Isabell Werth Personifies German Dressage Excellence
Over the years, Isabell Werth has personified the German code for excellence in dressage – “to combine the leg and the seat into the hands to form a connection with the horse”. She is the most decorated equestrian Olympic rider of all time with ten Olympic medals to her name. She has had a plethora of amazing horses with which she has, and continues to win at international level. She is the current number one and two ranked rider on two different horses in the FEI world ranking list.
Isabell Werth was born in 1969 in Sevelen, in the Rhineland where her parents had a farm. She was surrounded by horses at the farm and started riding at an early age, five in fact, on ponies. It was not long before she was winning ribbons. As a teenager, Isabell was more keen on showjumping and eventing, but at 17 years of age, she was invited to ride dressage horsesfor Dr Schulten-Braumer, an industrial steel manager, but also a keen dressage aficionado. Despite, still being at school, and very intelligent with it, she jumped at the opportunity. Not only was the good doctor a good judge of a dressage horse, he was also an excellent coach. Under his tutorship from 1986 to 2001, Isabell got the ride on Gigolo FWH, her first major title winning machine. She won the European Championships in 1991 before collecting another gold medal at her first Olympics in 1992. In 1996 and 2000, the combination won further golds at the Olympics. They also won further golds at both the European Championships and at The World Equestrian Games in 1998. The pair won ten gold medals at Olympic, World and European international level before Gigolo was retired.
Isabell was an intelligent girl, as we have already said. While she was continuing with her riding, she obtained several A levels and went to university where she studied to become a lawyer, a feat she finally achieved in 2000. After disagreements with Schulten-Baumer’s daughter Ellen, Isabell decided it was time to move on from the 76 year old Doctor’s yard. Still working as a lawyer and combining this with her international riding commitments, she moved to Madelaine Winter-Schultz who was based at Mellendorf near Hanover, with four of her rides. She also moved jobs to become a freelance modal and legal advisor to her new yard owner’s company Karstadt AG. Finally, in 2004, Isabell gave up her jobs and founded her own stables back in her birth town of Sevelen. Of her two mentors and her equestrian life thus far she said “I’ve been lucky to meet the right person at the right time not only once, but twice in my life. It was the Doctor who helped me to get to the very top and Madeleine Winter-Schulze then enabled – and still enables – me to stay there.”
Between 2004 and 2008, Isabell went onto have further international success with Satchmo 78 winning medals at The Olympic, World Games and European Championships with the help of Warum Nicht FRH, who collected a gold at the World Cup in 2007. However, the wheels, for the next few years started to come off the wagon. This was not helped when Werth was accused and found wanting with regards to two separate doping offences. She was banned by the FEI for six months following a positive dope test on her ride Whisper in 2009 and again was foul of the FEI in another doping incident, this time with El Sancho in 2013. The German authorities increased the ban on the rider in 2009 by another six months as they said that the drug found in Whisper was one used in humans for mental illness to provide a calming influence, with the same results proven in horses. This they said could very well be dangerous to the horses’ welfare, therefore they had no choice but to ban Isabell from any international qualifying classes during their suspension.
By 2014, these unfortunate incidents were behind Isabell and the real onslaught in her career was about to begin. It started at The World Equestrian Games in that year with a new ride she had bringing along as a young horse, Bella Rose 2 where she helped the German team gain a Team Gold by getting a score of 81.529%. Two years later in 2016, she brought out another protégé, Weihegold OLD, an Oldenburg bred mare winning the first of many international classes, including Team Gold in the Rio Olympic Games and an individual silver. This horse just got better and better as in 2017, the pairing won the gold at The World Cup with a massive score and one which had never been seen before of 90.704% in the Grand Prix. They went on to top the charts by winning both Team and Individual gold at The World Equestrian Games the same year. A year later, there was a repeat performance. Weihegold OLD again won the World Cup with a score of over 90%. and again Isabell took golds in both the team and individual event at the European Championships, but this time riding her other, by now, world famous horse, Bella Rose 2 a Westphalian bred horse, yet another mare. Now Werth had two rides which were both world beaters in their own right. Since the World Cup Final in 2017, Isabell has been unbeaten in any of the major world championships winning no less than eleven gold medals. All the wins have been with Weihegold OLD and Bella Rose 2. Werth has been helped of course as competitors like Great Britain’s world record holder, Charlotte Dujardin, without an international ride, following her wonder horse Valegro’s retirement and this has given Isabell rather a free run.
In 2020, Isabell, like all professional riders in all equine sports have had the most hideous year with all the major competitions including the Tokyo Olympics being either cancelled or postponed. What will happen in the next year or two is anyone’s guess, but we can be sure that Charlotte Dujardin is putting a rather sumptuous collection of international rides together including her youngest Grand Prix horse KWPN Dutch bred horse Gio, possibly even better than the famous Valegro! She also has Mount St John Freestyle, who just before the lock down, was ready to be unleashed onto the world stage.
Other riders are waiting in the wings, many of them from Isabell Werth’s own country Germany. Dorothee Schneider has Showtime FRH and fellow German, currently in world number three behind Isabell, Jessica Von Bredow-Werndl with TFS Delera. When dressage events start properly again, hopefully in the early spring of 2021, there will be many queuing up to take the dedicated, passionate if rather one minded German rider’s crown.
Isabell once said that the biggest thing she enjoyed about horses was “I enjoy the independence to take my time to train and shape my horses, to let rhythm guide me” Perhaps that would be a good mantra and lesson for all young aspiring riders?