Olympic Champions Germany on top again
Manes frayed and eyebrows raised when Isabell Werth chose to ride mare Bella Rose ahead of Olympic gold-medal winning horse Weihegold.
Bella Rose was just back from a four-year injury lay-off and a lot was on the line.
The German team was competing for the team dressage title at the 2018 FEI World Equestrian Games (WEG) in Tryon, North Carolina, and Tokyo 2020 qualification was riding on Werth's performance.
The 49-year-old veteran and leader made a brave decision and it proved an inspired one.
She scored a personal best of 84.7 with Bella Rose to lift Germany to 242.950 points and continue their dominance of global team dressage competitions.
And 24 hours later, Werth and Bella Rose teamed up to take individual gold marking them out as the pair to beat at Tokyo 2020.
Werth shared the podium with Sonke Rothenberger who had the day’s third best mark, Jessica von Bredow-Werndl (ninth) and Dorothee Schneider (13th).
Rothenberger and Schneider are gold medal winners from the Rio Games along with Werth.
Germany have now claimed seven out of eight team dressage titles at the WEG and gold at eight of the last nine Olympic Games.
Few would bet against them winning again at Tokyo 2020.
Second place for the U.S.
Team USA finished second on 233.136 points with a stellar showing from Laura Graves and Verdades.
Team GB took third with a score of 229.628 just 0.172 points clear of Sweden.
10-time Olympic medallist Isabell Werth has an uncommon connection with her horse Bella Rose.
In her biography 'Four Legs Carry my Soul', this is what Werth said about the mare:
"Bella Rose is my dream horse, for a short while I was able to enjoy riding her without any inhibitions, perfect moments in which there was nothing missing, no questions unanswered." - Isabell Werth
High praise from a woman who has chosen champions all her life.
Gigolo FRH for example, the chestnut gelding she guided to four gold medals and two silver at Barcelona 1992, Atlanta 1996, and Sydney 2000.
Or her partnership with another Hanoverian gelding Satchmo 78, the duo won gold at Beijing 2008, a WEG and a European Championship.
The 2014 WEG win on Bella Rose promised much but came at a cost, an injury which would keep the horse from performing at the Rio 2016 Olympics.
When Bella Rose performed the way she did at that crucial moment in Tryon, North Carolina, Werth couldn't hold back the tears.
"Most people know that my heart is so close to this horse, she is a gift, I saw that when I first met her as a three-year-old and she has never lost it."
"Her lightness, her elegance, she never wants to make a mistake, she’s full of power and energy, it is the greatest pleasure to work with her!"
After taking the team title, Werth and Bella Rose dominated the opposition a day later to win the individual competition.
Going last, Werth registered a huge score of 86.246 to take a record ninth gold at the WEG.
Laura Graves took silver with 81.717, just ahead of Britain's three-time Olympic gold medallist Charlotte Dujardin.
The extraordinary connection between Werth and Bella Rose has put them on the Olympic path.
Their Rio 2016 hopes were dashed by injury but Bella Rose's remarkable return bodes well for Tokyo 2020.