Wellington, Fla. – Feb. 7, 2019 – The international stadium at the Adequan Global Dressage Festival saw a packed house for the long-awaited clinic with the world’s number one ranked dressage rider, Isabell Werth. Six riders were selected to train during the masterclass with horses of various ages and abilities to gain training insights from the top German rider. While some riders soaked up the master’s advice, others struggled breaking habits, forcing Werth to repeat herself.
“Go forward. Uncomplicate it. Sit on your seat. Allow the Swing. Slowly. Give him the rein. Let Go. Let Go. Let Go,” were phrases heard throughout the educational evening.
The clinic began with a young horse around 5-years-old and moved up through the levels to the upper-level horses. By beginning with the basics of a young horse, spectators were able to observe and learn about the qualities that a young horse must possess to have potential to develop into a Grand Prix mount with international squad quality.
Ann-Marie Hosbond and Flashdance
The first rider to train with Werth was Denmark’s Ann-Marie Hosbond aboard Flashdance (Feedback x Lissabon), a coming five-year-old Westfalen gelding. Werth began the lesson by talking about what increases the chances of developing a successful Grand Prix horse.
“Look for the entire package: the entire package is rideability, elasticity and a good mind,” Werth explained. “When you have the whole package with a focused and motivated horse that enjoys his work, you have the best chance of developing a Grand Prix horse.”
Starting at the walk, Werth highlighted a few key aspects to look for in a young horse’s walk: over-tracking by two or three hoof prints, freedom in the shoulder and a good rhythm. Moving on to the trot, Hosbond challenged her horse to open his neck and actively use his hind legs to cover more ground.
An exercise the pair practiced was trot to canter and canter to trot transitions. The transitions encouraged Flashdance to start using his hind leg correctly. This meant that the leg must become less hectic, more forward and open, helping the gelding to lift his shoulder more.
“In the canter, an important thing is outside rein. Think more free and more forward with the inside hind leg. Use counter flexion to help open him,” recommended Werth. “Always use big circles and bendings lines. Once you have a long jump in the canter, you can start to bring him back a little more but still allowing the swing over the back from the hind.”
Continuing their focus on impulsion, Werth emphasized the importance of shoulder-in. “When you stay in shoulder-in, the contact is a bit longer so he has to come more forward. The key to this is that it needs to be relaxing,” she continued.
Hosbond was told to keep her upper reins steady, allowing her horse to go fluidly through his entire body. A steady outside rein was used to keep her horse straight.
As they wrapped up their training session, Werth encouraged the rider to have the horse stretch more in the canter over his back. “Finish your ride in a really relaxed way, stretching with rising trot, while keeping the rhythm the same. He’s never losing the rhythm and he should always be swinging.”
Overall, Werth was very complimentary of this young horse as she sees he has quite the talent for collection with a soft mouth and great mind. Her closing remark for Hosbond was a simple one: “You need to always think in a rhythm.”
Lauren Sprieser and Guernsey Elvis
The next rider was Lauren Sprieser of Marschall, Virginia, and her mount was an 8-year-old KWPN gelding, Guernsey Elvis (Querly Elvis x Zadok), that she is currently schooling in the small tour. Finding a rhythm and keeping the gelding in front of Sprieser’s aids were two qualities that were given immediate attention by Werth. To do this, the pair went right into shoulder-in.
“Shoulder-in brings the horse in front of you with correction flexion,” Werth said. “This is great prep for the half-passes. Using the shoulder-in with some transitions can also improve elasticity. Just be sure that you don’t let him run into the shoulder-in. Keep the cadence. Sit light, release and enjoy it.”
After schooling the shoulder-ins in both directions, they began to work on shallow half passes and increased the steepness as they went. “Start slowing in the half passes,” began Werth. “It’s important to start slowly with the flexion and balance. Then, when you feel good about that, you can start adding the swing with your inside leg, otherwise, they get blocked with the inside leg. Their hind legs have to follow the front legs, not the opposite. Then you can really celebrate with a nice half pass.”
Moving on to half-pirouettes at the walk, Werth had Sprieser keep it uncomplicated and active where the horse was in front of her. Keeping him uphill with a touch of the whip, her main focus was to uncomplicate her thoughts.
In the canter, they worked to improve the jump on a circle and get the horse longer from behind. Freedom of the hind leg was created independently of the inside rein while keeping contact of the outside rein and giving with the inside rein. Werth emphasized that canter half passes should not be started until the quality of the canter is solidified.
“If you lose the jump, correct him first then go into your exercise,” Werth said. “When you go through the corner — outside rein, inside leg. Don’t use inside rein. Then you can start in the half pass. Don’t lose the jump. Flex him to the outside if he gets a bit too short behind.”
In the working half pirouettes, Werth encouraged Sprieser to be softer on the inside rein to test that the horse was relaxed and carrying himself correctly. A few strides before the pirouette, ride a bit in a shoulder-in position before using the outside rein to turn the horse, ensuring that the horse’s inside hind leg is really under his body.
“The secret is not the pirouette it’s the preparation before. Can you bring him back on the spot? Can you control the hind leg and the jump? If you can feel these, you can control the pirouette. Don’t always train a small pirouette in training, train the collection. Keep him in front of you on your seat.”
When they began working on tempi changes, Werth gave solid advice. “It’s not the problem of the change, it’s the jump in between the changes,” she said. “You need to be easy going between the changes. Easy going, easy going — don’t stress yourself.”
