The End of a Golden Era

A Personal Tribute to Dr Reiner Klimke

by Sue Wingate ~

As far as I was concerned, Dr Reiner Klimke and Alherich set the standard for top class dressage combinations. My first experience of attending International Dressage Competitions was at the wonderful (and greatly missed) venue of Goodwood in the 1980s. I was captivated by the glorious setting, the garden party atmosphere and, above all, by a level of riding that I had not seen before.

A pensive Dr Klimke with a very relaxed looking Alherich after their Grand Prix test

A pensive Dr Klimke with a very relaxed looking Alherich after their Grand Prix test

On the day in question Reiner Klimke won both the main competition – the Intermediare with Pascal – and later in the day the Grand Prix with Alherich. It was a revelation to me to see someone ride with such quietness; with complete economy of effort horse and rider flowed around the arena in total harmony and with supreme elegance, to the delight of a rapt audience. You could have heard the proverbial pin drop as they made their transitions, changes, pirouettes, passage and walk (one of the most difficult paces to accrue high marks) … all were made to look deceptively simple. Reiner Klimke and Alherich, the epitome of correctness, appeared to be in a class of their own. Upon completion of a mesmeric performance (to call it a ‘test’ would somehow denigrate what was surely pure artistry rather than sporting achievement), the pair walked calmly out of the arena on a long rein, across the grass and out of the ring … to silence. The spellbound audience took a moment to return to reality and their applause burst out as Alherich was already on his way back to the stables.

I decided that dressage was evidently a sport capable of elevating the combination of horse and rider to the height of unity, harmony, elegance, power and beauty (followed quite naturally by the thought ‘I want to do that too’). I simply didn’t appreciate that my initial experience had been just about as good as it gets – rather like a first-time race-goer seeing Arkle or Nijinsky and thinking that all race days were like that!

Sadly, this splendid occasion was followed by many others either greatly or slightly less splendid, since for many years afterwards I did not see another performance to match the exceptional standard set by Dr Klimke.

It was with great sadness that I heard of his death of a heart attack in 1999 at the early age of 63. He had only retired from International dressage the previous Autumn after more than 40 years of incredible achievement which included an astonishing total of 10 Olympic Medals (7 Gold!) and 22 medals won in World and European Championships. This is an amazing record by any sporting standards and it is curious that it seems to have slipped somewhat from public consciousness as we salute our heroes of today.