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Dressage Word Champion Isabell Werth
Archive Interview/Gallop Magazine United Kingdom – used with kind permission
Q: Let’s talk about winning, you have won pretty much everything there is to win in dressage competitions. What kind of feeling is that for you?
IW: Expectations on me are very high, and I also have very high expectations on myself - you can’t just go into a show be really laid back about it. But setting your goals so high is something that also has a certain attraction to it - when you ride out of the ring and you have reached your goal, it gives you a great feeling of joy and also it boosts your self-confidence
Q: What do you think about when standing in the spotlight during victory celebration, and all eyes are on you?
IW: It is much nicer to be in the spotlight than to stand further back - yet when I am happy with what I have done, then I can also enjoy a second, third or fourth place. But when you come first - that is the real icing on the cake.
Q: When you get back from a show, what happens to the glory? Does it get left behind, and it is back to life as usual?
IW: Yes, everything goes back to my daily routine. Glory was yesterday’s issue, and then it is time to move forward into the future. There are young horses to be ridden, some meetings to attend, mail that needs to be answered. The normal day-to-day humdrum, just my regular life.
Q: Mail? As in: fan letters?
IW: Yes, that, too. Or people who request something, shows I get invited to. Because I travel so much, I usually have piles of mail waiting for me at home when I get back.
Q: Isabell, what do you do when you don’t ride and don’t otherwise work?
IW: I take time out for my hobbies. I like to read, for instance. Nothing heavy, a mystery maybe. What I read depends a lot on my mood at the time. But with all the work I have on my plate, I am sometimes glad to have a book to read that does not require too much concentration
Q: When you are at a show, is it possible for you to relax in between classes?
IW: Yes, I have made it a little rule to get away from time to time. That is very important. Experience taught me that, when a rider is all day at the show, waiting for the classes to start, he can get really hiped up about things. It is important to remember that you also have a soul, and are not just a person who rides. There is always something happening. Somebody always wants something from you. You just have to learn to make time for yourself as well.
Q: If you make a point of getting away from riding at times, then you have a much broader horizon, don’t you?
IW: Yes, you don’t get stuck only on riding because you have something else in your head as well at times.
Q: Germans are famous for their “security” thinking. I am curious as to how that works when choosing a career path like being a professional rider …
IW: well, actually, at the level that we do the sport, it is very conservative. You have a lot of security - we have to have a lot of discipline and give everything we can at all times. It is definitely a more varied and exciting life than sitting in an office all day. But when you get caught up in this type of life, then the success is being paid for with too high a price. It is a good idea to have an alternative and remain with both feet firmly planted on the ground.
Q: Is that difficult?
IW: It is so easy to get caught up if you are not careful. There’s an invitation here or there, and always someone who pulls you into every imaginable direction. You have to make time for yourself and get away. Of course, you want and have to accept some invitations, but you don’t have to do it all the time, every night.
Q: Does it ever happen that you have a day off, or two?
IW: Yes, when I have meetings outside that take all day. Usually, Monday is the day off for the horses, that’s the day I use to get rid of work that has been piling up on my desk, go shopping or whatever. But it also happens that on that day, we do end up riding, there may be horses that have just come from a show and need a bit of exercise, Monday is what we call a “Kluenkeltag” in German, where you do a bit of everything.
Q: What happens if you want to take time off? Two, three weeks somewhere, vacation?
IW: Vacation, what is that? The location called “vacation” is something I have already looked for everywhere on the map, but I have never found it. Seriously, though, I have to say that I am not even interested in that. 2 or 3 days is fine, but I have no desire to do nothing for 3 weeks - I would be completely bored and I prefer to spend that time riding. You have to keep in mind, I travel so much in my job that I am actually very glad when I get time off to be at home.
Q: Doesn’t it tire you sometimes, all that travelling?
IW: Mondays it happens that you get started very slowly because you are a bit burnt out from the show.
Q: And by Thursday it’s off to the next show already?
Q: How about your family?
IW: They are used to seeing me not as often as they would if I had a regular desk job. My friends are, too. It is not possible to plan on getting together - that’s just the way it is in my job. You have to take whatever time you can get. Only when there are actual important family gatherings, then I make sure that I can actually be there.
Q: How does your family react to your success? Are you now being treated differently?
IW: No. My family is cool about my riding and they do help me a lot with doing all sorts of tasks in the background - whether it is washing, phone calls, or all these little things that take a lot of time. As far as my personal standing within the family, that has remained the same as always.
Q: Has success given you more confidence, personally, not just as a rider?
