Book Review: Four Legs Move My Soul (Isabell Werth Biography)
The Authorized Biography of Dressage Olympian Isabell Werth
By Isabell Werth and Evi Simeoni
Trafalgar Square Books, Non-fiction, ISBN 9781570769566, 336 pages, Paperback, Kindle
Reviewed by Margaret Evans
You don’t have to be a dressage rider to love Four Legs Move My Soul by Isabell Werth and Evi Simeoni, published in English in 2019 by Trafalgar Square.
Beautifully written and amazingly insightful, it is the authorized biography of Olympian dressage rider Isabell Werth, one of the most successful riders in the world. With six Olympic gold medals and countless championship titles, there are few to equal her talent as a rider and a trainer. Werth’s horses are as legendary as she is – Gigolo, Satchmo, Bella Rose, and more.
Growing up on a farm, Werth had developed a natural relationship with animals. The bond with animals, and especially horses, was elemental, instinctive. As she opened up to them, they responded in kind.
“The animals seem to speak to Isabell, and she seems to be able to hear them,” writes co-author Evi Simeoni, an accomplished sports journalist who has followed Werth’s career from the beginning.
That deep level of communication is what has set Werth apart in partnering with her horses. She would know what a horse was about to do before it does it.
“I can feel it somewhere in a fibre of my body,” says Werth. “In a nerve that was unknown to me before. In my hands, my seat, in my side, somewhere in my body. Gigolo, my first gold-medal mount, was a generous teacher with regard to communication. He offered himself to me and brought an extremely honest willingness to perform.”
What she learned from Gigolo, her Hanoverian chestnut gelding, would be taken to a new level with Satchmo. The talented Hanoverian bay would take her to Grand Prix Special gold at WEG in 2006. But just before, in 2005, something was wrong. In the warm-up ring, Satchmo would be supple and full of confidence, working through his movements, only to falter in the actual competition.
“Then Isabell entered the ring, came around the turn… and it started all over again,” wrote Simeoni. “Satchmo hit an invisible wall without warning, tensed up, stopped breathing, and stopped for two seconds. Isabell rode on again and continued as if nothing had happened.”
But it had.
Veterinary exams showed that Satchmo had small striations in his eyes, causing a fuzziness in his sight. It led to eye surgery, something Werth did not share with too many people. She knew the dressage crowd had all but given up on Satchmo and journalists deemed his “psychological problem” beyond repair. But the grand prix in Stuttgart, Germany was coming up.
“Everyone in the arena felt a tingling sensation and, when Satchmo got underway – supple, honest, without even a trace of anxiety – everybody was astonished,” wrote Werth. “Where had the strange fits gone? Satchmo went brilliantly in all gaits, glamorously in every movement….I sat in the saddle and couldn’t believe it. I had found the way to Satchmo. My heart rejoiced.”
So did the judges as they gave the pair a world record score.
Four Legs Move My Soul is truly a book to rejoice over. Even the title comes from a philosophical meme popular among equestrians that “two legs move our body, four legs move our soul.” Werth shares her triumphs and failures, her hopes, dreams, and fears. She shares the people in her life who have meant so much including dressage trainer Dr. Uwe Schulten-Baumer, and friend Madeleine Winter-Schulz.
This fascinating book draws back the curtain for a glimpse into the hardcore workings of training, competition challenges, the pressures, and the high-powered connections that put talented horses and riders together on the quest for gold.
It’s an absolute must-read for any horse lover.