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A gold medallist at each of the five Olympic Games she has graced, Germany’s Isabell Werth is one of the most successful riders in the history of dressage and equestrian. In winning team gold and individual silver at Rio 2016, she took her collection of Olympic medals to a record ten.
Hailing from Sevelen in Germany, Isabell Werth enjoyed a brilliant academic career and took up a position with a law firm in 2001. From her early years, however, her real passion was horse riding, and dressage in particular. At the age of 17, she was taken under the wing of the well-known owner and trainer Dr Uwe Schulten-Baumer, which proved the the start of the most successful collaboration in the history of dressage. The relationship came into its own when Werth was paired up with a chestnut gelding by the name of Gigolo.
Taking dressage to new levels with a dazzling combination of precision, artistry, talent and stamina, Werth and Gigolo collected four Olympic golds between 1992 and 2000. Victorious in the team event at Barcelona 1992, the duo won the individual and team competitions at Atlanta 1996 and the team gold at Sydney 2000, with individual silvers in Barcelona and Atlanta. In the meantime, the duo also won four world titles (in the individual and team events in 1994 and 1998), and five European crowns, achievements that made them the most successful pairing in the entire history of the sport.
Werth decided to turn professional and devote herself entirely to her sport. Ending her long association with Dr Schulten-Baumer, she opened her own stables in Rheinberg, near her home village, and was soon enjoying more international success with a new generation of horses. A double world champion in 2006, Werth returned to the Olympic arena at Beijing 2008 to win another team gold and an individual silver, this time on Satchmo. By that stage of her glittering career, she had won eight Olympic medals (five of them gold), six world titles and seven European crowns.
Werth was forced to miss London 2012 on account of her mount Don Johnson suffering an injury and her other horse, El Santo, not being ready to compete. Bitterly disappointed to be missing out on the Games, she watched as team-mates Helen Langehanenberg, Dorothee Schneider and Kristina Spree won team silver behind Great Britain.
Despite developing and launching her own successful range of equestrian accessories in the meantime, Werth said she had no desire to stop competing. “My goal is to carry on for as long as possible, for at least another 10 years,” she said. “Whatever happens, I’m sure that horses will always play a big part in my life.”
That determination to keep on riding competitively saw her step out at Rio 2016 at the age of 47, this time on a fine 11-year-old black mare by the name of Weihegold Old. Joining forces with Kristina Bröring-Sprehe, Dorothee Schneider and Sonke Rothenberger, Werth helped Germany to an average score of 81.936% in the team competition. It was a performance that earned her a fifth Olympic team gold, a sixth gold of her career and a ninth medal in all. “I love horses and I love training,” said Werth afterwards. “Winning gold with three different horses means more than anything.”
Three days later, Great Britain’s Charlotte Dujardin, a silver medallist in the team competition, retained her individual title in style, thanks to a stunning Grand Prix Freestyle score of 93.857%. Werth took the runners-up spot with a score of 89.071%, giving her a tenth Olympic medal in 24 years, more than any other rider in the history of equestrian since the sport was introduced on the programme at the second Games of the modern era, in 1900. Asked if she was considering adding to her haul at Tokyo 2020, the German veteran said: “Who knows? We’re going to work towards that.”