Written by: Kim Kreling

Hans Gunter Winkler

Thumbnail for Where are they Now? Hans Gunter Winkler

Shannon Brinkman photo

On his birthday Hans Günter was star guest at the German Friendships, an international horse show in Germany for young and upcoming riders. Children from the 29 countries represented, each presented the living legend with a little present before HGW was driven around the ring in a lap of honor – every man and his dog cheering and singing “Stand up for the Champions“ in salute. In the back seat of the car was Germany’s Minister of Labor and Social Affairs, Ursula von der Leyen. HGW, of course, always likes to ride in the front seat.

Through his contacts with persons of influence and importance, Hans Günter achieved much for equestrian sport in Germany. Minister von der Leyen got it quite right when she referred to him in her birthday tribute as the “Ambassador of equestrian sport.”

As it stands today, HGW is still the most successful rider of all times. He started at six Olympic Games and, in over 30 years, he never came back without a medal. Altogether, he won seven: five gold, one silver and one bronze. He was also world champion twice, European champion and five-times German champion. He jumped for Germany in 105 Nations Cup competitions, and says it was “always an honor to start for my country.”

On July 13, 1986, just before his 60th birthday, he rode his last lap of honor at his favorite showground in Aachen and said good bye to his career as a show jumping rider. He turned to training, for which he was very much in demand. One of his pupils became his wife. American- born Debby Malloy came to Europe to improve her riding. Initially, she stayed and trained with another legend in the sport, Nelson Pessoa, but in 1986 she moved to the stables of the newly ‘retired’, Hans Günter Winkler. Eight years later, on December 9, 1994, Debby became Hans Günter’s fourth wife. Tragedy struck in February 2011 when Debby was seriously injured in a fall from her horse and died of her injuries. She was only 51. HGW has always been a strong and very self-disciplined person but he was deeply, and irrevocably, affected by the loss of his wife. His friends in the equestrian world were of great support to him in those days.

Six years after hanging up his boots, he founded the sport agency HGW Marketing, which specializes in the acquisition of sponsors for the show jumping sport and in organizing national and international horse shows. Today his agency is involved in a number of events in Germany, among them the shows in Braunschweig, Pforzheim and Dresden. “I initiate contacts and open doors,” he says, “that’s what I have always done.” He also recognizes that the future is in the hands of the young and initiated several events to encourage and highlight Germany’s youthful pool of talent. The national junior championships (HGW-Bundesnachwuchschampionat) bear his initials and along with long-time German senior team trainer Hebert Meyer he founded the Goldene Sattel in 1986. The Golden Saddle is an annual prize awarded to Germany’s best young jumper rider. The list of winners includes Markus Beerbaum, Markus Ehning and Christian Ahlmann, to name but a few.

HGW has always looked after himself. When his riding days were over he took up tennis and exercised religiously. A picture of him taken in 1956 with Fritz Thiedermann, suggests that he has always been a snappy dresser.

Next to horses, and show jumping, HGW’s other great passion is ornamental carp. HGW loves his Koi. He will often be found in his garden in Warendorf, where he has lived for over 60 years, feeding his collection of brightly-colored fish. To the Japanese, Koi are symbols of love and friendship. That’s why Hans Günter likes to keep close to them – and to the heart of the German equestrian scene.