‘There have been very ugly pictures’: Isabell Werth speaks out about controversy in dressage

  • Six-time German Olympic dressage rider Isabell Werth has spoken out about the controversy surrounding the sport – but called on people to be “factual, objective and fair”.

    Yesterday (19 February) Isabell issued a statement in which she said there is a lot of discussion at the moment between horse lovers, riders, and animal activists. The statement follows online criticism of Isabell following a masterclass she held at Helgstrand Dressage in Florida, USA, and the recent announcement that she would take on the ride of Andreas Helgstrand’s Queenparks Wendy while Andreas is excluded from team competition during 2024.

    “There have been very ugly pictures, which need consequences. I am however worried that it is a controversy that divides us, although actually there is one thing that combines us and that is the love of horses. That is why we should sort a few things out,” she said.

    “It is good that we set ourselves a high bar. I try, however, not to make quick judgements of events from afar that I have not witnessed personally. In the past 35 years I have won many medals and have brought fantastic horses into the sport.

    “After their careers they have spent many years and still spend their time with me as pensioners. However, I have also made many unintentional mistakes on the way and I try very hard, through personal development and good training to keep these mistakes to a minimum. Those who know their boundaries have more humility when criticising others.”

    Isabell said she went to Andreas Helgstrand’s yard for the first time four years ago, and thanks to her long-term owner Madeleine Winter-Schulze, Joshua joined her stable.

    “Since then I have been there many times. During these visits I have never seen any form of incorrect riding or any form of incorrect behaviour. Actually, the opposite is the case,” she said.

    “In the meantime my students and I have bought quite a few horses from Andreas, that are all healthy and some are already successful in sport. We are very happy with all of them.”

    Isabell added that she was “surprised” about the footage of and statements from former Helgstrand Dressage employees shown in TV2’s documentary Operation X.

    “Although this did not happen at the establishment where Andreas trains himself, it remains his responsibility. I have spoken with him openly and in depth about this. There is however one thing that needs our attention; he was not pictured on any of the horses,” she said.

    “It was a personal and not a financial decision to give a clinic at Helgstrand’s establishment in Wellington, USA. While I was there I taught a few good horses with their riders and I rode one horse. The video of this has been seen and commented on by some of you. I did not use so-called rollkur nor did the horse suffer in any way. I was just not able to keep the horse, during the first time that I had ridden him, properly in front of my aids and in front of the vertical. His slightly short neck did not help the situation.”

    Isabell added that she believes it is important that in the future “we can have an honest and fair discussion, which will show the difference between bad riding and animal abuse”.

    “Mistakes in riding however should and must be discussed – this is the core of my sport and the prerequisite for the improvement of the horse and rider. But please, it has to be factual, objective and fair,” she said, adding that this does not apply to cases like Cesa Parra, which are a matter for officials.

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