When I go to a Championship competition, as an indirect participant, managing the nutrition for many of the participants and also as a lover of the sport, I always see something to bring back into my own riding. This 2015 European Championship, celebrated in Aachen, Germany has been no different.
There were many demonstrations of pure horsemanship. There wasn’t a rider there who did not have an emotional connection to their horse. We forget how much effort the riders put just getting to that level. Years of travelling from show to show, waiting for the horse to mature physically and psychologically, keeping fit and putting the rest of their lives on hold. At the end of every reprise, every rider thanked their horse, even when things didn’t go their way.
I was proud of our sport.
But the scene that I want to take home, the lesson that I want to bring into my own riding was the Individual reprise Gran Prix Special ridden by Isabell Werth with Don Johnson. But first, I should mention that Ms. Werth, in spite of her many Championship medals, has not been my favorite rider. Her positive dope testings on more than one occasion has made me question her sportsmanship. But today she showed us what a true rider looks like.
After a serious setback that basically lost her the competition at the very beginning of the test, she burst into open laughter. Real, open hearted, head back laughter with a shrug of the shoulders and a smile that communicated to every person in the stadium that sometimes, this happens with horses, and so you kick on.
Then she then rode her test. That day, we all saw how Isabell rides when she is alone in her own farm, with the innate talent and years of experience that only the very best riders can have. Her reins were wonderfully light, her position rock solid, her breathing in perfect tune with the horse. It was lyrical. At the final halt, she again burst into laughter and shrugged her shoulders after saluting the judges. I have never seen her ride so well.
She took a disaster of a test to a reprise that left her in first place. Until the next heavy hitter went into the ring of course. Charlotte Dujardin with Valegro was only a few of the formidable opponents that showed us how horses can dance. But for a few minutes she was first in the European Championships with a test that could have been nothing.
It is a lesson we can all take home.