‘The fear of mistakes knocked on my door every day’: Jessica von Bredow-Werndl on the ‘mental toolbox’ that helped her win Olympic gold

  • 2021 was a year of dreams for Jessica von Bredow-Werndl, Olympic champion and European triple gold medallist. Riding the Trakehner mare TSF Dalera BB, the German rider proved invincible – leading her team to gold at the Tokyo Olympics, before winning the individual gold medal. Less than two months later, she repeated the feat at the European Championships, back on home soil in Hagen, Germany, winning team gold and two individual golds.

    Tokyo was far from being Jessica’s first championships – she has been a stalwart of the German national team for several years, formerly with Gribaldi stallion Unee BB – but it was her first Olympic Games. And, having dominated the European show circuit during the early part of 2021, she and Dalera arrived in Japan as favourites for the gold – as long as they could find a way to beat the indomitable Isabell Werth with Bella Rose.

    “I knew I had the chance to win [gold] but I didn’t expect it,” Jessica revealed to H&H dressage editor Polly Bryan on episode 86 of The Horse & Hound Podcast. “To win at an Olympic Games, everything has to work out and be on point. You have to keep your nerves under control.

    “Dalera was amazing; she tried her heart out for me and gave me the feeling every day that everything was going to be alright. It was a real fairytale, actually.”

    Jessica von Bredow-Werndl: Olympic champion

    The individual final in Tokyo played out in dramatic fashion, with Jessica setting a sky-high target of 91.73% ahead of her compatriot and closest rival Isabell entering the arena.

    “I remember the feeling when I realised that I could be individual Olympic champion, even though it wasn’t sure yet, and that feeling was so emotional,” said Jessica, describing the moment she watched Isabell’s score of 89.6% flash up on the screen and realised she was still holding the top spot with just two riders left to go.

    “I didn’t expect it to be that emotional, but it showed me how much I really wanted it actually,” she continued. “I always tried to tell myself, ‘you can’t do more than giving your best’, but the moment you know you might achieve your dream is so incredible. There was a lot of pressure inside myself and at that moment everything just fell down. It was unbelievable.”

    Jessica admitted that she felt considerable pressure in the run-up to the Games, but mostly stemming from her own hopes and expectations rather than from other people.

    “I always told myself that Dalera doesn’t know the difference between the German championships and the Olympics, so why should I make there be a difference, and that all we can do is our best. But the fear of not performing knocked on my door every day.

    “Luckily I could prepare myself over other championships and several years of experience now at this top level. Over the years I have created a mental toolbox that I can grab from, for example meditation or breathing techniques.

    “It helps me handle the pressure but also the fear to make mistakes, because on one hand to make mistakes is very normal, but on the other hand it’s stupid if it happens [at an Olympics],” she said.

    Jessica also revealed that a comment in an article written by H&H’s dressage editor shortly before the Olympics had quite a profound effect on her going into the Games.

    “Reading that sentence [suggesting she could become the next Olympic champion] was the first time I really confronted myself with this topic and thought, ‘Wow, there are people who really believe it’s possible’. I read it and it really touched me and was a big motivation for me actually,” said Jessica.

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