Why is Isabell Werth so good?
Last Friday, Germany’s Isabell Werth pulled off just the latest in a legion of victories over the years, winning the FEI Dressage World Cup Grand Prix Freestyle test at the Equita Longines horse show in Lyon, France with Emilio. But what is behind the incredible and unwavering success of the 49-year-old rider, currently ranked 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 20th in the world with various horses? A few ideas.
Still, one of the distinctions between Werth and those other renowned figures in the discipline is that she has been successful with a range of elite horses over the years, whereas others like Dujardin with Valegro – and to a lesser extent, the current World No.1 Laura Graves of the United States with Verdades – have tended to dominate the sport with one single partner. Indeed, the German’s current position(s) in the top 20 of horse-and-rider combination rankings, with her mounts Weihegold OLD, Emilio 107, Don Johnson and Bella Rose 2, is typical of her omnipresence in the sport, which is also reflected by her regular participation in competitions on the international circuit.
Werth’s supply of high-quality horses is thanks to her long-time partnership with owner and sponsor Madeleine Winter-Schulze, who has been described as the ‘heart and soul of German equestrian sports’ and has played an equally essential role in the career of Werth’s compatriots, show jumper Ludger Beerbaum and eventer Ingrid Klimke. “I’ve been very lucky to have had a father who allowed me to achieve great things related to my passion,” Winter-Schulze told Grand Prix magazine this summer. “For example, I can hold onto the horses ridden by Isabell and Ludger if they want me to. And it’s them who decide the path they take with each horse.”
Of course, any athlete of Werth’s calibre and background has an immense innate talent, skills which in her case were enhanced by undoubtedly the best possible trainer, the legendary Uwe Schulten-Baumer, who also trained quadruple Olympic champion Uphoff. Under his tutelage, Werth developed the superlative technical foundations and discipline which have served her so well throughout her career.
Finally, Isabell Werth has always surrounded herself with a strong team, including professional riders like Matthias Bouten and her student Beatrice Buchwald, who have helped bring up her horses to peak performance levels. And whenever she has identified gaps in her own abilities, she has not hesitated to call upon other riders for their expertise, such as the Spaniard José Antonio García Mena, who offered advice on the piaffe technique. In any case, taking into account all these factors – and without even mentioning some of the others – it is perhaps not such a surprise after all to see her so often on the podium.