Nicole Uphoff's Rembrandt: A Living Work of Art

Sat, 10/03/2009 - 00:00
Greatest Oldies

Every rider knows that one cannot just ride on a pedigree, but if one there was one horse born an Olympic champion is was Rembrandt, the dressage horse of the 20th century.

The Westfalian gelding's mother Adone was a full sister to multiple Olympic champion Ahlerich and his father Romadour II was the Westfalian sire of the 1970s. 
Like Ahlerich Rembrandt was by Herbert de Baey and born in 1977. Some famous riders looked at him to buy but all passed him up without taking serious interest in the thoroughbred looking youngster.

At the same time the father of a 14 year old teenager girl was looking for a dressage prospect to buy. Jürgen Uphoff, not horsey at all before his daughter Nicole started to ride as a child, scouted Rembrandt and bought him at the beginning of 1981 along with a Dutch horse to secure the equestrian development of his beloved daughter.

Of course Nicole Uphoff, competing at A-level at that time, wasn't the ideal rider for such a young and inexperienced horse, so the Uphoffs gave Rembrandt to Klaus Balkenhol for training. Balkenhol was then quite famous and worked at the Eschenbruch stable in Mühlheim at the beginning 1980s.

Rembrandt was outstanding. He was lightfooted even as a young horse and Balkenhol saw Olympic potential in the only 6 years old. But he wasn't an easy horse at all. Thoroughbred influenced how he saw everything. He loved to spook and was very sensitive, but he was very ambitious and loved to work at the same time. So when Uphoffs talked about selling him and Balkenhol advised them to keep the jewel. How lucky they were to follow the expert's advice.

In 1985 Rembrandt and Uphoff competed at the „Preis der Besten“, a renowned competition for young talents. Both formed an elegant pair, but it needed a prophet to see  upcoming Olympic champions in them at that time.

1986 marked the beginning of Rembrandt's work with Dr. Uwe Schulten- Baumer senior. Uphoff's horses went there and she started to train with this well known man, who had already led his children and later Isabell Werth to international success. Schulten- Baumer has a unique way to loosen the horses and to work them over the back. Moreover he improved Rembrandt's piaffe-passage- tour, which had been quite good before.

The training paid off: In 1987 Rembrandt shone on the international stage for the first time. Not only did he win double gold at the European Young Riders Championships in Italy, but almost more importantly the same year he competed for the first time at Grand Prix level internationally and won!

Rembrandt's victory in Lausanne in front of famous international judges and against reigning Reserve World Champion Gauguin de Lully CH and Christine Stückelberger was a true sensation. It definitely was a breakthrough in two aspects. Never before had a rider of such a young age and nearly unknown on the international scene, won so quickly against the world elite without working her way up. The reason probably was that never before had a horse of such an lightfooted elegance and with the highest expression entered the show ring.

Olympic nomination in 1988 seemed the logical consequence, but the way to Seoul wasn't that straight since Uphoff had decided to leave Schulten- Baumer only four months before the opening ceremony. She moved to Warendorf to train with national coach Harry Boldt.
Boldt, a former Olympic medal winner in the German team, helped Rembrandt with single lessons, but also allowed Uphoff to work quite independently. So Rembrandt, the workaholic, was often worked during hacks on the forests, which helped to settle his sensitive mind.

In Seoul Rembrandt was a sensation and at the same time caused a little revolution in dressage. His competitions weren't faultless and nobody will ever claim that his rhythmical piaffe was ever very settled. But everyone was so impressed by the way he showed himself and the courageous presentation by his young rider at the age of only 21. It just didn't look like work: the ease and the joy Rembrandt revealed at the highest level of dressage were never seen before. He accomplished the "dancing" aspect of dressage.

The following two years Rembrandt set new standards, which didn't seem reachable for his rivals such as Corlandus, Courage, Matador or Ganimedes. In his typical style he won double gold at the 1989 Europeans and at the first ever World Equestrian Games in Stockholm in 1990.

