Isabell Werth is eternally successful


Isabell Werth does not give her competitors a chance at the CHIO in Aachen even at the age of 50. She is still far from thinking about retirement.

Isabell Werth has often been seen cheering at the CHIO in Aachen over the years. After her performances in the dressage arena, she usually stretches her arms up into the sky, clenches her fist and pats her horse’s neck with a smile. All this she did on Sunday, again and again, and in varying order. To applause that did not want to end. In the audience, the new EU Commission President and horse friend Ursula von der Leyen and Werth’s patron Madeleine Winter-Schulze happily held each other in their arms. In her long career Isabell Werth has already won so much, but her 13th victory in the Grand Prix of Aachen nevertheless fell into the category “unforgettable successes”.

The rider from Rheinbach on the Lower Rhine turned 50 on Sunday and triumphed in the freestyle with her chestnut mare Bella Rose with a top result of 90.450 percent. “It was a dream”, said Werth after the spectators in the dressage stadium sang a “Happy Birthday” for her. “The pressure was a little greater than usual, because I wanted to celebrate the birthday,” she added. She had had to fight. Second place went to Dorothee Schneider with Showtime (89.660) ahead of Jessica von Bredow-Werndl with Dalera (87.595). Werth was the last starter to go into the dressage arena, leaving the strong competition from her own team cool behind – and was once again enthusiastic about her 15-year-old Bella Rose, because: “Her attitude is sensational, as is her charisma. In the days before Werth had already won the Grand Prix and the Spécial in Aachen with Bella Rose.

Isabell Werth is an indestructible athlete. The lawyer and mother of a nine-year-old son has long been the most successful rider in the world. Nevertheless, she looks fresh, hungry for success and enthusiastic as in the early days of her international career, when she won the first of her 17 European Champion titles in 1989. You have to be careful not to miscount when listing her successes. She has won Olympic gold six times and silver four times. She was world champion nine times.

The success is homemade. She always discovers her dressage horses herself – with the financial support of the millionaire Winter-Schulze, who buys the animals for the rider. It is Werth’s ambition and passion to only ride horses that she has personally trained. Taking over the famous stallion Totilas, who was offered to her by Paul Schockemöhle in 2010, was out of the question for her.
Werth has brought many horses to the top of the world, for example the gelding Gigolo, with whom she celebrated her first Olympic victory in Barcelona in 1992. Or the ingenious but difficult Satchmo, who refused to cooperate with Werth in the 2008 Hong Kong test and wildly bucked Werth in a piaffe – which then cost Werth Olympic gold.

In general, she has also experienced and survived difficult career phases. In 2009 she was suspended for six months because her horse Whisper was found to have Fluphenazin, a sedative, in the competition. In 2012, her El Santo was tested positive for a stomach medication, which was considered a forbidden medication, not performance-enhancing doping. In the second instance, a ban was turned into a fine. Since then, nothing of the sort has happened. It has become very careful in the treatment of horses, Werth once said.

Thanks to Bella Rose, her riding experience now looks rosy. Werth calls the elegant, long-legged mare, who came to her as a three-year-old, her “dream horse”. In 2014 she became team world champion with her in Normandy. However, Bella Rose dropped out for almost four years due to various leg injuries. Werth did not give up and celebrated a celebrated comeback with her in 2018 when she won the World Championships in Tryon. Since then, Bella Rose has stayed fit and, if all goes well, will be playing at the Olympic Games in Tokyo next year. It would be the sixth Olympic participation in Werth’s career.

Retirement? For God’s sake, she will be 50 years old, not 100, Werth said in a recent interview. In addition, there are young stars in her stable, for example the ten-year-old Belantis and the three years younger Superb, from whom she expects a lot. And, who knows, maybe you will see Isabell Werth cheering on the back of one of these horses in Aachen.


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Mette Frederiksen is a The Washington Newsday correspondent. With her coverage of general science, NASA and the interface between technology and society, Frederiksen has been in the Science Desk's Technology Beat since joining Washington Newsday in 2018.

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