Monica Theodorescu on Germany’s World Championship Prospects

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Monica Theodorescu as Germany's dressage team coach. © Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
Monica Theodorescu as Germany’s dressage team coach. © Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

July 9, 2014

By KENNETH J. BRADDICK

Monica Theodorescu has experienced the best of times and the worst of times in a life of dressage that has prepared her well to lead what could be a history-making German world championship team of all four horses and riders capable of scoring 80 per cent in the Grand Prix that will decide the Nations Cup medals.

Monica, now 51, is keenly aware of history as she has lived it and the here and now of being the first woman as the German coach since October, 2012, of a team made up of such high caliber horses and riders for the World Equestrian Games in Normandy, France next month.

Only 12 combinations have made it into the 80 per cent club at international Grand Prix in the history of the sport.

By whatever circumstances–luck, fate, training, breeding, touching wood–as things look now Monica will get to lead four of those partnerships on the same team into the championships.

Helen Langehanenberg on Damon Hill NRW (11 times at 80 per cent in the Grand Prix), Matthias Alexander Rath on Totilas (4), Kristina Sprehe on Desperados FRH (1) and the most decorated German dressage rider of all time, Isabell Werth on Bella Rose (1).

It is almost unimagineable that if all four do what they have done before, a score of 80 per cent would be discarded as only three results count for the Nations Cup. And those four representing a single nation are more than the likely 2014 WEG 80 per cent club members from elsewhere combined–Great Britain’s Charlotte Dujardin on Valegro, Adelinde Cornelissen on Jerich Parzival and Edward Gal on Glock’s Undercover, both of the Netherlands, as of now.

German coach MonicaTheodorescu and trainer Sjef Janssen with Toilas and Matthias Alexander Rath. © 2014 Dirk Caremans/hippofoto.be
German coach Monica Theodorescu and trainer Sjef Janssen with Toilas and Matthias Alexander Rath. © 2014 Dirk Caremans/hippofoto.be

“At the moment it all looks very good on paper, ” Monica says in her understated way with a smile.

“So far we haven’t had the championships. Everybody is talking about the gold medal.

“We want it, but other countries want it, too.

“I have gone through the lows of the sport. Anything can happen any day.

“It’s a comfortable position with its potential. We have to get them all there, keep the horses sound and happy and my wish is to have a very positive competition.”

The World Equestrian Festival CDIO5* Nations Cup in Aachen, Germany this coming week should be a taste of what’s to come. The combinations of Helen/Damon Hill, Matthias/Totilas, Kristina/Desperados and Isabell/Bella Rose will make up the German team while Charlotte/Valegro and Adelinde/Parzival will also be competing.

Three Olympic gold medals–at Seoul in 1988, Barcelona in 1992 and Atlanta in 1996 are among Monica’s collection of hardware, awards and accolades. Her Olympic debut in Seoul was memorable for other achievements, before the obsession with youth and when previous German teams had been dominated by men.

At 25 years of age she rode Ganimedes on the team with Ann-Kathrin Linsenhoff, 28, on Courage and Nicole Uphoff, just 21, on Rembrandt. The only male on the team, legendary Reiner Klimke on Ahlerich, was 52 and his score was discarded.

She helped build and maintain the legacy of German teams at Olympics from 1964 through 2008 standing atop the medals podiums except on two occasions, one of them 1980 with most of the Western world boycotting the Games in Moscow.

“The pressure was different then,” she recalled in an interview with dressage-news.com. “You felt if you didn’t win the gold you couldn’t go home…”

Two decades later was perhaps the lowest point for German dressage, at the European Championships in Windsor, England where a Netherlands team that included Edward Gal on Totilas, Adelinde Cornelissen on Jerich Parzival and Anky van Grunsven on Salinero won gold and Great Britain led by Laura Bechtolsheimer, now Tomlinson, and including Carl Hester on Liebling took silver.

Monica Theodorescu riding Whisper. © Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
Monica Theodorescu riding Whisper. © Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

Monica on Whisper and team mates Matthias Alexander Rath on Sterntaler, Susanne Lebek on Potomac and Ellen Schulten-Baumer on Donatha settled for bronze. Isabell Werth was sidelined by a suspension. That medal was more than many Germans thought they would win.

She believes that Germany was lucky to have won gold a year earlier at the 2008 Olympics, but mistakes by combinations on other teams gave the victory to her nation.

Monica’s lifetime in the sport carries with it the heritage of generations of equestrians, her father, George, Romanian-born, a world renowned dressage trainer, her mother, Inge. a show jumper.

Slight of build and a routine of workouts and the right food has kept her looking not much different that she did 20 years ago, She speaks softly, most often with a smile but there is no misunderstanding how tough she can be when needed or her determination to achieve what she sets out to do that has won her strong support of riders, trainers, officials and the stakeholders that make up the sport as well as admiration of other nations.

What also stands out is her ability to stay calm in the midst of others losing their cool, an enormous benefit in a nation where the sport is is widely popular and closely followed and success or failure can have a major financial impact on a significant segment of the economy.

Former working students at her family stables heap praise on her training of both them and the horses.

Monica Theodorescu on Ganimedes at the 1988 Seoul Olympics.
Monica Theodorescu on Ganimedes at the 1988 Seoul Olympics.

Monica credits her predecessor, Holger Schmezer, who died suddenly in 2012 at the age of 65, with the vision of developing competitions and championships at all levels of dressage from ponies through Grand Prix that have helped rebuild the sport in Germany.

That places her in the enviable position of having nine horse and rider combinations ranked in the top 25 in the world.

When she was beginning Grand Prix she competed directly with Reiner Klimke, Harry Boldt and other masters.

“Now we have much more of a system all the way through for the riders and the horses. There is no gap. That was Holger’s intention, that there shouldn’t be a gap so we don’t lose anyone in the sport.

“In my time, some younger people couldn’t keep riding and went into other professions. We lost a lot of riders.”

Society, too, has changed a little bit as the new structure has developed. Spoiled kids are no longer driven to stables by mom to ride a horse already tacked up, she said, “now these girls and boys are completely different. They do everything. If they ride a horse they also take care of it. If they don’t have that attitude they should force themselves and sweat a bit…”

Monica believes that every aspect of dressage has come together to raise the sport to its current high level.

“The judging is more positive, the riders and horses are better. Everything has been raised.

“Just think that Reiner Klimke was world champion with a score of 68 per cent.”