Isabell Werth, World No. 1, Coming to Omaha Seeking 3rd World Cup Title
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Mar. 21, 2017
By KENNETH J. BRADDICK
When Isabell Werth rides Weihegold OLD into the World Cup Final arena in Omaha next week as the globe’s No. 1, she will be seeking a third title a quarter century since first holding up the trophy and a decade after a second success.
The career of the 47-year-old mother that has already set the bar higher than any equestrian in history is showing no signs of slowing down any time soon with a stable full of horses so talented she could field her own team at world championships and won more Olympic medals than any equestrian in 104 years of horse competition at the Games.
The competition at the 32nd final of the annual championship, however, will be what title holder Hans Peter Minderhoud of the Netherlands describes as “really tough.” He is looking to repeat with a brilliant new freestyle for Glock’s Flirt.
The 29-year-old Laura Graves on Verdades already No. 4 in the world will be vying to make it tougher by looking to become the third American World Cup champion–Debbie McDonald, her coach, was the first on Brentina in 2003 and Steffen Peters on Ravel won in 2009 and is back with Rosamunde.
Isabell, one of whose titles came in the United States at Las Vegas in 2007, is keenly aware of how home town support could help Laura.
“I know she’s in great shape,” Isabell told dressage-news.com. “For sure she’s one of the favorites, especially at home with her home crowd. She will be very motivated to compete there.
“We Europeans,” she laughed, “will try to make it as hard as possible.”
The two will share the spotlight in another awards ceremony in Omaha–Laura as the 14th rider in history to be admitted as a member of the “80% Club” created by dressage-news.com to honor riders that achieve that score at Grand Prix, Isabell will be feted by becoming the first to achieve the 80% on three different horses–Bella Rose, Weihegold OLD and Emilio.
And there’s Carl Hester, the ultimate gentleman of the sport who coached Britain’s entire 2016 silver medal Olympic team as well as competing on Nip Tuck, ranked fifth in the world. Germany’s Jessica von Bredow-Werndl, who took bronze on Unee BB in the 2015 Las Vegas Final wants to make a splash before taking a break to have her first baby, expected in August.
It’s 28 years since Isabell competed in her first championship, on the team that represented then-West Germany to win gold at the 1989 Europeans. Her first Olympic gold came three years later on Germany’s team at the Barcelona Olympics.
Then, the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta where she won both team and individual gold. Twenty years on. Isabell has earned six Olympic golds and four silver medals, seven world championship golds and two bronzes and nine European golds, three silvers and one bronze.
The rivalry with Anky van Grunsven during the 1990s when the Dutch rider won five of her nine World Cup titles is widely credited for keeping alive interest in dressage.
She has maintained a high profile over the past three decades, sometimes with horses that she has ridden to keep her in the Big Tour competition arena even if not at championship level.
Right now, though, she may have more horses at the top or on their way there than at any time in her career.
“Now I have a really great situation because I have a few top horses and behind the top horses there are two or three younger top horses. In the shadow of the really top horses they can improve and grow up. So you have generations you try and improve the sport.That makes it very interesting. You don’t have to wait for something.”
Among the horses in her lineup:
Weihegold, 12-year-old Oldenburg mare on whom she won team gold and individual silver in Rio last year is her choice for Omaha and ranked No. 1 in the world; Emilio, 11-year-old Westfalen gelding her World Cup backup; Don Johnson FRH, the 16-year-old Hanoverian gelding with 2013 and 2015 European Championships on his resumé, and Belantis, a German Sport Horse at eight years old performing at Small Tour.
And Bella Rose, the Westfalen mare that Isabell rode to second place behind Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro in the Grand Prix at the 2014 World Games but has been out of competition with a fitness issue since the end of that year.
Isabell told dressage-news.com she expects to return to competition this year with Bella Rose, still only 13 years old and her first 80 per cent mount, followed by Weihegold and Emilio.
“We take our time,” she said, “we start really slowly. With training I really hope I can bring her back. I don’t want to say the plan is July or August or September. First, I want to have a really good feeling at home that she is back before I bring her back into competition.”
What keeps Isabell striving for more success in the show ring?
“You never become bored with our sport,” she.explained. “There’s always another answer, another question, other difficulties that come with different levels of horses.
“That makes it so exciting; to see how can I solve this problem, which key do I have to find for this?
“It’s completely different to other sports and athletes. After 10 years in the pool I’m sure you get tired in your mind… maybe you don’t want to be in the water any more.
“This is a completely different process. It makes it different and exciting. This is what I really love to do—to find talented young horses and improve them. I could spend the whole day and watch young horses to see which one I would choose, which one I would try and then to improve it.”
She gives so much credit to Madeleine Winter-Schulze, who owns most of her horses, and Christine Arns-Krogmann, the owner of Weihegold who has partnered with Madeleine.
“I’m really happy,” Isabell said, “the result of long term work and a really great team starting with my owners, Madeleine and Christine Arns-Krogmann and the team around us that makes the whole package work very well. The horses are in top form.
“Every morning I pray they stay healthy and I keep on going.”
Asked how much longer she wants to keep riding at the top level, she said:
“I can’t tell you the date when I will stop and finish my career. I’m in the last quarter. At the moment, the horses are at a really good level. I really enjoy to compete. I try to organize everything around my family and my friends so I can manage both sides.
“As long as it works like this I’m really happy. But we all know it can change quickly.
“I’m on the way to building a strong team. Hopefully there will come a time when they can be independent of me and I can start to compete less and start to let my younger team come to the front.
“I have some talented riders but it will need a bit more time to bring them to the top level.”