Four riders received top-notch and timely instruction right before the Palm Beach Derby from two-time USEF Equestrian of the Year Steffen Peters, thanks to Renee Isler. Despite flooding rain and scheduling complications, Isler was able to pull off a special private clinic with Peters for her "Team Isler" riders, showing the level of dedication she has to the riders she sponsors.
The Team Isler riders include Elisabeth Austin, Kassandra Barteau, Luis Denizard, and Courtney Dye. Isler said she supports these riders because of the qualities they display out of the saddle as well as in the saddle – including a strong work ethic and the spirit of giving back to the dressage community. Isler's support comes in some non-traditional methods for a sponsor. To her, being a sponsor is more than writing a check – it's providing opportunities for professional growth and creating training opportunities to help them reach the top of their game.
As a coach and trainer and an active competitor himself, Peters does not often have time to teach private clinics. For riders who are not on the USDF Developing Riders list, top trainers can be difficult to access. Peters, the reigning Rolex FEI World Cup Champion and Olympian, spoke with humility about the clinic, saying, "It was great to work with these talented riders and equally talented horse. Thank you, Renee, for making this possible."
Denizard, who represents Puerto Rico, was especially glad for the opportunity to work with Peters. Denizard's goal this season is to earn scores to qualify for the World Equestrian Games in the fall. His horse Nalando (Caritas x Halanta), recently moved up to Grand Prix work. "This is my first year at this level of competition with Nalando," said Denizard, "and having the opportunity to ride with Peters helped me solidify some of the movements and improve my timing." Of the experience, Denizard said, "I am thankful for the trust and belief that Renee has in me and for organizing this clinic at a critical time. She has been there for me as a sponsor and as a friend." Of Peters, he said, "Steffen is a highly respected horseman and rider and I value highly the opportunity to learn from someone of his caliber."
This clinic proved to be a special challenge to organize because flooding rains saturated the Wellington area the two days preceding the clinic, leaving the original venue unrideable. Isler spent four hours on the phone the night before, trying to find a farm with a ring that was not flooded to host the clinic. "Pam Goodrich came out of nowhere, and said she knew a private farm down the road from her that was willing to let us use their property," said Isler. That private farm, owned Butch and Sylvie Widen, proved to be a lovely venue for the private clinic. "It was pretty amazing how everyone came through to make this work," said Isler, expressing her gratitude for the Widens' generosity.
Barteau in turn expressed gratitude for Isler's sponsorship, saying, "Renee is a very straightforward, honest and generous person. She's very persistent. It seemed like we weren't going to be able to do the clinic, but she was up all night working it out so that we would have this opportunity." Barteau was thankful for the opportunity to work with Peters and she rode Ginna Frantz's GP Delano in the clinic, a young horse who she took to the Palm Beach Derby right afterwards and earned a score of 71.8%, finishing second in a large Prix St. Georges class. Barteau noted that she learned a lot from her ride with Peters. "Steffen wanted me to make everything simple, and make sure that my aids were answered without me helping him out too much or making excuses."
The Team Isler riders had mentioned how they would love to ride with Peters at some point. "Renee is so selfless," said Austin. "We come up with an idea, and she follows it through. She always takes initiative - there is no "try" in her vocabulary, she just makes it happen. It's amazing to be involved in that." Isler's secret for obtaining a private clinic with the reigning World Cup champion? She called and explained to him how and why she helps these riders, describing her vision of helping shape dressage in the United States by supporting riders who will give back to others. "He thought that was great," said Isler.
Austin was originally planning to ride Olivier in the clinic, but she made the decision to take KC Dunn's 5 year old Dutch Warmblood mare Allure S (Rousseau x Farrington) after she and Olivier were chosen to ride in the Master's.
Of the experience, Austin said, "Steffen was wonderful in giving me the confidence that she was ready to move to that next level." Austin has been taking her time with the young mare and focusing on keeping her happy physically and mentally. For Austin, learning from Peters was an honor, and said that he "showed her some 'new buttons' that I didn't know were there." Austin said Peters emphasized that she should use counter flexion and move the mare around a little more to make her malleable. "Allure has a super walk and canter, but her trot is a little more normal at this point. Since the clinic with Steffen, we've unlocked a medium trot that is going to be spectacular one day!" said Austin.
The mare's talent showed at the Palm Beach Derby, where at her first show ever, she earned blue, red and yellow ribbons and scores of 71.2%, 70.4% and 66.3% in her training and first-level tests.
The fourth rider in the clinic was Olympian Courtney Dye, who was injured shortly after the clinic and remains in a coma. All the members of the tightly knit Team Isler are thinking of Courtney and her family, and wish her a full and speedy recovery.