At home with Isabell Werth
While visiting her yard in Rheinberg on the Lower Rhine, Isabell Werth revealed to us what still motivates her day after day after meanwhile 35 international gold medals, the important role her oldie Satchmo still plays in her life and why the eye specialist had to be called before their joint World Championship victory in 2006 in Aachen.
He is stood there looking very content, the bay gelding. He keeps on plucking at the grass, but not greedily. Kelly is stood in his shadow. The small, skewbald Shetland pony is Satchmo‘s faithful companion. “The two of them are simply inseparable,” explained Isabell while patting her double World Champion from Aachen in 2006 affectionately on the shoulder. In the meantime, 27 years old, the Hanoverian has been enjoying his retirement out at grass for ten years already, just a few metres away from his former rider’s house. And he still has a very important standing in the life of the six-time Olympic gold medallist. “He taught me a lot. Above all patience,” the 50-year-old recalled. “He was the most difficult, but from a trainer’s and rider’s point of view, most important horse in my career.” Because at the start the fantastic triumphs that Isabell was able to celebrate riding the Sao Paulo son, were everything but foreseeable.
Fine line between genius and madness
He came to her as a three-year-old, “a spooky, sensitive horse with a very strong character.” She has never fallen off another horse more often. And with the 2003 European Championships at the latest an extremely demanding phase began for Isabell. Satchmo was repeatedly uncooperative in the dressage ring and brought his rider to despair more than once. Giving up wasn’t an option for Isabell. Instead, she analysed the situation, pondered and researched possible reasons for the temperamental outbursts of the elastic, bay gelding. Ultimately, it was due to an eye problem. As soon as it was cured, the hunt for titles began. Satchmo added eight international medals to his rider’s list of achievements, four of which in gold. A smile appears on Isabell’s face when she thinks back to the FEI World Equestrian Games in Aachen in 2006: “That was the best championship the riders have ever experienced.” In the Grand Prix Special in the sold-out Main Stadium, 40.000 spectators finally experienced the sports partner that Isabell had always known this horse was. Obediently and full of expression, Satchmo completed the most difficult exercises with effortless ease and thus brought his rider the individual title after having already secured team gold: “I have always said: As long as I breathe, I will believe in this horse. I am so proud that he proved all of his critics wrong.”
Aachen a successful venue
Satchmo also really felt at home in Aachen in the following years. He won the Deutsche Bank Prize in 2007 and 2008 – and in doing so earned himself a place on the “Walk of fame”, which decorates the forecourt of the offices of the Aachen-Laurensberger Rennverein. One of Gigolo FRH’s horseshoes is embedded into the asphalt there too, the horse that Isabell made her sporting break-through with at the beginning of the 1990s. “As a child I simply rode every horse I could get my hands on,” she said reminiscing. And she reported with a laugh how she also took part in jumping and cross-country competitions with her ponies. She had however always had a soft spot for dressage. When Isabell was 17, the dressage trainer Dr. Uwe Schulten-Baumer discovered her talent. Riding his horses and with his support she established herself among the world’s top riders in no time at all. After claiming her first Olympic gold medal in Barcelona in 1992, innumerable team and individual medals followed. To-date she holds 35 international gold medals alone – six Olympic gold medals, nine World Championship and 20 European Championship gold medals.
The road to self-employment
Victories that Isabell claimed through diligence, discipline and stamina. Characteristics which also distinguish her beyond the sport. Which is how she succeeded in her completing her higher education leaving exams and a degree in law in spite of her busy diary jam-packed with training and travelling to shows all over the world. In the year 2000, she passed her second state examination and worked as a lawyer for one year before taking up a position in the marketing department of her sponsor, Karstadt. Parallel to this she trod new territory in her sports career. She stopped training with Dr. Schulten-Baumer in the year 2001 and moved from Mellendorf to the yard of her friend and sponsor, Madeleine Winter-Schulze. “Madeleine and I are extremely close,” is how Isabell describes her relationship to the former Chef d’Equipe of the German dressage riders. A solid, friendship characterised by blind trust emerged over the years, and this is still the case today. “It is thanks to Madeleine that I have the independence to train my horses in peace and to concentrate on them and the sport totally and utterly,” said Isabell, who chose to set up a training yard at her home in Rheinberg and thus turned riding into her profession.
From her parent’s yard into a modern equestrian facility
Today, the farm where Isabell galloped over the meadows with her ponies as a child, has become an ultra-modern equestrian facility that offers around 100 horses a home – from promising yearlings to the sprightly oldies. As a unique occurrence in the world, four horses of the current Olympic squad are stood here nose to nose: Bella Rose, Emilio, Quantaz and Weihegold. For this reason not least, her accomplishments are highly appraised by her fellow colleagues. So highly, that international top stars such as the Austrian dressage rider, Viktoria Max-Theurer or the Swedish rider, Patrik Kittel, stop by now and again to give their performances that final polish prior to an important show. “It fascinates me to accompany and shape the development of a pair,” stated Isabell. She will in future also be proving her qualities as a trainer in her role as Head Coach of the CHIO Aachen CAMPUS. The so-called Excellence Programme aims to decisively support aspiring young riders in finding their way to the ranks of top-level sport. “This is a new, very exciting task for me,” said Isabell looking forward to the imminent training sessions at the world-famous showgrounds of the Aachen Soers, in the very same stadium, in which she herself has already claimed the victory in the Deutsche Bank Prize 13 times.
The focus remains on sports
But to exclusively spend her time as a trainer still isn’t an option for Isabell. “I still enjoy riding far too much that I would be prepared to purely stand in the indoor school and give lessons,” she noted. And her grin reveals that her thirst for success has still not been stilled: “The show is the icing on top of the cake. For me it is the daily work with the horses that makes my profession so special,” Isabell recounted. “I love developing a vision of a horse and then making this vision come true.” She has precisely such a vision for the youngster, Subherb. “She has incredible body feeling and rhythm. That is what impressed from the word go,” she said about the 9-year-old Surprice daughter, whom she recently won the qualifier for the Louidor Prize in Munich with. So, Isabell’s sporting journey will continue. And after their sporting careers each of her current top horses can already look forward to spending their well-deserved retirement in Rheinberg. Relaxed and care-free, just like Satchmo has been doing for over 10 years.