Isabell Werth–A Life From Gigolo to Bella Rose

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Isbell Werth on Bella Rose. © 2014 Ken Braddick/
Isbell Werth on Bella Rose. © 2014 Ken Braddick/

Oct. 29, 2014


Back when Isabell Werth won the first of the four Olympic gold and two silver medals on Gigolo, the horse on which she was coached by riding master Dr. Uwe Schulten-Baumer, she rode with no fear or uncertainty that comes with being just 23 years old.

“At that time, maybe I didn’t realize how great it was to start my career with such a horse like Gigolo,” Isabell recalled recently of her competing the Hanoverian gelding that was nine years old at the Barcelona Olympics in 1992. “He became the most successful horse in the world.”

From then to now she has added an Olympic gold with Satchmo, initially owned by “Der Doktor,” as Uwe Schulten-Baumer was nicknamed, as well as eight golds and two bronzes from the World Equestrian Games, nine gold and three silver medals from European Championships and two World Cup titles, a record unmatched in the history of equestrian sports, on a succession of horses.

Mixed with those successes and years of working to stay at a high level sometimes with horses not the same star power as Gigolo, have came setbacks and changes.

“Getting older and with more experience,” Isabell, now 45 years old, told, “something can happen to disturb your world. Step by step you get disappointments, have a lack of success–nothing really bad.”

The two worst things for Isabell were the death after a months long battle with colic in 1999 of Amaretto, a Westfalen gelding she was training and competing as a successor to Gigolo, and a decade later the suspension for six months for the finding of a forbidden substance in a horse.

Isabell talked about her successes over the past two decades, the effort to stay at a high level and the 10-year-old mare Bella Rose that she rates the best horse she’s ever ridden.

“I realize that it’s not easy to stay on the top level,” she said. “It’s more difficult than first coming up. After a while everything around you and yourself you start to think about things. When you are young nothing touches you, you are easy going.

Isabell Werth on her 2008 Olympic team gold medal mount Satchmo. © 2009 Ken Braddick/
Isabell Werth on her 2008 Olympic team gold medal mount Satchmo. © 2009 Ken Braddick/

“The different experiences make you stronger, make you tougher. But I have never stopped believing in the horses.”

Isabell counts it as a “lucky situation” that when she was a kid riding on a farm Dr. Schulten-Baumer had lost his rider and asked her to help out.

“At that time, I did not expect to go into the sport. Then, his children stopped riding. Step by step I went into it.”

“As a mentor, he was always behind me. He always held my hand in all situations.”

He taught her that while it was important to ride it was also important to study. She learned the business in the 16 years of their partnership.

“Of course it was not always easy,” she said. “The Doctor was not an easy teacher, not an easy person. Today, I have full respect for his work. He was always serious with the horses and gave me great basics.”

Then, after moving on to set up her own business she had another “lucky situation” when Madeleine Winter-Schultze became an owner of her horses and a sponsor, as well as a friend in what Isabell describes as a “very, very close partnership.”

The relationship with Madeleine, a long time sponsor also of Ludger Beerbaum, and her husband was “so much more free,” and they trusted her to let her do the job of training and competing. If she said she believed in a horse, Madeleine’s response was “then we will buy it.”

Satchmo, El Santo, Warum Nicht, Der Stern and Don Johnson were among the lineup of horses that kept her going in “some better, some worse moments.”.

Seven years ago, she tried Bella Rose and from the first moment “knew she was something special.” Madeleine bought the horse and with no fanfare Isabell trained Bella Rose.

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

“Now the time is back,” she said after Bella Rose led the German team to the top of the medals podium at the World Equestrian Games in Caen, Normandy two months ago.

“It was bad luck in Caen that we couldn’t go on but it was nothing serious.”

She blames herself that after 25 years experience she did “such a stupid thing” as to make a change in Bella Rose’s shoes six days before the competition and to use a different silicone.

Coupled with the hard competition surface, she said, the mare’s hooves were sore and she could not continue after the Grand Prix in which the pair finished second individually behind world No. 1 Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro of Great Britain that determined the Nations Cup.

Isabell laughs at the way she looks at the competition, being “really young when I started and now not really old but more experienced, I’m really happy when I see Edward (Gal) or Carl (Hester). We were young at the same time when we were starting out and we’ve been longer in the sport than many of the other riders.

“The new generation starting out makes it really exciting, though. You don’t think about the age.”

Dressage in her view is “much more excting now than 20 yers ago when Germany was expected to win gold. It was something we joked that it was time to lose because we would get more attention.”

With more competitors from around the world, there is more media attention, more money in the sport.

“I want to compete with the best of the best. You only can have a real feeling of sport when there is real competition. I think this makes it more exciting and positive.”

And she praised the innovations in tournaments such as the Central Park Horse Show in New York with its special atmosphere in the heart of the city and designed to attract more fans to horse sports.

She plans to be back in the United States next April–seeking a start in the World Cup Final in Las Vegas on either El Santo or Don Johnson. She won the Final there in 2007 on Warum Nicht.

Isabell Werth on Warum Nicht FRH, 2007 World Cup Champions. © Ken Braddick/
Isabell Werth on Warum Nicht FRH, 2007 World Cup Champions. © Ken Braddick/

Bella Rose is still relatively inexperienced, having started at international Grand Prix in June last year and has competed in only seven shows including the WEG that was the horse’s first championship.

Isabell plans to start Bella Rose at the German Masters in Stuttgart in November but the main goal for 2015 is the European Championships in Aachen, Germany.

She does not think of the current stage in her career as a new lease on life, but more that experience has taught her “what a pleasure it is to breathe out.”

“I think I can only feel this when I think of all the things that have gone before.”

After striving to stay at a championship level for so long, “maybe you deserve a real gift. I feel this horse is a present. When I sit on this horse it’s another world.

“Now I know how unique it was to start with a horse like Gigolo. Satchmo helped me to deal with all the other horses, to take the time, not to say next month, or tomorrow… maybe two months… to think about the best way and to go back if necessary.”

The freedom also to speak out on issues that are important to her.

She sees this period as “the best part of my life.

“Now it’s such a complete situation–the horses, my family, my son, Madeleine.

“I have all the things I dreamed of as a young girl. Now with experience to deal with situations, I know life will go on with or without a gold medal. Some things are more important than success. Not that I don’t want success.

“It makes you more free and settled down. I love what I do. I’m really happy with my team and way of living and hope always to keep my two feet on the ground.”