Celebrating Equestrian Women - A Story of Success

Celebrating Equestrian Women - A Story of Success

Women in equestrian sports have a long history as it is closely links to the worlds history as well. First reports have shown that female fighters - greek Amazones - had close relationships to their horses and in China Polo sports were actually allowed to do by men and female. However it was not always possible for females to simply compete and they had to fight for their place on the competition grounds. 

Read below how women in equestrian sports fought for their spot and how some of the world's best riders are females and lead the International ranking lists today.

 The first woman that sets the very first record appeared in the history books in 1934. Irmgard von Opel, granddaughter of industry mogul Adam Opel, won together with Nanuk the hardest course world-wide - The Hamburg Derby. Later on she founded a breeding stable, Gut Petersau in Hessen, which is still known for high quality show jumpers. However, she was never allowed to compete at the championships, despite her success nationally and internationally, as only men of military rank were allowed to compete at those shows. 

Irmgard von Opel with Nanuk


After the second world war times changed rapidly. Not only men of military rank were allowed to compete at the Olympic games. Still, women were only allowed to ride Dressage. This decision was made by the FEI, where 13 (male) Pro-Votes came against 5  Contra-Votes and decided that women were only capable of dressage. Sadly enough the US-rider Carol Durand lost her place in the show jumping team for these games. In the end only four women competed in dressage in 1952 Olympics, one from Denmark, one from the US, one from Norway and one from Germany. The German contestant Ida von Nagel was the first to win a medal - Bronze in the team. 

There was an even better day ahead for Danish Lis Hartel - she won the individual silver medal and proved she was a true fighter. During the war she suffered from Polio and after surviving the sickness she was unable to move her muscles in her lower legs. Two years later she repeated her victory and won the world championship title in 1954. 

Lis Hartels

1972 - the first gold

In dressage sports, women established themselves faster than in any other equestrian sports. No wonder, it is connected to beauty, elegance and lightness. 1972 was the year the first gold medal went to a woman in dressage, and it is a name that is still known in the dressage world: Liselott Linsenhoff, mother of Ann Kathrin Linsenhoff. 

Liselott Linsenhoff winning olympic gold

 Women success in Dressage

Especially in dressage it was quite clear that women stayed in the lead. At first Christine Stückelberger (Switzerland) and Margit Otto-Crepin (France) were the one's who brought home the medals, but soon enough the Germans Ann Kathrin Linsenhoff, Monica Theodorescu, Nicole Uphoff and especially Isabell Werth took over the reins. After the 80s there was no way to get past them.  Nicole Uphoff won double-gold at the Olympics in 1988 and 1992. Isabell Werth did the same and holds a very special record: with 6 gold medals and 4 silver medals she is the most successful Olympian in equestrian sports ever. Next to her, there were many women who impacted the dressage world and dominated dressage over the last 25 years, like Anky van Grunsven (Netherlands) and Charlotte Dujardin (Great Britain). 

Isabell Werth and Bella Rose 2 - photo: Lafrenz

 1956 - first time a women at the Olympics in Show Jumping

After the double gold of Hans-Günter Winkler in Stockholm, Pat Smythe was the first female medalist in show jumping. She won bronze with the British team. In 1958, the first German championships had a women's category and was won by Helga Köhler. Already as a child she was successful with her pony and later on she was successful in show jumping and dressage. At the Hamburg Derby she regularly won the prize for style and got the 'Silberne Loorbeerblatt' from the German Bundespräsident. 

However, it took until 1968 for a woman to win an individual medal at the Olympics. British Marion Coakes and her pony Stroller threw their hearts over the fences in Mexico City and secured a silver medal. In 1984 the first gold medal was handed over to a female rider and that twice! The US Team consisted of two women and two men at that time and that way Melanie Smith and Leslie Burr were the first two female riders to win gold. Later on two more women had this opportunity: Beezie Madden with the US team (2004 and 2008) and Penelope Leprevost (2016) for France. Sadly, we are still waiting for an individual gold medal.  

Beezie Madden and Darry Lou

Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum - the first number 1 of show jumping

At the end of 2004 Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum was supposed to make history. She is the first woman that took the lead of the world ranking. Over years she could keep the lead despite the big competition. And after her, no other woman managed to get to the top of the list and it shows how hard it is to get to the top for women. Also, MMB was the first woman to compete in the german national team who competed at championships - and she used the chance to secure Team gold in Hicksteads Europeanchampionships and later during the world championships in 2006 she rode double clear and helped Germany to Team bronze, won individual bronze and was Germany's most successful rider. In 2008 she was the first woman to become German champion and broke the line of only male winners. Many female showjumpers took her as an idol, so that young riders like Laura Klaphake and Simone Blum are well-known names for the future. 

Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum and Shutterfly

And in other equestrian sports?

Olympic disciplins like vaulting, Para-sports, endurance and reining all have great women competing on the highest level and having an impact on the sports and won medals over medals. Mareike Harms (GER) for example, was the only contestant at the european championships for carriage driving and won silver. 

 Female riders in eventing are allowed to compete in eventing at olympic games since 1964. Therefore, Eventing was the last of the three major equestrian sports that allowed women to compete. Lana DuPont (US) was the only woman competing in eventing in 1964 and straight away won silver with the team. However it took until 1984 until a woman won an individual medal. Karen Stives (US) secured team gold as well as individual silver. During these games also well-known Bettina Hoy (aged 21 at this time) won her first bronze medal with the team. Later on Ladies like Ingrid Klimke, who won two times team gold in a row and four years late team silver, are the names that are connected to women in eventing and it is only a matter of time until olympic individual gold will be brought home by a woman in show jumping an eventing.

Ingrid Klimke and Asha P


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