March 2, 2017 by
Photography by Contributed

This article appears in the program book for the FEI World Cup Finals, produced by Omaha Magazine in March 2017.

In 1996, she won the individual gold medal at the Atlantic Summer Games. That same year, she also won her second team gold Olympic medal. Since then, Isabell Werth of Germany won team gold in Sydney in 2000, in Hong Kong in 2008, and in Rio in 2016.

With a total of 10 Olympic medals under her belt and ranked No. 1 in the world, Werth is unquestionably the most decorated dressage rider in history.

And she has chosen the 2017 FEI World CupTM Finals for her first exhibition in the United States.

Lisa Roskens, OEF Board Chair

“We are so excited that the legendary Isabell Werth is coming to Omaha,” says Lisa Roskens, chair of the Omaha Equestrian Foundation, which produces the 2017 FEI World CupTM. “The Dressage Showcase segment with Isabell Werth will give fans a rare opportunity to learn from an international star who has won more Olympic medals than any dressage rider in history.”

Werth will headline a special showcase presented by the Dressage Foundation on Friday, titled “Young Horses to Grand Prix with Olympic Champion Isabell Werth.”  However, she will also compete in the dressage finals along with several other legends of the sport, who plan to travel to Omaha from around the world to compete for this year’s dressage title. »  2016 FEI World CupTM Dressage Champion Hans-Peter Minderhoud of the Netherlands will be here to defend his title. Top American rider Steffen Peters, who won the FEI World CupTM in 2009, will be here to try to reclaim it. And two-time FEI World CupTM champion Charlotte Dujardin of Great Britain will also seek to have her name engraved on that coveted trophy.

Other names to watch for this year, according to Thomas Baur, director of dressage for the Omaha Equestrian Foundation, include Edward Gal of the Netherlands with his famous stallion Totilas (nicknamed “Toto”); Laura Graves, the American who won a bronze medal in the team competition and fourth individually in the 2016 Olympics in Rio; and Carl Hester of Great Britain, who Baur says is currently ranked sixth in the world.

“We haven’t seen a lineup like this at the World Cup Finals for several years,” says Baur. “It’s a bit of a small Olympics—a good opportunity for the dressage people in North America to see these top horses.”

Dressage, a French word meaning “training,” dates as far back as ancient Greece and the society’s training of their cavalry horses for war. During the Renaissance period, however, this training became a true art form. Dressage has evolved over time to modern dressage, which is what we see today at international competitions such as the Olympics and the FEI World CupTM Finals.

Horses and riders perform a series of movements that test a variety of skills as well as the ability of the horse and rider to work together. The purpose of the sport is to not only develop a horse’s athletic ability but also his willingness or ability to respond to cues from his rider. Roskens says a good way to describe dressage to those who are unfamiliar with it is as the “figure skating of the equestrian sport.”

“It’s a beautiful, dramatic, precise partnership of the horse and rider,” Roskens says.

Two separate competitions are planned for the FEI World CupTM Finals—the FEI World CupTM Dressage Grand Prix on Thursday, and the FEI World CupTM Dressage Final, which will feature dressage freestyle to music, on Saturday. The grand prix is more of a fixed test, where all of the competitors will be asked to complete specific patterns of gaits and movements at several levels, Baur said. During the second event, the dressage final, the riders are more free to choose what they want to show, the order in which they want to show it, and the music to which they want to perform. The focus here is more on beauty and artistry.

“All the while, the rider looks like they are going for a walk in the woods,” Roskens says. “Let me tell you—they’re not.”

The judges will give scores between 0 and 10 for each movement, with 10 being the highest score. Movements range from a “half-pass,” where a horse travels diagonally, moving both forward and sideways, to a pirouette, a 360-degree or 180-degree turn in place. Other required movements in the test are a collected gait, a passage, a piaffe, and an extended gait.

The horses and riders that rise to the top will be those who work together calmly, professionally, and in complete partnership with each other. And that will come down to the horse, Baur said. 

“The rider is a big part of it, but the horses are the ones making the difference at the end of the day,” Baur said. “If you have an average horse, you will probably not win, but the horses in this year’s finals are all top horses. That’s why I think it will be one of the best FEI World CupTM Finals  we’ve had.”

FEI World CupTM Gold Dressage Winners

The FEI World CupTM Dressage Finals have drawn horses and riders from all over the world to compete at top levels against top competitors since the event was founded in 1985. However, the horses and riders that have stood out as legends of the sport have had their names engraved on the coveted trophy not once but in some cases two or even more times. Here is a list of some of those legendary riders and the years they won gold.

  • Andy van Grunsven (1995 in Los Angeles; 1996 in Gothenburg; 1997 in ‘s-Hertogenbosch; 1999 in Dortmund; 2000 in ‘s-Hertogenbosch; 2004 in Dusseldorf; 2005 in Las Vegas; 2006 in Amsterdam; 2008 in ‘s-Hertogenbosch)
  • Christine Stuckelberger (1987 in Essen; 1988 in ‘s-Hertogenbosch)
  • Isabell Werth (1992 in Gothenburg; 2007 in Las Vegas)
  • Ulla Salzgeber (2001 in Aarhus; 2002 in ‘s-Hertogenbosch)
  • Monica Theodorescu (1993 in ‘s-Hertogenbosch; 1994 in Gothenburg)
  • Adeline Cornelissen (2011 in Leipzig; 2012 in ‘s-Hertogenbosch)
  • Charlotte Dujardin (2014 in Lyon; 2015 in Las Vegas)

10-time Olympic medalist Isabell Werth of Germany.

*Editor’s Note: The program book incorrectly identifies the 1996 Atlantic Olympic Games as being in the winter.

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