Queen of dressage. Germany's best. Europe's best. World’s best. Olympic gold medal winner. For more than 30 years, Isabell Werth has won an amazing number of international medal. That gives her the title as the most winning dressage rider ever! For Isabell, the recipe for success is simple: Hard work and a strong partnership with the horses. But not all victories are measured in medals. For Isabell Werth, the small ones are equally important. A few years ago we were we lucky enough to have a talk with her that is literally its weight worth in gold. And what she told us was so enlightning that we decided to revisit it and once more be inspired by this living legend.
Isabell Werth sat down with us and with a calm and gentle voice answered our questions one by one with great attention to detail. Sometimes she used examples from her current professional life around horses, other times she talked of old times and way back when she started riding. But despite all the succes she has achieved the road to success has not always been easy for Isabell.
“Success is the end of a long road. It is the result of hard work and cooperation with the horses”
“It can be the first flying change or the little things in the everyday training that suddenly works," she emphasized.
For Isabel success is the result of hard work and a close partnership with the horses. To know that you do your best everytime you are in the saddle. It’s discipline and hard work. And day by day getting better and better because of your work.
Taking it all a little at a time is exactly what Isabell has done. One small step turned into several small steps and slowly it led to victory after victory. Suddenly, she stood where no-one has stood before her. At the top of the ranks as the world record owner. And for Isabell it's all about holding on to her passion:
“My whole life is centred around horses and based upon the love for horses. You have to love what you are doing. For me, it’s not just work to train horses, it’s my passion and I feel so privileged to get these opportunities.”
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Believe it or not, but as a young woman Isabell was actually a show jumper and eventing rider. At age 17 in 1986, only three years before her first international gold medal, she began to practice the art of dressage. It happened when her parents' neighbour, the well-known dressage expert Uwe Schulten-Baumer, also known as The Doctor, asked if she wanted to ride some of his horses. From there it took off, and in 1989 she competed for the European Championship with the horse Gigolo - and of course she won gold with the rest of her German team.
So, it wasn't at always in the cards for Isabell to be a world-famous dressage rider.
"I've been fortunate to meet the right people at the right times - not just once, but several times in my life"
Here at the editorial staff, however, we have no doubt that it is much more than luck that has brought her so far in the dressage arena. A lot of it also has to do with hard work.
When Isabell was first given the opportunity to ride a lot of good horses and be taught by a true legend, the famous Uwe Schulten-Baumer, a German show jumper and dressage rider who became an internationally famous dressage trainer and coach, the path was laid. The rest was hard work. From discovering a good horse, to being fortunate enough to bring it into the sport at a top level, can take many years, Isabell says.
"It takes at least 4-5 years for a horse to develop into a top athlete," she explains and stresses: "When you want to make your vision come true, the relationship with the horse and how to handle it is the most important thing."
There will be many ups and downs, especially in the beginning, she adds. It is the hard work and the belief that it will pay off in the end that has carried her so far. And if you love what you do, like Isabell, there is no reason not to work:
“It’s an intrinsic feeling of knowing you’re good enough if you work at it. And day by day getting better and better because of your work. Then you are confirmed in your beliefs.”
Isabell's great passion is to spot a talented young horse and to train it to bring it all the way to the top level in dressage. Because she loves what she does every single day, she never has to worry about whether one day it will be too much or if at some point it will bore her.
“Training horses does not feel like a job – it is a passion"
"Therefore, it is not a matter of motivation. It is always there. Other professionals might not see it in the same way. For them, it is a job.“
It is acutally a matter of responsibility, both to the employees in the stable and not least to the horses. And once you have found what really drives you, then it is not at all difficult to take responsibility, having to manage an entire barn or having to perform when it really matters. Therefore, passion is the most important tool in trying to gain success.
For Isabel it is important to have a positive and realistic approach to her horses and training. That is why she does not believe in the concept of failure. It is too determinative and too harsh - at least when it comes to equestrian sport. She goes as far as to say that there are no failures with horses, only things to learn from, and continues:
“Off course you make mistakes. It happens for everyone. But there are no failures, only learning experiences. Failure shouldn’t be final unless you accept that it is.”
Instead of looking at something like a defeat, you should turn the plate around and look at a defeat as a personal gift full of learning experiences that makes you stronger! We all have problems, disappointments and frustrations, but it is the way in which we choose to deal with defeat that makes us better more than anything else we do.
And this attitude towards defeat is a fundamental building block in the winning mentality of many top riders and top athletes in general. Turning the negative into something positive and analyzing the experience, is important to improve your riding, Isabell says.
For Isabell, it is important to stay critical towards oneself. The mistake is not made by the horse. It is made by the rider. From this point of view, you go step by step analyzing what went wrong, what should be done better the next time, and what is the real reason behind the mistake.
“Why is the horse not in the condition or shape, that I would like it to be in? It is my job to figure it out. I owe that to my horse.“
For Isabel, there are so many things coming together. As you get more experienced, you can analyse your ride more objectively and quicker than a rider with less experience. Also, it is important to have a healthy team supporting you. They keep you grounded at all time and help you to analyse the mistakes. Isabell recommends that you join up with a skilled trainer who can help you analyse your rides and keep you growing as a rider. An objective analysis is a very valuable tool to improve yourself as a rider.
Sometimes it can be really hard to keep your confidence, if you experience a lot of adversity. For Isabell the key to keeping her confidence is to be well-prepared:
“When I am prepared, I know I can do good. Confidence for me comes, when I am well-prepared and feel familiar with the things, I am about to do”
So when mistakes happen, and yes, they happen to Isabell too, she says, you can assure yourself that you did everything in your power to do your best. You have to stay humble, Isabell says, and continues:
“I am very carefull not to want everything too fast. You have to stay humble in the world and towards your horse. I try to remind myself to stay humble every day.”
The interview with the world-famous dressage rider is nearing the end of the road, and soon her focus will be at a much more well-known and safer place, namely on the back of her horse, dancing her way to the top of the podium, doing the thing she loves the most.
1. She has only been a professional rider since 2004.
2. She has a degree in law and worked as an attorney until she became a professional dressage rider.
3. As a child and teenager, she was a passionate about eventing and show jumping, and only as a 17-year-old did she start riding dressage.