Yvonne Losos De Muniz and Felicia
Next, Werth instructed the Dominican Republic’s Yvonne Losos De Muniz as she rode Felicia, a 9-year-old KWPN mare (Vivaldi x Polansky). The mare was a bit nervous when she entered the ring, so their initial goal was to get her relaxed in her work. Werth also reminded the audience of the importance of altering training techniques to best suit the current horse’s build and character.
“We have a horse that has a completely different construction than before, so our jobs as riders is to use their body in the right way,” Werth explained.
When the pair moved up to the trot, Werth instructed De Muniz to shorten her reins and keep the gait as smooth as possible, giving Felicia the confidence to go on a big circle. She also told her to use the shoulder-in to work on flexion as a method of combating stiffness.
“She should start with the piaffe when you ask her for it, not when she’s tense,” Werth said. “She needs to learn to wait for you with less trot.”
Werth reminded her to think about keeping her in front of the leg in every gait. A clear walk, that is nice and uphill is as important as the other gaits. She acknowledged that because of the horse’s intrinsic motivation, she always needed something to focus her attention on.
Werth explained how important the horse’s concentration was to her training, and that all the transitions and exercises are to help her use her talent in the right way.
To help keep the horse’s interest, Werth changed up patterns, geometry, exercises and transitions to keep her listening to her rider.
In addition, she encouraged De Muniz to make every gait distinctive and not overcomplicate them. Be really strict in your decisions, but if there is a mistake don’t make a big deal about it, just keep going. She also told her to make it as easy as possible for her because she tries to do too much.
Benjamin Albright and Falstaff
Next in the ring was 12-year-old Westphalian gelding Falstaff (Fuerst Piccolo x Fruehlingsball), ridden by Benjamin Albright of Oxford, Pennsylvania. Werth observed that the gelding appeared very relaxed in the environment but could use a little more flexion.
She instructed Albright to start with the shoulder-in and flex him more in the ribs. Even in his good rhythm, he needed to open in the contact just a little and take a bit more of the rein. She wanted him to ask for more swing in the gait without interrupting it.
While practicing the shoulder-in, Werth told Albright to use more with the outside rein in the shoulder-in as it is so important. Preparing for the half-pass, she also advised him to go at the half-pass as a bit of a shoulder-in at first to help the horse start to become elastic.
“Swing into the half-pass and keep the more energetic, uphill trot,” she said. “Improve the possibilities and the potential with your training.”
Again referencing the horse’s contact, she said that the horse was a good example of one who has so much more in it when it comes into the bit. While the overall picture looked nice, she explained that when he comes through and into the bridle so much more will be possible.
Werth explained that he needs to learn to be responsive to a little more pressure from the rider’s lower leg and carry himself more so as to not fall on his front end.
She told Albright to collect the horse with counter-flexion while also quickening his seat, flexing in transitions and always working towards suppleness and elasticity.
Jacqueline Brooks and Westwood
Canada’s Jacqueline Brooks and the 12-year-old Hanoverian gelding (Wolkenstein II x Lauries Crusador xx) worked on maintaining relaxation and improving smoothness in their ride with Werth.
“Keep him busy and supple, we don’t need him working nervously,” Werth said. “Think inside leg to outside rein. Look for flexion with your inside leg. Be quicker with your inside leg. Make the trot easy for him. Asking for more is easy, but it’s hard to bring him down and make the rhythm clear.”
They also schooled Werth’s favorite exercise of the night — the shoulder-in — before moving into the canter work.
“Don’t interrupt the walk when you shorten the reins to pick up the canter,” Werth said when she made Brooks try the transition a second time with the hope for improvement. “Make the transition as smooth as possible. Sit and put him in front of you. Lower your reins and think about more thoroughness. You have to give him confidence and let him go. Let him go through the bit.”
Werth wanted Brooks to control the jump of the canter stride with slower strides around the pirouette.
“You have to do something — as the rider, you have to help him,” Werth said. “When schooling passage, let him chew and sit really quietly. Slowly think about half pass — just an idea though and only think about it as much as necessary. Sit and let him chew, but keep him together. You need the difference in the gaits, it is not all the same. We want him round and going easy — working independently from the reins.”
Austin Webster and Abacrombie TF
To wrap up the night, Austin Webster rode the 9-year-old Oldenburg gelding (Abacus x Idocus). The popular Disney-song “Let It Go” could be used to describe Werth’s top recommendation as the rider would limit the horse’s swing with his hands.
“Sit on your seat and allow him go in forward — you need to allow him to swing,” Werth said. “Try to keep your reins really steady. Don’t work so much with your reins and don’t make it too hectic. Train him to be more on your seat instead of your reins. Let him go — stop interrupting him with the reins. Close your knee and sit with a steady seat. Use your lower leg and don’t shorten your reins too much.”
Once Werth was pleased with the quality of the gaits, they moved onto upper-level work by improving the fluidity of the pirouettes and tempi changes.
“In the pirouettes, keep it slow,” Werth said. “Keep the outside rein low and place him a bit more in shoulder-in and use your outside aids to turn him.”
When the pair schooled the passage and piaffe, the horse began to get worked up. Werth had Webster ride the pass on a circle around her and made him take the reins in one hand and drop his other hand by his side.
“Let him chew. He shouldn’t explode — keep it slow,” Werth said when she had the pair transition in and out of piaffe into passage with only one hand on the reins.” Pet him and let him to to the trot if he gets worked up. Stop interrupting him with your reins. You have to feel the second where it is too much for him and when he wants to escape. This cannot be a second late. Feel the moment to allow him to go out slowly from passage to trot.”