IW: Of course, riding has helped me with the rest of my life as well. It was a good school for life. My self-confidence level has risen significantly, of course - now you might say things you were to shy to say in the past, and you are more impulsive, which is not always good thing. As my popularity has risen, I also had to put up with things, for the sake of it, which were maybe not so nice. But all in all, you are glad that so many people share your life. But for my friends, I have many that are not at all associated with riding, and to them it really does not matter whether I ride well or not.
Q: Interesting that you state your friends are not exclusively other riders. Many of the top riders say that it is difficult to meet people who are not involved with horses?
IW: It is true that through riding you make a lot of connections, and you meet a lot of people who are also involved in horses. But you also get a lot of invitations that are not necessarily associated with riding. You get invited to events where there are a lot of famous people, not only other sports stars. When you are successful, suddenly your entire life becomes very varied. Many people want to know you and shake your hand.
Q: If you meet new people, how do you know they really want to be your friends and not only because you ride well?
IW: It is rare that you stay in contact afterward. Most of my contacts are very superficial, but that is like everywhere else in life. As for my real friends, when I am having a bad time, that’s when I see who my real friends are. But I do not think this is something exclusive to being a professional rider. That’s like anywhere else in life, isn’t it?
Q: Who is your best friend?
IW: I still have one or two close friends from school, and then a few that I have met through riding. My close friends are a very small circle, but they are very good friends, with friendships based on mutual trust and so on.
Q: Has your friendship with people from school changed since you are famous?
IW: No, not at all, at least not on a personal level. The changes only happened on a practical level, because there is less time. I am sorry that we do not see each other more often. But even if we only get together once or twice a year, we can still almost always pick up exactly where we left off.
Q: Do your friends sometimes come accompany you to the big shows, even the Olympics or so?
IW: There is a wonderful group from my riding club at home, and they travel with me to a lot of the big shows. I am always very happy when they are there with me.
Q: They sit there, cheering, and are very proud of you?
IW: And I am proud of them and the fact that they are there with me. That is very important to me.
Q: Makes a difference to have people there from home, doesn’t it?
IW: Well, it is so that you don't actually get together at the shows. I mean, you know that there is somebody there, but you have so much to do with yourself and your shows, you don’t always get time for a nice quiet chat. You are somehow cut off from the others, aren’t you?
Q: So, mainly, at shows, you only come in close contact with the other riders?
IW: Yes, because basically we are a big family. We see each other every week at another show - over the years, this has really brought us closely together.
Q: So, on the circuit, you are closest to the other dressage riders?
IW: That happens by necessity. I also have a good relationship with some of the show-jumpers, because you see each other so often. You can also learn a lot from one another, despite the fact that we ride in different disciplines. You can learn from their attitude to the horses, from the way they manage their show schedule on so on. With dressage riders it is like this: with some of them you have a normal relationship, with others it is very superficial, and with some you get really close.
Q: Is there more jealousy among the dressage riders than among jumpers?
IW: I wouldn’t say so. But we must not forget that dressage riding is a sport where you are dependent on someone else’s judgement. With jumping, it is straightforward. The pole drops, and you know you are out. With dressage, it is different, because everything depends on the judges. But I would say that as far as jealously, it is the same in every sport, isn’t it? When you are being successful then you are being envied by some people. But I wouldn’t say that dressage is bitchy and in jumping, everything is fine. You have good and bad in both, there is jealousy in both, and there is also good, honest friendship to be found in both among the competitors. Whether you become friends with someone or not depends a lot on mutual attraction of minds, doesn’t it? Not everyone can be friends with everyone else. It has to do with the distance you live apart, and it has to do with a lot of things, like your way of thinking and of viewing the world. But it does not have to do with competition in the ring.
Q: You said that riders are one big family, a world of its own. What was it like for you when you first arrived as a new addition? Did you have to prove yourself?
IW: Some people were very open, and others said: let’s see if she is only good for one day, or if she is going to be here to stay. There, it is also like with everything else in life. When you come as a new addition to a family or a group that is so closely knit, then there are always some that will say: great, I like this person, and others who will say: no thank you.
Q: But now they are all nice to you because you are so good?
IW: When you are successful, everyone wants to know you. If you come first or usually place in the front, then you are accepted more than if you are always last or placing somewhere way behind. Some are able to separate your qualities as a person from those as a rider, and others are not. Outsiders, of course, look first and foremost at who you are as a rider, but that is something you just have to accept when you choose a career in the limelight for yourself.
By Tess Crebbin
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