weihegold OLD, is quickly catching up to the star power of Gigolo. Weihegold was Werth’s partner in Rio, where the “dressage queen” managed to surpass Dutch rider Anky van Grunsven’s record of 9 Olympic medals. “Both of those horses [Gigolo and Weihegold] have super minds; they are athletes who want to move with an extraordinary potential,” says Werth of her current and former top stars.
Also coming into his own this season is Emilio, with whom Werth won a Western European League qualifier in Gothenberg and placed 2nd in ‘s-Hertogenbosch. Werth admitted Emilio had once been so difficult he’d faced an uncertain future, but with a little patience he’s budding into a star. “It was as if he could see something out of the corner of his eye when you tried to get in the saddle. He was terrified and would go crazy. He nearly went to heaven,” Werth said at her post win press conference in Gothenberg. Werth admits she’s still deciding on her Omaha mount, though both Weihegold and Emilio are at the top of the list.
When asked what keeps her inspired at a sport in which she’s held every title, Werth simply says, “I love horses, the movement, the partnership. My passion is to build up horses to Grand Prix level. In our sport you never get tired.”
For those interested in obtaining a bit of riding wisdom from the German star, there will be a symposium on March 31st at 3:00pm local time (purchase tickets here). Werth will be demonstrating the journey horses take from their early careers to the Grand Prix level. Viewers will watch four horses at different stages of development as Werth explains the stepping-stones required to navigate up the dressage ladder.
Whether watching the freestyle or the symposium, dressage fans are sure to get a treat watching the legendary star in Omaha.
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By Ashley Fairfield-Remeza
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