Isabel Werth is the highest ranking dressage rider in the world. She currently occupies the #1 spot with Weihegold, the #3 spot with Bella Rose and # 4 spot with Emilio. Isabel Werth is the most highly decorated equestrian in history. I think that says it all really. On February 7 2019 she was in Wellington Florida to give a clinic at the Adequan Global Dressage Festival.
Six horse rider combinations took part ranging from a young horse just rising five to older horses who are doing the advanced FEI level work. Her quotes are all in italics and I have only given explanations when necessary.
THE YOUNG HORSE
In the young horse we like to see a nice attitude and a good walk, trot and canter. To get a horse to the Grand Prix they need the whole package
It is very important for the young horse to have the right rider.
The hind legs are active here and he has a nice free moving shoulder. Take him a little lower he shouldn’t come up.
In the canter I want to see him a bit more forward with the hind legs. The outside rein is the most important thing for the canter.
If you have a horse that does not have the right contact yet do lots of transitions: canter trot, trot canter. This will improve the gaits. as well. In the canter the first thing is a long jump and long quiet strides. The hind legs need to be free and not blocked by the inside rein. Canter more forward with the inside leg. Forward and open!
Always big circles for the young horse.
Shoulder in is helpful for all the exercises. It is the best work you can do good to prep for half passes.
I would like to see the horse flexed and bent through the body. Flexed in the jowl. Don’t let him run into the shoulder in. Keep the cadence in the corner. When he comes through the corner try to keep him up. Keep him on your seat.
Start slowly in the half pass. Keep flexion to the end. Keep the bending. Keep him flexed ( in the direction of travel).
Inside leg to outside rein. The hind legs have to follow the front legs. Shorten the reins and keep him in up, in front of you in the canter transition.
Get him longer in the hind leg. Don’t block hind leg with inside rein.
Don’t start an exercise when the horse is tense. Get the long jump in the canter and then start exercise.
THE NERVOUS HORSE
We relax him. Take the time. Trot on big circle. Loosely. From behind to the bit. Trot. Trot.Trot. Easy going. Trot and flexion. Trot and flexion. Try to sit really cool and give him the confidence. Keep the inside leg and the flexion. Slowly collect. Inside leg. Shoulder in . SLOWLY. Inside leg. Sit and control outside with your outside leg. Flexion slowly, keep the rhythm.
As soon as he starts to look for your rein he goes on the front legs. Walk (horse was piaffing) just walk uncomplicated walk. Shoulder in . Slowly step by step. Two steps piaffe then walk.
Don’t use the hands for the piaffe. Just walk, walk, walk.
LOOKING FOR THE ‘WHOLE PACKAGE’
Isabel uses lots of verbal cues to encourage the horse and rider lots of ” Tck cluck” “tck cluck”. For older and more advanced horses she upped the ante. When there as a positive response she gave an encouraging YAH!
“Cadence! Swing! Outside rein! Shoulder in again. More outside rein and no interruption. Inside leg! Sit! Careful with you leg. Don’t loose your contact. Bring him with your legs to the contact. YAH! Keep the cadence and use the swing. Yah, yah! Inside leg outside rein. Uphill!
Go ahead with the shoulder in and then to half pass. Come!Come! Come! Come! Uphill! Sit, sit, sit! Now the horse starts to be more elastic. Did you feel how he came through the corner.? Uphill uphill. Inside leg. Again! Inside leg. Keep him in front of you. Inside leg, use your lower leg. Trot, trot, trot! Ah that was better. SO now that’s a half pass!
Flexion, use your inside leg. Good pat him and little break. When he goes fluently it is good. Use the flexion and the shoulder in and the long lines so he goes forward and uses his back and his body.
If you shorten the reins the horse goes from the front to collect. In walk shoulder in uncomplicated.
Bring him now from behind. He has to learn to carry his own head. Tick tick inside leg! Shoulder in, outside rein. Sit! Sit! Shoulder in, inside leg, come, inside leg outside rein shoulder in…. collect him! AH! More…! again Flexion!Inside leg and again more flexion in the ribs AH! Come! Sit! Go on a circle. Quicker with your seat! Collect! Flex him! Outside rein. You’ve taken the whole day already! Collect him on the outside rein! YAH!
RIDING WITH THE DOUBLE BRIDLE
Try to be careful with the double bridle that he is not locked on. Go on a circle. Inside leg. Inside leg. Inside leg..Tick! Tick! ( the tick is a quick little aid with the ankle or heel) Inside leg. Good! Forward again . Good! Forward! Yah! Yah!
Sit straight on the horse. Don’t haul with the reins. Yah! Just ride with the bridle not on the double bridle. (To me this means just use the snaffle bit and very little curb bit.
THE WORKING TROT/THE NORMAL TROT
In a packed stadium at night, under the lights , some horses can be quite excited or nervous. One horse showed this by giving a hugely expansive and flashy trot. Isabel wanted the horse to be calmer and to go in a normal trot.
“Normal trot, just normal working trot. Normal trot! Big circle. Put him on a big circle, you don’t want passage everything. Not passagey just a normal trot. Normal trot. Flexion on the circle. Trot. Normal trot. Long side shoulder in.
Every ride remember flexion, and long side shoulder in exercises. Keep horse in front of you, flexion! And normal trot.
In my amateur experience as a rider there are three different methods coaches will use to assist their students. One is the use of visual images to help a rider to understand how to achieve a movement, another is to explain verbally what they see of how you are riding and give a verbal explanation of how you can use your aids to improve the horse’s way of going. The third method is what I call “riding from the ground” . In this the coach watches and sees what needs to be done and in quick short instructions tells the rider what to do. For me Isabel is in this category, at least for this clinic. She is lightening fast and the rider needs to be lightening fast as well. At one point she said: “Not quick enough…you….not the horse.” This method can be effective when you are riding as you find out what works to produce the desired result from the horse but as a person in the audience I found that it left me without ideas to take home with me.
As each rider left the arena the audience in the stands would be clapping. “That is your applause ,” Isabel would say and she would wait till the rider had passed the stands and soaked in the applause for their hard work, before she started working with the next rider. I thought that was wonderful.
Isabel’s precision and attention to detail is phenomenal. At the end of the evening Isabel had shown us how she works with her horses and what a high bar she sets. That, Dear Readers, is why she is the Number One Dressage Rider in the World!