As soon as she loosened the reins, Isabell Werth’s face became twisted with emotion. It was perhaps one of the most meaningful rides of her career, as she had just laid down an unbeatable test on Bella Rose, her “dream horse” who she thought she’d never be able to compete again.
For four long and uncertain years, Bella Rosa, the 14-year-old Westphalian mare, was out of competition due to a persistent soundness issue. But Isabel wouldn’t give up on the mare, and she returned to competition only three months ago.
Isabell and Bella Rose. Shannon Brinkman photo.
Today, she beat out the best horses and riders in the world in the FEI Grand Prix at the World Equestrian Games and secured the gold medal for Team Germany with an 84.83%.
“It was so special,” said an emotional Isabel. “When you know the story of this horse and how long we worked together and the ups and downs and the injury, it’s so brilliant.”
Shannon Brinkman photo.
“This horse is a present,” she said later, still overwhelmed by their incredible comeback and perfect result today.
When it was announced that Isabell would compete Bella Rosa instead of her superstar Weihegold OLD, skepticism ensued.
“There were a lot of questions before ‘Why Bella Rosa?’ She’s only done a few competitions and ‘Why not Weihegold, number one in the world?’ It’s difficult to explain. It’s not a decision against the other horse. It was a decision just for this horse because she’s outstanding and I knew that she could. I believed that she would show it.”
Sonke and Cosmo. Shannon Brinkman photo.
Sonke Rothenberger and Cosmo, a horse that he’s grown up with from the Young Rider ranks, led for the majority of the day on an 80.44 before being outscored initially by teammate Isabell Werth, and then USA’s Laura Graves who was last to go in the competition.
“I had a feeling because he gave me so much at the last extended trot. I don’t think there are so many horses which give so much,” said the 23-year-old. “It felt really easy for me, and I think that’s what dressage is about. Making it look easy. That’s what I think we managed quite well showing today. I’m super happy with my horse.”
Team USA. Shannon Brinkman photo.
Laura Graves was last to go for the day, but she made it count as the leading score for Team USA to secure the silver medal.
“I’m actually feeling under the weather so I was a little nervous about that, but adrenaline is an amazing thing. As soon as I got in the saddle I felt ready to go” she said about her round with her long-standing partner, Verdades. Despite the heat and humidity, Laura feels confident that the 16-year-old will be fresh for the Special and Freestyle later this week. “He’s like Benjamin Button, he keeps getting younger and younger.”
Laura Graves. Shannon Brinkman photo.
The heat was unforgiving for the majority of the day, and Charlotte Dujardin said that despite a hot summer in the UK, she felt the effects prior to her ride with Mount St John Freestyle. But nonetheless, she piloted the green 9-year-old mare to a 77.77%, the highest score for Team GBR, who clinched bronze.
“Everybody kept asking me, ‘How’s it going to go?’ and to be honest, I really didn’t know,” Charlotte said. “I think that was her sixth Grand Prix, very inexperienced… I feel so proud to have another horse that I’ve had since she was 5 years old and to have her here at a major championship at 9 years old, I feel very proud. It’s probably as good as winning gold.”
Charlotte and Mount St. John Freestyle. Shannon Brinkman photo.
For Carl Hester, this bronze medal demonstrates a new chapter for Team GBR on a global stage.
“For the last six, seven years, people have thought of British Dressage as just Valegro and that’s it, the rest of us were just joining in,” said Carl Hester, who pinned the second highest score for team GBR with 77.28% on Hawtins Delicato. “I think this has proven that we still have depth with British Dressage which was the main point of coming here."
Tomorrow, the Grand Prix Special competition begins in the dressage arena, and the eventing dressage will conclude ahead of cross country. Stay up-to-date on the NoelleFloyd.com homepage with our leaderboard and medal counter.
All photos: Shannon Brinkman.