Written by: Kim Kreling
Born into the world of dressage, Monica Theodorescu spent 30 years carving out a name for herself as a successful competitor.
It is 6.30am and Germany’s national dressage team coach, Monica Theodorescu, is beginning her day. By 7 o’clock she is in the stable, by 7.30 she is riding her first of six to eight horses. In the afternoons she gives lessons. Up until last October, that was a normal day for the 50-year-old. There is added responsibility now, though, as she sets the direction for German dressage — the first woman ever to have that role.
Monica’s affinity with horses and dogs and horse shows began as a baby. Family friends recall the Dalmatian, Holly, standing guard at shows, in front of Monica’s baby carriage or the playpen, with show jumper mother Inge and father George, the legendary dressage rider and trainer, close by.
Over the years there have been many incarnations of Holly. Today she has morphed into a wonderfully mixed dog-gang consisting of the French bulldog Frou-Frou, the fox terrier, Terry and the Rottweiler puppy, Hope. The three share the Lindenhof, the Theodorescu family manse, in Sassenberg, Germany, with Monica and her husband Burkhard Ernst. During a stroll around the stables, through the smaller and older riding hall, the new larger hall, and the big outside riding arena, the dogs stick to Monica. If they could, the horses would do the same.
As soon as she appears in the barn, heads pop over stable doors and a general ‘rumble’ of welcome can be heard. Every horse is greeted extensively, and visitors are always given the individual’s biography. Monica is especially proud of the six home-bred horses out of her very successful competition mare Renaissance. Tattoo (nine), Take it easy (eight) and Toffi (six) are all by the Trakehner stallion Tuareg and occupy the outside boxes next to their now 24-year-old mother. The identical, elegant, black, troika have a certain, mischievous gleam in their eyes. Their younger half-siblings are four and five-years-old; the youngest is a three-year-old mare by Fineliner.
Apart from her love of horses and her ability as a rider (three Olympic team gold medals, World and European championship team and individual medals and two World Cup titles) Monica inherited a fondness for culture, cooking and entertaining from her parents. She remembers up to 20 sitting down to dinner when her parents ran the Lindenhof. “My mother used to cook for us all, including the working students from all over the world,” Monica recalls. “My father was a gourmet but he didn’t like sauce on anything.”
The ‘without-sauce-trend’ is not the only thing that Monica inherited from her Romanian born father. “My nose, my eyes… I inherited just about eighty per cent from my father,” explains Monica grinning. “Being interested in music, in the nice things in life, in nice horses, beautiful cities and good food.”
Naturally, Monica has something of her mother in her too. “My mother was always very impatient and I have inherited some of that. When I was young I wanted everything to work out fast; when it didn’t and I was doubting it ever would, my mother would say: ‘Go on riding!’ And I always stuck it out. Now at fifty, I have become very patient…when it comes to riding,” she laughs.
Trust and confidence are important words for the Theodorescu family and in Monica’s approach to horses. “As far as I am concerned, the most important thing is to build up confidence with the horses and that is exactly what I am trying to teach to my pupils. When it comes to training and education, I learned a lot from my father. He could lead people, but – on the other hand – make them develop themselves. The same goes for the training I give my students, and the horses. I lead them, but they have to undergo their own experiences.”
Life Outside Horses
While horses have always been intrinsically bonded to the life of Monica Theodorescu she never considered that she was missing out on other things. “Of course I had to steal the time for going out and I did.” When she had a show-free weekend she and Seoul Olympics teammate Ann Kathrin Linsenhoff often did fun things together. “Sometimes we’d jump in the car at six o’clock and drive to Paris. We were in a nice Paris disco by midnight!”
Her riding curriculum being what it was, she had to cross piano playing off the list of things her parents wanted her to learn. “I still have the piano and when it is time to get my pension I might start learning to play again,” she says. Something she could do in tandem with riding was indulge her penchant for languages. She speaks French, Spanish and fluent English. “At home I often spoke more English than German since my father always had students from Canada and the USA training at the Lindenhof.”
Throughout her life, one week a year has always been reserved for skiing, mostly in France. “I don’t ski perfectly but I can slide down anything – and pretty fast at that,” she says smiling. There was a time when she had discovered golf but today she hardly has a chance to play. “I am too exhausted in the evenings,” she admits, “and besides, when I was on the golf course I would often think what fun it would be to gallop down the fairway.“
During her schooldays, Monica only had one goal: to finish her homework as fast as possible in order to get to the stable. “My mother did not insist on good marks, but she expected me to pass and not cause any trouble in school – and I managed to do that.” After school, she flirted briefly with the idea of studying veterinary science, but that would have meant leaving home and her horses. At that time, she was already training four or five horses a day and competing at weekends. At 16 she made the first of four Junior European Championship appearances. She didn’t possess a driving license when she went to the Europeans in Kronberg, but a year later, when she was 18, she drove herself to the championships in Rotterdam. “On the way back to the hotel from the morning training session I had an accident right in front of the hotel. All the jumping riders were having their breakfast and saw it. That I remember very well,” she laughs. Her last championship as a Junior came in 1982. She entered the senior ranks at the age of 19. “I was always very ambitious as far as riding is concerned. I rode my first Grand Prix when I was seventeen and wanted to do more.”
Monica is a person who needs harmony – a very healthy objective for any team manager. “I cannot quarrel. If ever there was a disagreement between my father and myself, sometimes, one of us just left. Nowadays, if any problem or irritation crops up at home or in the team, I address it immediately. I want to get it out of the way. You can talk about everything.”
Monica was successful for 30 years as a rider in the international world of dressage. Her last team medal came at the European Championships at Windsor, England, in 2009. The length and breadth of her experience as a competitor, and her knowledge as a horsewoman, combined with her skill as a communicator, made her an ideal candidate for her new job as national coach. She has given up competing in order to devote herself to the position.
Her first time out as team leader, at the CDIO in Aachen, in June, ended happily enough with victory going to the German team. Her first championship as head coach comes at the end of August, at the Europeans in Herning. She is confident it will be a rewarding trip.
“We have a very strong team for the Europeans this year and all the horses are in super condition,” she says. “For sure our goal is team gold. Three quarters of our team is made up from the riders who won the silver medal in London last summer. They are super examples for the German way of riding. Everybody was talking about it being a new style but it’s not. It is the same way of riding we have always aimed for; for many, many, years now.”
And she should know.