Isabell Werth on Isabell Werth and Her Horses

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Isabell Werth and Bella Rose, moving rapidly to the top. © 2013 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
Isabell Werth and Bella Rose, moving rapidly to the top. © 2013 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

By KENNETH J. BRADDICK

Isabell Werth believes she has the best horse of her life in the developing Bella Rose that she is aiming for the European Championships this year but is sad that her own federation continues to press drug charges that could stall adding to her record of more Olympic and championship medals than any dressage rider in history.

With a record of championship success going back well over two decades, the 44-year-old mother of a young boy sees herself as maybe in the middle of her career but “still really enthusiastic to improve young horses and bring them up in the sport, if possible to the highest level. This is my big goal.”

But for the second time in four years she is under a cloud of one of her horses testing positive for drug use, a charge by the German federation that she is fighting and that some of Isabell’s supporters believe will end up in court rather than remain within the organization.

And although her fan base is global and loyal she is being tarred with using “rollkur” in training horses that she firmly dismisses, especially as most of the complaints are from critics hiding behind anonymous identities on social networks.

Isabell was her usual candid self, playing down the giant-sized figure she has has been for almost a quarter-century accumulating a total of 31 medals, including 23 gold at Olympics, world and European championships since 1991 as well as a World Cup title in 2007 and four reserve championships. The late great Reiner Klimke won 23 championships medals, including 20 golds.

And she waves off with a smile references to the years when she and Anky van Grunsven were such stars that their stature was credited with saving the sport, with Isabell riding a succession of top horses from Gigolo, Antony FRH, Satchmo and Warum Nicht FRH.

“I don’t see myself like this,” said Isabell who got a law degree but gave up the practice after a couple of years to focus on riding. “I am not so old. I see myself as maybe in the middle after a lot of years in thr sport, a lot of experience.

“I haven’t lost my emotion and love of horses. I still feel really enthusiastic to improve young horses and bring them up into the sport, if possible to the highest level. This is my big goal.”

Don Johnson FRH, the 12-year-old Hanoverian gelding (Don Frederico x Werona x Warkant) on whom she placed fifth in the World Cup Final in Gothenburg, Sweden last month continues to improve as one of her two Grand Prix mounts, the other being El Santo NRW, a Rhinelander gelding and also aged 12 that she rode at the 2012 World Cup Final in the Netherlands as well as on the silver medal-winning German team at the 2011 European Championships.

Isabell Werth and Don Johnson. © Ken Baddick/dressage-news.com
Isabell Werth and Don Johnson. © Ken Baddick/dressage-news.com

El Santo is the horse in which she is embroiled in a dispute with the German FN after a finding of cimetidine–a medication typically used in treating stomach problems in both horses and humans–in a routine testing at the Rhinelander horse championship in Langenfeld, Germany in June last year.

Bella Rose, the nine-year-old Westfalen chestnut mare (Belissimo M x Cadra II x Cacir AA) that she competed at Grand Prix and the Special in their first CDI at Munich, Germany with two victories and both scores above 75 per cent is, though, helping her feel really positive and excited about her goals that include the Europeans scheduled for Denmark in August.

“I feel this horse is the best I’ve ever had,” she told dressage-news.com. “It is so great to hear other peope around me, some riders and officials, say what a wonderful mare she is, and in the second half of my career.” Then, she pauses and says, “I can’t say I will stop my riding in five years or 10 years; it depends on the horses.”

What has changed in her approach to the sport, she said, “is because of my experience and mistakes I made with other horses. The next horses benefit from that, especially Bella. She’s a horse with everything you wish for plus a lot of go. When you make a horse like her you can make mistakes. I’ve had other horses to ride so she has been able to grow in the shadow.”

“I’m really hungry again with Bella because I feel everything is possible. I don’t know if I can reach it, but the possibilities are there. I’m really excited to see what happens.”

In the past year, she has been receiving coaching from Jonny Hilberath, German team coach during the 2012 Olympic preparations and Games, and Monica Theodorescu who became the fulltime team coach after London and whom she credits “with doing a super job.’

José Antonio García Mena, who rode on Spain’s team at the 2010 World Equestrian Games, is also helping during monthly visits with different ideas on training.

Bella Rose with Isabell Werth aboard showing off her gaits. © 2013 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
Bella Rose with Isabell Werth aboard showing off her gaits. © 2013 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

The German FN investigation of the drug found in El Santo, however, has thrown a shadow over her life as the case has gone on for almost a year. Isabell, though, has a lot of support, including from probably the most important person, Madeleine Winter-Schulze, the owner of Isabell’s horses.

“It’s too serious to say it’s silly,” she said. “I feel sad because I have the feeling it’s not really clear and straight. I am not 20 years old and this is an advantage now. I will stay quiet and  and see what happens. We expect a positive end of this story because the horses didn’t get any treament.”

She does, however, question the German federation that sees “everything is good” when she was younger and winning medals but “when you have a problem you stay a bit alone,” a view also expressed recently by fellow team member Matthias Alexander Rath, the rider of Totilas.

Isabell is also upset at attacks in anonymous postings on Internet sites against her and other riders over training methods that she said varies with each horse and depends on temperament, body type and other factors.

“You have to find the key for each horse,” she said. “One horse needs to be ridden a bit lower, the next one up. One needs more work, one less work.

“I really don’t know why it came to this.”

“What we all don’t want to see are pictures where we attack a horse, where the horse is pressured, punished. It doesn’t mean that we are not allowed to ride the horse. There may be moments when the horse is a bit too low, too up. You cannot show each step in a perfect way.

“To find the perfect way, needs exercises. You compare the education of a horse with the education of a child. It needs years to come from a five or six-year-old to S level or Grand Prix.

“Some of the criticism is helpful and fair and constructive.

“Some is just silly, without any serious basics. It doesn’t mean one who is criticizing a rider should be top rider. But there should be respect. We shouldn’t make discussions because of one bad picture. It doesn’t mean we don’t want negative reactions or criticism, but we want it in a fair and respectful way.

“We don’t want to be shouted at as an idiot.

“My philosophy is that to show a horse perfectly in comeptition, you need a horse full of self confidence and life, that the horse may jump in the arena.”