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May 11, 2012

Road To The Olympics: Heather Blitz, Part 2

Heather Blitz and her Olympic hopeful mount, Paragon, will head to Gladstone, N.J., for the USEF Dressage Festival of Champions and Olympic selection trials in June. Photo by Lisa Slade.

In this series, the Chronicle follows seven riders as they seek to fulfill their Olympic dreams in London in 2012.

Now that my qualifying season with Paragon is winding down, it’s time to get back to training before the U.S. Equestrian Federation Dressage Festival of Champions and Olympic selection trials in June in Gladstone, N.J.

Since placing second in the Grand Prix Special at the World Dressage Masters CDI**** [(Fla.) where she and Paragon scored a 73.78%], I’ve competed in four CDIs with Paragon, and we’ve had several top-five finishes. We competed at the Florida Dressage Classic CDI-W [held in Wellington, Feb. 16-19] and earned enough qualifying scores to keep us in the top 15.

Our next CDI was the Palm Beach Dressage Derby CDI-W [held in Loxahatchee, Fla., on March 1-4], where I competed in the Grand Prix and the Grand Prix freestyle. I went there strictly for experience and to get Paragon in the ring, not for qualifying, because I already had my required scores. He likes the show grounds there, so I thought it would be good for both of us.

I tried to go a little bit less on stress by taking some of the pressure off and going through the test like it was an ordinary day of training to make sure he stayed happy and confident in the ring.

He’s very confident normally, but I have to keep taking care of that. I can’t take it for granted. He needs to be happy about what he’s doing, and it went just like I wanted it to. I wasn’t trying to pull out a 10 on every movement.

Palm Beach was the first time we rode our new freestyle in competition. We had done two complete go-throughs at home, but it was still very new in my mind, so that adds a little bit of stress. I know our performance will get better the more we do it. Some of the more difficult movements in the test include two-tempis on a 20-meter circle, double pirouettes, and a piaffe with a 90-degree turn and a transition into canter.

My finale is really pretty too. I do a single pirouette near A then come up the centerline with 17 or 18 one-tempis right into the halt.

The music is from a performance by Cirque du Soleil called Kà. I really feel like it brings out what you imagine when you watch Paragon. It’s flowing and elegant, but there are parts that have a lot of power and drama. He’s a big horse who has a lot of presence and beauty.

Next we competed at the WEF Dressage Classic [also held in Wellington, on March 15-18]. We did the Grand Prix (70.12%) and the freestyle, which we won (75.35%).

Watch Paragon's winning freestyle.

I wanted to compete at the new show grounds because it has a very international feel and an electric atmosphere. Everything there was very competitor and spectator-friendly, and the footing was perfect.

I wanted to do the freestyle because there was good prize money, and the class was at night, and I wanted Paragon to experience that again. He loved working under the lights. He was electric. With him, the more electric the better. I don’t ever worry about him being too energetic. Plus, he wilts in the sun, so night classes are best.

Our final CDI was the Global Dressage Festival West Palm Beach CDI***** [held in Wellington on March 29-April 1]. I felt very honored to be invited with such a young Grand Prix horse. The big draw was another chance to get exposure in an international facility (and the prize money!). It’s been hard to fund my business while I’m away competing. Prize money is a step in the right direction. I’ve had some very generous people help me out, but there’s a long way to go.

In the Grand Prix, I had a very good warm-up, but at the last minute, he felt like he ran out of gas. I didn’t have a whole lot of power, but he tried hard and was obedient. The freestyle had parts that I liked better than the week before, but I also had some small mistakes.

Overall, it was a good final outing before Gladstone.

Training Mode

I know where his strengths and weaknesses are, and now that the qualifying season is over for me, I’m really just schooling connection at home. In some of the tests, we just went out so he would know what the test was like, but I didn’t always have him as connected as I’d want. Now I can stay at home for the next six weeks and really focus on strength over his back and connection into the bridle from behind and just really solidify him and make sure he’s on the aids. I think that will bump up our scores significantly.

Now I can really focus on the quality of each individual moment. We’re in training mode now, not show mode, so we’re focusing on the quality of the connection and the gait.

I recently got a sponsorship with Cavalor that I’m excited about. I approached them and asked if I could endorse their feed, and they were on board. It’s a tried and true product that I’ve really liked for a long time. Paragon has been on their feed for more than a year. It’s always been a little hard to find the right feed for him since he’s such a big horse, but I’ve seen a dramatic difference in him.

Now that the main competition season is over, I have a little more time to focus on myself, so I’m going to head back to the gym. I like to do spinning and weight training to keep my muscle tone. I ride four horses per day and have about 11 in my program, but I need to do some other form of exercise to be as fit as I can be.

I’m definitely training to win and get up on the podium. I feel like I’ve got a very strong contender in my horse, and I know he can definitely live up to the task.

I have to be really great in my training every day, and I have to be super-focused on nothing other than riding him well.

I can’t let myself think of anything else that goes along with doing this. I have to block it all out. If I can stay focused and have a lot of courage and do my best every day, I think we can do it.

Fast Facts About Heather Blitz

Age: 43

Hometown: Wellington, Fla.

Horse: Paragon, a 9-year-old Danish Warmblood gelding (Blue Hors Don Schufro—Pari Lord, Loran), owned by Blitz and bred by Blitz and Oak Hill Farm.

  • 1st place Grand Prix freestyle, WEF Dressage Classic (Fla.) (2012)
  • 2nd place Olympic Grand Prix Special, World Dressage Masters Palm Beach CDI**** (Fla.) (2012)
  • 3rd place Olympic Grand Prix Special, Florida Dressage Classic CDI-W (2012)
  • Team gold, Pan American Games (Mexico) (2011)
  • Individual silver, Pan American Games (Mexico) (2011)
  • 2nd place Intermediaire I Championship, Collecting Gaits Farm/USEF National Dressage Festival Of Champions (N.J.) (2011)

If you enjoyed this article and would like to read more like it, consider subscribing. "A New Freestyle Will Provide The Soundtrack For Heather Blitz's Road To The Olympics" ran in the April 30, 2012, Dressage issue. Check out the table of contents to see what great stories are in the magazine this week.

 

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