Isabell Werth With Most Championship Horses in History Has Biggest String of Career for Possibly More Titles

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Isabell Werth (right) with German team gold medal members Fabienne Lütkemeier, Kristina Sprehe and Helen Langehanenberg at the 2013 European Championsips. © Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
Isabell Werth (right) with German gold medal team members Fabienne Lütkemeier, Kristina Sprehe and Helen Langehanenberg at the 2013 European Championsips. © Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

Feb. 18, 2014

By KENNETH J. BRADDICK

Isabell Werth has trained and ridden more horses to championships than any other rider in dressage history and with a bigger string of horses at any time in her career she has a shot to add to the record of titles created over the past quarter century.

The German superstar, at 44 years of age and raising her young son, Frederik, has four Grand Prix and one small tour horses to build on the legacy of 32 medals, including 24 golds at Olympics, world and European championships as well as World Cup titles, that is unmatched in the sport.

And in 2016 she may have a chance to add another Olympic gold medal to match the six won by Reiner Klimke of Germany in his total of 23 championship medals, 20 of them gold.

At the same time, Isabell is dealing with stubborn insistence by the leadership of the German federation to impose a six-month suspension after the medication cimetidine that is prohibited in competition in Germany was detected in El Santo NRW in June 2012.

Isabell Werth and El Santo NRW. © 2011 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
Isabell Werth and El Santo NRW. © 2011 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

Seeking to clear her name and fight her own federation leadership that rejected expert testimony and sought to prejudice public opinion has been both distracting and massively expensive.

“I would be lying if I said it did not affect me,” she told dressage-news.com. “The last few years have been very stressful. However, it is a question of honor to fight for a clean sport and my clear name.”

Some of her team mates and Fendt, the agricultural equipment manufacturer that sponsors German teams to the tune of €1 million (US$1.37 million) a year, have spoken out on the record in support of Isabell. Most recently, a German court ordered the federation’s secretary general to quit making prejudicial remarks.

The cost to Isabell so far?

“Unfortunately, we have now reached a high six-figure amount,” she said.

Isabell has dealt with setbacks before, including a harsher than expected six-month suspension in 2009 for use of a medication that was not performance-enhancing to treat Shivering Syndrome in a small tour horse she was competing. She accepted the penalty although it was more severe than sanctions imposed on five jumper and one dressage rider whose horses were found to have banned substances that were performance enhancing at the 2008 Olympics.

Isabell’s career was legendary long before the era of social networks created instant celebrities, made more so for the rivalry over many years with the Netherlands Anky van Grunsven that has been credited with providing much required respiratory support for international dressage.

Her four current Grand Prix horses include three 13-year-old geldings, Don Johnson, Hanoverian; El Santo, Rhinelander, and Der Stern, Oldenburg, and the baby of the bunch, Bella Rose, a 10-year-old Westfalen mare.

She rode El Santo on her nation’s bronze medal team at the 2011 Europeans and in the 2012 World Cup Final and with Don Johnson was on the 2013 European Championship gold medal squad and in the World Cup Final the same year. As with Satchmo, Warum Nicht and other of her mounts, all are owned by Madeleine Winter-Schulze.

Isabell Werth riding Don Johnson FRH. © 2013 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
Isabell Werth riding Don Johnson FRH. © 2013 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

How does Isabell think of her horses?

“Don Johnson can be compared to Kevin in the film ‘Home Alone.’ He finds it very amusing to buck around at the start of his work. Luckily he is very concentrated when he comes into the dressage arena and now always tries his best. I think it is very important to allow him to be like this, although I do have to hold on tight sometimes when he bucks!

“El Santo is completely different. He is very uncomplicated and well behaved, but more introverted than you think. He is the perfect gentleman!

“Bella Rose is a diva. She has a certain aura about her even when she is in the stable. She is a lovely person who always wants to work. She has everything an extraordinary top horse needs.”

Compared with her long line of championship horses–“Bella is definitely one of the best horses I have ever ridden. She loves working and has all the qualities needed to become one of the best horses in the world. She is just brilliant, a diva who inspires you!

Isabell Werth on Bella Rose with Edward Gal on Moorlands Totilas in the warm-up arena in Munich in 2010. © Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
Isabell Werth on Bella Rose with Edward Gal on Moorlands Totilas in the warm-up arena in Munich in 2010. © Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

“Stern was injured for a really long time. Even though he will probably not have such a big career as the others, I am very happy that he has come back into top sport again.”

Although Bella Rose began international Grand Prix only last May, in six starts at three shows she won five times and came second on the other occasion with all but one score at Grand Prix and the Special above 75 per cent.

She will be prepared along with Don Johnson and El Santo to seek a place on Germany’s team at the World Equestrian Games in Normandy, France at the end of August.

As all three horses will still be young enough, they also will aim for the European Championships at home in Aachen, Germany in 2015 and the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.

Bella Rose with Isabell Werth. © 2013 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
Bella Rose with Isabell Werth. © 2013 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

Some career highlights of Isabell and her horses:

Weingart (1989 European Championships)

Gigolo (1991 Europeans, 1992 Olympics, 1993 Europeans, 1995 Europeans, 1996 Olympics, 1997 Europeans, 1998 World Equestrian Games, 2000 Olympics)

Fabienne (1992 World Cup Final)

Anthony (1999 Europeans, 2000 World Cup Final, 2001 World Cup Final, 2001 Europeans, 2002 World Cup Final, 2003 World Cup Final)

Satchmo (2003 Europeans, 2006 World Equestrian Games, 2007 Europeans, 2008 Olympics, 2009 World Cup Final, 2011 World Cup Final)

Apache (2004 World Cup Final)

Warum Nicht (2006 World Cup Final, 2007 World Cup Final, 2008 World Cup Final, 2010 World Cup Final, 2010 World Equestrian Games)

El Santo (2011 Europeans, 2012 World Cup Final)

Don Johnson (2013 World Cup Final, 2013 Europeans)

Isabell Werth. © 2008 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
Isabell Werth at the 2008 Olympics. © Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com