Nowadays it would seem that Germany has always been the dominant factor in Dressage. The memory of modern age people generally does not go any further than Nicole Uphoff (European Champion in 1989), Isabell Werth (’91, ’93, ’95, ’97) and Ulla Salzgeber (’01, ’03). Quite a few people might think that only Dutch rider Anky van Grunsven (’99, ’05) took a stand against the German supremacy. But nothing is further from the truth.
In fact, three or four decades ago the Swiss battled with the Germans over European dominance in Dressage riding. In the sixties Henri Chammartin became a legend, ten years later he got help from his compatriot Christine Stückelberger (’75, ’77) and in 1979 from ‘neighbour’ Sissy Theurer from Austria.
In 1983 Anne-Grethe Jensen from Denmark changed the sight of Dressage when she became European Champion with the amazing Marzog. Her light way of riding brought about a revolution in dressage: this lady from Denmark, working her horse on a simple snaffle, made difficult exercises such as piaffe and pirouette look very easy. Her obedient Marzog really turned the theory of a horse seemingly working out of free will into praxis.
The Germans were placed aside again in 1987. This time a small lady from France was too big. The fact that Margit Otto-Crépin was born in Germany (she changed her nationality in 1971), that she sat on a German horse (Corlandus) and that she trained in Germany was of little comfort to the Germans.
Still, Germany has always played a major part at the FEI European Championships. Through all generations, Germans battled in the front line, either winning or finishing as runner up. In the fifties, businessman Josef Neckermann started a late career and was a great champion for almost 20 years, riding top horses such as Asbach and Mariano. Contemporary Reiner Klimke also combined a professional career (as a lawyer) with top Dressage. Klimke was an example to all Dressage riders, from Germany and all other countries, for building up an animal from nature to an athlete for top sport. With Arcadius (’65) and Dux (’67) he didn’t reach further than individual silver, but aboard Mehmed things finally worked out for Klimke in 1973 in Aachen, winning both team and individual gold.
Ten years later Klimke repeated his own history, riding the legendary Ahlerich to double gold. With his Westfalian halfbred, Klimke was an unbeatable champion and a positive contributor to the discussion about the lightness that came up after the successes of Anne Grethe Jensen and Marzog.
Four years after Reiner Klimke, his compatriot Nicole Uphoff was victorious with a family member to Ahlerich. Born in the stables of Herbert de Baey, Rembrandt (by Romadour II) was the epitome of lightness and expression.
Then, 1991, the era of Isabell Werth started. Her cupboard is filled with European gold. She won the most desired team medals in 1991, 1993, 1995, 1997, 1999, 2001, 2003. Individual European medals of that same colour were won in 1991, 1993, 1995 and 1997.
At the beginning of the 21st century Werth became help (in the team) and competition (individually) from Ulla Salzgeber, who had a very reliable and complete horse in Rusty, a true successor to Werth’s first top horse Gigolo, winning European gold in 2001 and 2003.
Today Anky van Grunsven is responsible for breaking the German supremacy. At La Mandria, Turin (ITA) Van Grunsven will defend the European title she won in Hagen in 2005.
Text by Dirk Willem Rosie for the FEI
Photo courtesy: FEI