Heather Blitz Competes Stronger, Fitter Paragon in 1st Show in Seven Months
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By KENNETH J. BRADDICK
LOXAHATCHEE, Florida, Jan. 13–A fitter, stronger Paragon gave his first public performance in seven months Sunday with rider Heather Blitz admitting they were competition rusty but spectators appeared to agree with the score of 75 per cent in the Grand Prix from a single judge at the national level I.H.S. Blue Horse Dressage Premier.
How far the pair have progressed after a jam-packed 18 months of competing at small tour in the 2011 Pan American Games for United States team gold and individual silver medals then qualifying as team reserve for last summer’s Olympics will be judged in two weeks at the World Dressage Masters CDI5*.
With the hopes of the American dressage community that the pair can help restore the nation to medal-winning results after two disappointing Olympics in a row, Heather joked she feels more pressure than competing in the Pan Ams and then qualifying for London.
And to pile on more pressure, Heather has no rich sponsor–“not even a poor one,” she quips–so all the bills are paid by her. Plus, Paragon has become a poster child of American breeding. She was at his birth at Oak Hill Ranch in Folsom, Louisiana and has been his only trainer and competition rider.
Paragon, a Danish Warmblood gelding (Blue Hors Don Schufro x Pari Lord x Loran), just turned 10 years old and has characteristics that make him stand out in any herd–a bright chestnut, 18-hands (183cm) tall and weighing what Heather estimates at least 1,600 lb (726 kg.).
“More connection is needed,” she said after her ride Sunday, “he still needs to stay more through. He’s put on a tremendous amount of muscle from six months ago. Everything is looking great right now. I’m keeping my fingers crissed it stays like it is.”
This winter circuit in Florida will be the first major test for the two newest American Grand Prix prospects–Paragon and Legolas, the 11-year-old Westfalen gelding (Laomedon x Furstin x Florstan II) that Steffen Peters will bring from San Diego, California. He has been developing the horse for the past year as a successor to Ravel. Both competed in the U.S. Olympic selection trials but those were with four or five American judges while the two CDI5* events in Palm Beach, Jan. 24-27 and April 4-7, will have at least three foreign members of the five-judge ground jury.
Two proven U.S. combinations, Adrienne Lyle of Hailey, Idaho and Wizard, and Tina Konyot of Palm City, Florida, both on the U.S. squad in London, are also competing in Florida as is Sweden’s world No. 10 Tinne Vilhelmsson-Silfvén and her Olympic mount, Don Auriello. Swedish team mate Patrik Kittel and Waterill Scandic H.B.C. will also compete in the January event along with Edward Gal and Interfloor Next One and Hans Peter Minderhoud and Withney van ‘t Genthof.
The 44-year-old Heather, based in Wellington, Florida, said that as the U.S. has no international championship until the World Equestrian Games in Normandy, France at the end of August, 2014 she would love to take this year to train with no competitions thus no pressure.
She knows that is not possible, but prefers to train in her own system working with Mary Wanless of Great Britain, focusing on biomechanics and physics.
“I woud love to have the help of someone I know well enough and knows my system well enough,” she told dressage-news.com.
“But I’m just a very independent person, and it’s not to say I don’t glean things from other trainers. I pick and choose tidbits that work for me. I developed my riding pretty secluded in Louisiana without help except for clinicans. It’s hard to take a lot of advice.”
She describes herself as a “purist” in training her horses.
“My biggest goal is to train as well as I can and not to be led down the wrong roads to satisfy anythng but my own sense of what’s right for the horses. If that wins that’s great. If not, I don’t want to train just to win. I want my students to really learn the nuts and bolts, the physics of being a good rider. Thats what makes me tick.”
The isolation of the American Olympic team from the time of selection trials in June to being based in England before returning home in mid-August, she said, “affected me positively. It gave me and my horse a lot of credibility and it was a good trial run to be cloe to the stress and excitement of it. It was very valuable, I learned a lot, just being patient and to put your life on hold for three months. It was a growing experience, too.
“I’m glad I did it. It didn’t take anything away from me, except that it was costly in that I could not make any money for a while.”
Heather said she is still in her post-Olympic phase and does not want the stress of thinking about the schedule leading up to next year’s world championshps until the Fall.
However, she has partnered with Oak Hill Ranch in ownership of Ripline, a five-year-old Danish Warmblood stallion (Hotline x Cavan) she hopes will be a contender for the world young horse championships in Verden, Germany in August. If that happens, she hopes to take both horses to Europe for a few months. She was based in Denmark for four years, training and competing two of her horses, Arabella and Otto, the horse she sold for Todd Flettrich to ride at the 2010 world championships in Kentucky.
“It is invaluable experience to be around the quality of horses and trainers in Europe,” she said.
Heather was asked about the issue of money in a sport where many top riders have well-heeled sponsors and with elite level of the sport centered in Europe that adds the extra financial burden of transatlantic travel and foresaking bill-paying business at home.
“I’d love to have a budget or support to maintain my horse so I didn’t feel the stress of owning him, of having to care for him in every aspect. I have to work from sunup to sundown so I have the budget to do what I can do. It would really relieve the stress and I feel the more dedicated attention to him would also help.”