Portrait: Isabell Werth, Germany’s Dressage Queen

3 min.

Isabell Werth is the most successful rider in the history of dressage, a title she has held for almost a decade. And despite a career that began over thirty years ago, she is still among the absolute best in the sport right now. Both individually and as part of the almost all-conquering German team from 1989 to the present day, she has distinguished herself as one of the greatest equestrians ever.

Horses have been a part of Werth’s life from day one on her parents’ farm. Even as a very young child, she competed with ponies, but the circumstances that brought her to the top can be seen as fortunate. Her family were neighbors with Uwe Schulten-Baumer, a successful dressage rider who had chosen to focus on training horses and young riders. The trainer, known as “der Doktor,” invited the then 17-year-old Werth to come and help with his horses when several of his other riders quit. From there, Werth’s career had a meteoric start, and three years later, she could call herself European champion with the West German national team. In the same year, Gigolo FRH became a part of Schulten-Baumer’s stable, and this would prove crucial to Werth’s career.

Read also: Isabell Werth: Not all success is measured in medals


Werth stated in 2019 to Olympics.com that success in dressage can be attributed 40% to the rider and 60% to the horse. In the same interview, she called herself honored to have ridden Gigolo. Werth rode the gelding for approximately 11 years, and their partnership is now nothing short of legendary. The duo’s first major victory came when they won double gold at the European Championships in 1991. This result was repeated in 1993, 1995, and 1997. Werth and Gigolo competed together in the World Championships twice, winning double gold both times. Three times the Olympics were graced with their presence, resulting in 4 out of 6 possible gold medals and 2 silver medals. The duo is perhaps the greatest dressage pair ever, and they were virtually unbeatable for a period of 8 years. In October of the year 2000, Gigolo retired, a month after winning team gold and individual silver at the Sydney Olympics. He spent his retirement years at Werth’s home until his death in 2009. Gigolo is now recognized as the most successful dressage horse ever and among the most successful sports horses in general.


With Gigolo’s retirement, the time had come to find Werth’s next star horse. A task that, unsurprisingly, would prove easier said than done. Werth started with Amaretto and later Anthony towards the end of Gigolo’s career. Unfortunately, Amaretto fell ill and had to be put down, and although Anthony was certainly a talented horse, the partnership did not live up to the high expectations that arose after Werth’s collaboration with Gigolo. And then there was Satchmo.

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There was never any doubt about Satchmo’s talent, but it took several years for him and Werth to find their rhythm together. They were part of the German team that won gold at the European Championships in 2003, but individually, they only achieved 17th place. After an adjustment period, the results started going in the right direction for Werth and Satchmo, and they won two gold medals and one bronze medal at the World Championships in 2006. The pair went on to win four more silver medals and two gold medals across the subsequent Olympic Games, European Championships, and World Cup. Satchmo retired in 2011 and enjoyed the last 11 years of his life at Werth’s home. Werth described her early time with Satchmo to Olympic.com as “sitting in a Ferrari without being able to drive it.” Nevertheless, he is now remembered as one of the best horses in Werth’s career and the horse that brought Werth back to the top.


Photo: Malgré Tout Media Archive

A significant part of Werth’s continued success has been her ability to find, train, and perform with the best horses. After Satchmo, she notably rode Weihegold and Bella Rose 2, both of whom have won gold and silver medals at the Olympics with Werth.

It has “only” been a single individual Olympic gold medal for Isabell Werth in her career, alongside Gigolo in 1996. However, this fact is just a minor detail in Werth’s story as an Olympic legend. No other rider has won as many Olympic medals as Werth has. In the 120-year history of the Olympics, only 18 athletes have won 12 medals or more. This testifies to a rider who is not only among the best but has been able to perform at the highest level for over 30 years. Werth stated in 2021 that her career will come to an end after the 2024 Olympics in Paris. If this turns out to be true, it will be a fitting conclusion to a career that is closely associated with the prestigious international sporting event, and it will also be an opportunity to further enhance her already impressive collection of medals.

Read also: Portrait: Dressage Star Jessica von Bredow-Werndl

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