Isabell Werth recalls one of her top rides with Gigolo at the 1996 Olympics

Whenever somebody asks me what the highlight of my career has been so far, there are four particular events which stand out. I can’t choose one above the other as each moment was special for different reasons and involved different emotions.

They are the European Championships in 1991 and Atlanta Olympics in 1996 with Gigolo and the 1997 World Cup qualifier in Geneva and Aachen CDIO in 1998 with Amaretto.

In the 1996 Olympics, there was enormous pressure as I was the favourite. My second test, the grand prix special, was not so good and my arch-rival Anky van Grunsven with Gestion Bonfire had a large lead.

Everybody thought I could not catch up in the freestyle. Several journalists even came up to me afterwards and said they had to rewrite their report – they couldn’t believe I had won.

It was an extremely tense time the day before, in the stable and during the warm-up for the final test. After the second test, the grand prix special, I was gutted. I believed I had ruined my chances. Somehow, the turning point came the next day. I told myself that the horse was in top form and we could do it.

Dr Uwe Schulten-Baumer, Gigolo and I withdrew to work quietly and concentrated on the test. It would have been easy to over-train. At a moment of incredible pressure like that, it is a question of teamwork. Together, the team worked beautifully.

Dr Schulten-Baumer gave me security and the groom was vital, too – he was worth his weight in gold. He kept saying: ‘Stay calm, it will be alright, Gigolo will do it’.

During the freestyle, I forgot everything, except to attack and ride – I was in a world of my own – and it paid off.

One can only ride as well as a horse allows – you can’t make a top horse through riding ability. A good rider can hide weaknesses and compensate for them, but you can’t make a Porsche out of a Volkswagen.

  • Read about Isabell’s other top rides in the current issue of Horse & Hound (9 January).

    Don’t miss this week’s Horse & Hound (16 January) where Reta Wix talks about her ‘rideof a lifetime’ to win the 1969 Wembley working hunter championship on Goodwill.

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