Of all people it was a Schulten-Baumer- student, Isabell Werth, who was able to beat the great Rembrandt for the first time in three years. Aboard the 8-year old Hanoverian Gigolo Werth won her first individual European title in 1991, while Rembrandt got the silver medal.
Discussions about an aging horse arose, but the magical Rembrandt soon proved how ridiculous these rumours had been.

At the age of 15 Rembrandt won his 3rd and 4th Olympic gold medal at the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games. This was a record in itself, but the way he won will probably never be equaled. It looked like Uphoff just had to use brainpower to make „Remmi“, as he was nick-named, dance. In Barcelona, one of the most experienced German TV-commenators, titled him "A living work of art" and how right he was!

Only a year after his triumph Rembrandt's career was in serious danger while lying on the operation table of renowned Dr. Cronau. During the lap of honor at the 1993 German Championships Rembrandt got a bad kick from a jumping horse and suffered a splinter in his knee bone. His brilliant constitution helped him to fully recover and he come back nearly to old form in the spring of 1994. He was more than a serious rival for Gigolo at the World Equestrian Games in The Hague, but he barely lost the second individual gold medal at a World Championships to his dark chestnut team companion.

The last two years of Remmi's career naturally brought a little downfall in results and brilliance. He still was extraordinary, but of course people had the picture of the sparkling young Westfalian dancer in their minds and at 18 and 19 he just couldn't stand this comparison, despite the fact that Rembrandt won his 4th European gold medal in 1995.

It is a little pity that this great horse will not only be remembered for all his glorious victories, but also for the less glorious end of his career during his third Olympic Games in Atlanta 1996. Rembrandt missed the nomination for the German team, so his rider used her right as title defender to ride as an individual. His third Olympics were finished with the vet inspection before the kür final. Lying 8th he was sent to the holding box and Uphoff decided to retire instead of representing him like Anky van Grunsven did with Bonfire. It was quite a sad end for an outstanding career.

After Rembrandt had given a farewell show in the autumn of 1996 he was officially retired at the Stuttgart indoor show. The bay gelding lived in Uphoff's stable for the next years, where he could choose himself when he wanted to be ridden or preferred to stay in the fields. At the age of 24 Rembrandt's condition deteriorated and he sadly had to be put down.

His excellence will forever live in the hearts of those, who had the honour to see him.

By Silke Rottermann
Photos courtesy: FEI - Werner Ernst - Mary Phelps/

For more detailed informations about horse and rider and single competitions they attended:

  • Elke Müller – Mees, Nicole Uphoff: Traumkarriere im Sattel, Franck- Kosmos- Verlag, Stuttgart 1992 (in German, out of print, available second hand)
  • R. Klimke / Deutsche Reiterliche Vereinigung (publisher), Olympia der Reiter Seoul 1988, FN- Verlag, Warendorf 1988 (in German, out of print, available second hand)
  • St. Georg magazine (publisher), Reiter- Olympiade Seoul 1988, Jahr- Verlag, Hamburg 1988 (in German, out of print, available second hand)
  • R. Klimke, W. Ernst, Deutsche Reiterliche Vereinigung (publisher),
    Olympia der Reiter Barcelona 1992, FN- Verlag, Warendorf 1992
    (in German, out of print, available second hand)
  • R. Klimke, W. Ernst, Deutsche Reiterliche Vereinigung (publisher),
    Olympia der Reiter Atlanta 1996, FN- Verlag, Warendorf 1996
    (in German, out of print, available second hand)
  • St.Georg magazine (publisher), Olympische Reiterspiele Atlanta 1996, Jahr- Verlag, Hamburg 1996 (in German, out of print, available second hand).
  • Elizabeth Furth, Dressur in Vollendung, Cadmos- Verlag, Lüneburg 1998 (in German, also available in English with the title „Visions of dressage“, J.A.Allen, London 1998)

Related Links
Greatest Oldies: Dr. Reiner Klimke's Ahlerich
History of the European Dressage Championships
Nicole Uphoff: Back to the Big Time 
A Day in the Life with Nicole Uphoff
Youtube: Rembrandt at the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul
Youtube: Rembrandt at the 1994 World Equestrian Games in The Hague
Youtube: Rembrandt at the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona