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Heather Blitz Clinic - May 1-2, 2010

Day One:

I was very excited to ride with Heather Blitz at the gorgeous Pineland Farm in New Gloucester, ME. The clinic was put on by the Southern Maine Dressage Association (SMDA). I may be a true adult amateur with very low level dreams (LOL) but as a teacher I value education. Anything I can do to further my riding education is important to me.

I was a bit perplexed that I was paired with a young rider who was on a Grand Prix level horse. My horse had Training level things to work on...what in the world did a Grand Prix level horse have to work on at Training Level? LOL! I had a dream last week that Heather ignored Dreamy and only would instruct the Grand Prix horse....LOL! So funny how our dreams show our fears....

Anyway, day one was fun. We warmed up while Heather watched us and then she focused on us as riders, rather than the horses. We took turns being picked on, ha ha ha. I really have no idea what Heather said to the YR with the fancy horse, because while Pineland is an out-of-your-mind multimillion dollar facility, they apparently have not invested in a very good sound system. I could not understand anything of what Heather said at the other end of the ring to the YR, nor could I understand much of what she said to me right when she was next to me! :( That was the only drawback to day one. Pineland, get a new system! Or tweak the one you have so it actually sounds like a person's voice, rather than someone talking "underwater". SIGH

Heather has been heavily influenced by Mary Wanless and her biomechanics of riding theories. I admit everything she said to me today was totally the opposite of how I have been taught to ride for the last 25 years! LOL! Here is a great article by Mary Wanless, about Heather, that explains these theories much better than I can do on my own.

I have been riding for 25 years. I know that they way a rider moves affects how the horse moves. But it was amazing, humbling, and slightly embarrassing to find out how disconnected I am to my body! LOL! Heather started by asking me where my seat bones were pointing. If I thought of them as flashlights, were they pointing straight down, forward to her front legs, or back to her hinds? I had a hard time isolating my seat bones! Seriously! I ride with them pointed back, I arch my back, but I also try to "sit up" and "put my shoulders back."

The funny thing is, Heather said that all of these things I have been told are actually making me use my body completely improperly, that is to say, not influencing the horse as I should be.

Hmmmm......

She said that even as a short 5 foot tall rider, I can still be elegant and tall like a six foot rider like herself. She asked if I had ever seen pics or videos of her ride (But of course!) She looks like she is growing tall and stretching up and down. NOPE. She is actually engaging her core and has more of a feeling of being squished.

Ummmm, what......??

Yeah, most of the first day was spent with me wondering what in the heck she was asking me to do! LOL! The shape Heather wanted me to ride in was so weird and wrong feeling. She put my stirrups up, which felt even more weird. I told her I felt like I was about to go over a jump. LOL!

She wanted me to think of "bearing down" with my core (stomach and back). She wanted me to lower my sternum, after YEARS of being told to lift my sternum. It was weird.

Here is a pic of Heather. Granted, she is in passage and her heel has lifted. But look at her body. Perfect line from ear, shoulder, hip, heel. Look at the angles of her joints. She is in perfect bio mechanical alignment with her horse.


And I have never been accused of looking THAT good on a horse! LOL! But Heather told me there was hope. That I COULD ride like that.

This squished feeling means that you have engaged your core. I have been trying to do that forever, but until someone like Heather can actually put it into words, I have been unable to actually do it. It is not that I have been taught how to ride incorrectly (far from it), but instead no one has been able to actually verbalize how to make my body do it!

My seat bones had to be directly facing down. I needed to be able to take the horse away magically and have my feet land perfectly without toppling forward or backwards. I needed to raise my stirrups to get the correct 45 degree angle in my thigh. I was bouncing around without any real balance. My balance was up in my chest, not down in my core. I needed to get my thighs "weighted" and on the saddle.

Wow, there was a lot for me to do! At first, I felt so overwhelmed, but it was soon obvious that not only was Heather good at explaining things, she was VERY patient and kind. You never know when you ride with a "big name rider" what they might act like. Plus, here I am on a Standardbred. I never know what I might get for attitude.

But Heather was awesome. I left my day one lesson feeling like I had a TON to think about but feeling very excited for day two. I still was not 100% sure what Heather wanted, but I knew I needed to know!

Day Two:

I was eager to ride with Heather again. I had spent time the night before on Mary Wanless' website, looking at her articles and remembering what Heather had said on Saturday. I sat on my seatbones and practiced keeping them straight. It was amazing to think I truly had no idea how to properly move my body. Sometimes I need to hear, then see something and even read it to actually "get it". I know I am a visual learner. :)

On Sunday, it all started to click into place. Already Heather said I was much more "toned" in the saddle. She said to think about my body (and Dreamy's) as a stuffed toy. Most of us have places where the stuffing has leaked out. But we want to keep our bodies like a brand new stuffed toy, evenly and firmly filled. Analogies like this gave me more stability and solidity. Heather reminded me that very few riders have this "brand new toy" feeling naturally, but we can all learn to imitate it.

She also said that I had a very flexible back/spine. Now one would think this was a good thing, right? WRONG. I was too wobbly. It is not that I needed more tension, but more stillness. Rather than think tense or stiff, I thought still. I had to figure out how to combine feeling my muscles firm and "stuffed" but also stay relaxed and loose in my joints.

It was amazing to suddenly be sitting properly on my horse. Suddenly, instead of just being on top of her, we were really moving in sync. All of a sudden, all of Dreamy's bobbling and occasional lack of connection was gone. Instead, I was riding my horse without any clutter or tension. We were in complete connection and it was effortless. It was crazy, really! LOL!

The thing that really made me understand was when she pointed out that my shoulders are not connected to my spine. Hmmm.....so when I have been told to put my shoulders back, it was incorrect to lift my sternum and stick out my chest. But so many riders do that! The analogy that worked for me was to think of snapping my sternum and my bellybutton. All of a sudden, I was sitting absolutely straight in alignment with my spine "neutral." I tend to want to hollow my back. Then she told me to snap my shoulder blades together. With my stirrups up, suddenly there was more weight in my thighs and less in my heels. So I practiced in front of the mirror in the Pineland indoor. Wow, while I felt like I was leaning forward and totally squished, I was actually sitting tall and elegant in the saddle. I was not behind or in front of the vertical. I looked.....well.....elegant! I looked like that photo of Heather above! :)

Sadly, I did not really meet the goals I had set for this clinic: work on the right lead canter and practice the stretchy trot circle. But MAN, did I learn something! Our canter did improve and all I did was sit on my horse differently!!!!!! Heather apologized at the end, when we never got to work on the stretchy trot and really did no true exercises, etc. for the canter. But I told her that what she did teach me was worth so much more than a few more exercises to do. She reminded me that in the canter, until the horse goes right, the rider cannot sit right; but until the rider sits right, the horse will not go right. So it is a catch-22 of sorts, but also I did find that as soon as I cantered in my new "snapped" position, and kept my back STILL, Dreamy's canter got bouncy. Like she actually had LIFT. Heather said she thought her canter looked pretty good.......I assured her that it was not normal!!!! LOL!

I thanked Heather for her time and patience (and sent a nice email to the SMDA board member who arranged the clinic). I jokingly asked her to come back next weekend....LOL...and better yet come over to my barn each day to watch me ride. WOW, I just hope I can continue riding the way she had me ride. I was riding correctly for the first time ever and my horse was through. She was supple. She was free of tension and was completely connected. It was amazing. :)

I hope I can ride with Heather again someday. It was well worth the time and money...but next time I am going all out and paying for a private lesson! LOL! :D

Hopefully there will be some pics coming. I did not bring a groom or anyone, so I had no one taking pics with my camera. But some of the SMDA members had cameras.

I know that I did not describe everything as well as I could have. It was one of those things that you had to feel. Had I been in the audience, auditing the clinic, I highly doubt I would have understood much of what Heather said. I needed to feel it, to actually see my body doing it, and see my horse respond so well. :)

PS- And my ankle held up really well! It it 99% healed, just a bit of stiffness and slight swelling left. :)

Comments

Mel said…
Thank you for sharing - what a wonderfully written post. What you wrote reminded me of my first centered riding lesson. We didn't work on any of the things that *I* had planned - instead we worked on my position and I was amazed at all the things I had been doing wrong and how my horse responsded once I corrected them.
LiveToFly said…
Interesting blog today! I wonder how much of Heather's theories also can be applied over fences? I've heard some of what you wrote before, but some of it (like feeling "squished") is just like you said...the exact opposite of what I've always been taught! I'm going to play around with it on Johnny tomorrow...let you know how it goes!

Glad to h ear you had such a fantastic clinic!
AareneX said…
You should see me, here at my computer, "snapping" my shoulder blades, experimenting with my seat bone flashlights, and doing all kinds of bizarre contortions.

Thanks for sharing your learning experience--I learned a lot!