Naked Truth of Riding Symposium V
Posted by Irina Yastrebova on Tuesday, November 11, 2008 05:17 PM
Heather Blitz is a Grand Prix rider who has been training with Mary Wanless for 14 years. Heather is very tall. I'm 173 cm and I had to lift my head when we were talking. She has such incredible core stability that her long torso becomes her asset when she is in the saddle. Her website is
When we checked in at the symposium we have received a print out which Heather usually gives to riders that are coming to her clinics. Besides working with riders on their biomechanics and effectiveness Heather has some interesting ideas in regards of training horses. She talks about aids versus punishment. In her view rider is punishing the horse if she has to apply visible or strong aids. Heather does not agree with the popular approach of increasing aids until you get a desired result. She thinks it teaches a horse not to respond instantly but to wait and choose to answer or not to answer. Aids are very light, everything else is punishment. If a horse didn't respond to light leg aid the next thing should make him say as Heather puts it:" Holy crap, I don't want that to happen again!" It can be a sharp blow with a whip, or several sharp blows depending on a horse. After horse calms down rider can ask with the light aid again. You ask only with light aid, when you punish you are not asking anything. You must know your horse well so you punish him accordingly. Heather wanted everyone to be clear that such approach is only about going forward from the light leg aid and nothing else.
Warning: Do not undertake it if you are not sure you are able to handle your horse's reaction.
When I was reading about it and then observing this approach on one of the horses Heather was riding I realized that I do not build up the aids anymore. I used to but not lately. I do not punish in the sense Heather described. I usually give a good smack with the whip on the horse's bum after first very light aid. Even if that messes my horse up I do not care. I wait until he settles and ask with light aids again. Most of the time his response 100% better. I must say I do not go after my horse with the vigor Heather does. However, watching her made me thinking about the whole aids versus punishment deal. Very interesting...
Another cool idea in the print out was an image. Imagine your horse's body is empty shell and it has a medicine ball inside. This medicine ball can roll around and in a collected horse stay centered and closer to the haunches. However, when horse is on a forehand the ball is closer to the shoulders and may roll to the side. Heather thinks - before you can frame, collect or bend your horse you need to find out where the medicine ball is and if you can change it's position.
Heather's riding was inspiring. She is so quiet, elegant, very steady and very effective. Heather didn't try to drive horses' haunches under or put them on the bit, or flex them left and right. She just made sure she was staying plugged in and kept her frame and the horse she was riding was going forward. Because Heather is so efficient at keeping her balance no matter what the horse is doing, she was able to organize them very quickly. Horses changed for the better in minutes in front of our eyes. They become stuffed, round and light on their feet. Some were quite happy with change, these were less schooled horses ridden by quite inexperienced riders. On the other hand trained horses were very surprised that their usual way of dealing with their riders does not work anymore. There was a 20-year-old gelding who is trained to Grand Prix. This horse couldn't "shake" Heather off her balanced and plugged in position, he tried all kind of things and even got upset. But eventually he went around beautifully collected with his back round and his steps springy and elastic. Things that Heather and Mary were talking about while Heather was riding:
  • A rider when she mounts a horse exchanges a sort of a "handshake" with it. Only this time it is a "bumshake" and a horse answers with a "backshake". This interaction is very important because it gives a rider and a horse a lot of information about their partner. Have you ever seen a school horse that a beginner rider cannot ask to make one step. With experienced rider this same horse is lovely, forward and obedient. Horses know the difference instantly, from the "bumshake" the rider offers when she lowers herself into the saddle.
  • A rider before she can ask anything from a horse must be responsible for her balance and position. A rider must make sure that a horse she is riding will not change it. Horses can have many tricks in their bag to "unplug" their rider. A rider must assess the situation, know what horse is trying to do to her and work on staying balanced and plugged in. Think of rider as container and of horse as liquid. As long as a horse can easily change the shape of rider's "container" there is very little chance the rider will be able to organize her horse.
  • Imagine there is a carousel pol that goes through the rider and down through the horse. The rider's job to keep that pol perpendicular to her horse. That means she must stay vertical and keep her horse at least in proper horizontal balance. If rider leans backwards but her horse stays on the forehand the poll is not perpendicular to the horse anymore. This is especially easy to see in canter. Many riders drive with their seats on the third beat of canter plunging their horses on the forehand and at the same time they half-halt the reins even lean backwards in attempt to bring their horse on the haunches. Horses cannot work like that, they become stiff, hollow and there so much in rider's hands that even curb bit turns horizontal to the ground.
Happy riding...
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