Heather Blitz a Katrina Refugee Ranked 6th
to Qualify for World Equestrian Games

By Ingrid Edisen

What do you do when you’re tall and blond and your legs stretch down to China? You may opt to qualify for the World Equestrian Games like Heather Blitz. Currently she is ranked sixth in the U.S. to qualify for the dressage team. And she proved why she is ranked so high as she is a beautiful and logical rider and trainer.

Dinah McNutt, owner of Silver Bit Farm in Leander, TX, hosted one of Heather’s clinic’s in late April. Heather will returned to Texas at Honeybrook Farm, Hockley, TX.

One of the Katrina refugees, Heather had to escape the hurricane with just four of her horses. For months her home facility in Folsom, Louisiana, called Oak Hill, was rendered inoperable by the flooding and eventually she sold the place and made her base in a suburb of the dressage hotspot near Wellington, FL. Oak Hill is still a working barn, though. This June she will compete at Gladstone for a berth on the WEG team. If she qualifies, then that will be her next line of pursuit. If not, then she is off to Europe to ride and train.

What I saw at the clinic emphasized many things I’ve heard at other dressage clinics but Heather said much of it in a fresh way with vivid imagery. She advised one rider to pretend she and the horse were to have a lot of stuffing in them, meaning tone in the mid section. Another she told to navigate the horse and “steer him like a city bus,” which I interpreted to mean that the rider emphasize straightness and to not allow the horse to pop out a shoulder or overbend its neck.

For riding position, she referred to a fencing lunge position, with the inside leg at the girth and the outside leg back some—this I’ve heard many times—yet the fencing imagery made me think of also maintaining a low center of balance in the saddle which is another desirable feature.

“Keep the bear down (feeling),” Heather advised, but also cautioned that this was more of a tone through the midsection, much like that achieved when one clears one’s throat, rather than cramming one’s crotch into the saddle and obstructing the horse’s spine. “The seat bones stay parallel to the ground at all times,” Heather noted, “although one may slide back or in forth of the other. She also was constantly vigilant on the issue that the riders use as light of aids as possible. “Make sure all you do is meaningful,” she cautioned. I shook my head to myself, remembering all the conflicting aids I’ve ever given my poor steeds.

She was able to explain to one owner that the more “active” that owner/rider got on the horse, the more the animal shut down. “Quiet your leg, ride more quietly. Tone and isometrics are the answer,” she reminded the student. “Use your lower leg as a last resort. It’s not a problem to use your voice to encourage a transition. Collection has to be forward thinking. You should be able to go in and out of transitions or to go from collection to medium at will. Make her more quick in the hind legs and lift her to your core. If you cluck to a horse and you don’t get any impulsion, then you automatically know you don’t have the horse in front of your leg.”

Another really good image was when she noted that the “neutral seat” was when the seat bones were at 9:00 and 3:00 in the saddle and for the shoulder fore, you might have the seat bones at 8:00 and 2:00.

But it was being able to watch her work Dinah McNutt’s warmblood grey mare that had all of us ga-ga. A truly elegant rider, Heather demonstrated all that she had harped on—her midsection remained strong and her thorax uplifted and parallel to the ground. Despite the sometimes erratic pitching the mare did, Heather’s balance and seat was so good that it did not throw her off for even a whisper of a nanosecond. She was in good enough condition as a rider that she managed to keep up a running stream of commentary, explaining to the audience why she was choosing to ask the mare to perform a specific movement at a certain time or place in the arena and how she remedied some of the riding problems the mare presented to her. For example, the mare at first did not want to go forward so Heather spent about three minutes lifting her into an energetic trot and telling us that it was at that point useless to do something as involved as a collected walk. She then did much at a canter and would not let the mare break into piaffe and passage as the well-educated animal would throw that into the mix as an evasion and a way of “stopping” the action. Rather, what Heather did was concentrate on three fully formed gaits, to extend the mare rather than bunch her up into her customary balkiness. By the session’s end, the mare looked more relaxed, forward and pleasant.

During the lunch break, we were treated to two videos of Heather riding upper level horses. Once again, we were floored by the control she had of her body because intellectually we all knew the large warmbloods moving beneath her seat offered huge scopes of movement, yet Heather maintained her wonderful balance throughout. If nothing else, besides the great kernels of knowledge I picked up that day from listening to her teach, the images I took away from that clinic of seeing a budding international rider operate will stay with me for a long time.

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