After the Storm

Thursday, February 16, 2006

For seven years Heather Blitz, worked for Oak Hill Ranch in Folsom, Louisanna riding and selling the Danish warmbloods they bred and raised. Blitz made it to the FEI arena riding the well known Danish Stallion, Rambo, and continued to rise in the ranks of American Grand Prix riders and trainers. The tall soft spoken attractive and elegant dressage rider had begun to carve a solid career, building a clientelle teaching clinics, and competing at the FEI Levels while consistently developing quality young horses.

With Arablella, a Rambo offspring, Heather has raised and trained from a foal, she has continued her success, ranking fourth in the USET Grand Prix standings going into the 2006 season.

With a farm full of horses, and a busy career training and teaching Blitz was settled into a busy happy life, doing what she does best. But on Saturday, Aug 27, 2005 it was all about to change. Hurricane Katrina came bearing down on Louisanna, and she had a short time to make important decisions; decisions that would change the direction of her life.

Hurricane Katrina Took Over

Currently settled at a new locale in Stuart, Florida, Heather brought with her a few of her client’s horses to ride and sell, and continue her quest with the lovely chestnut mare Arabella, to make the short list for the US Selection Trials for the 2006 FEI World Equestrian Games. While she is not sure what her future holds, or where she will go after the Florida season, she's not worried.

Katrina changed all that. “The biggest lesson I have learned from Katrina.” said Heather, “is how to not be too worried about having plans for the distant future. It is ok to me now to know at least what I might be doing in the next few weeks. Planning is great but it is not something I can feel very confident in doing right now. I just have to be patient and let my life go where it goes.”

Heather shared with DressageDaily her story......

Running From Katrina - Heather Blitz Shares her Story with DressageDaily

On the eve of Hurricane Katrina my thoughts were to hunker down in my home in Covington Louisanna, and ride out the hurricane. I had safely done so in the past for other storm threats. When I woke on Sunday morning and watched the updated predictions on TV, seeing how far north they said the 135mph winds would reach, I realized the seriousness and decided at that moment to evacuate. That was at 9am. Oak Hill Ranch has about 70 horses so there was obviously nothing I could do last minute about all of them. I quickly decided who were my most important 4 (had a 4 horse trailer) and loaded them up along with my 3 dogs and parrot. I was figuring I’d be back in 3-4 days, 1 week at the most so I packed a few shirts, a pair of jeans and a pair of riding breeches. Last minute, I thought about bringing some tack in case I’d have time to ride while away.

Photo: Corland H one of the 4 horses evacuated to Tennessee, now for sale.

At 1pm, I pulled out of the ranch with a full tank of diesel (and my most valuable things), into a long line of traffic absolutely creeping north toward MS. It took me 45 minutes to get where it usually took 5. It stayed that way until about Meridian MS. While waiting in traffic, I called a few people I knew that I thought might have room for me and my stuff. I didn’t want to go west since it was taking people 18 hours to get to Houston (usually a 5 hour drive) so I headed north to my friend Linda Holste who owns Covered Bridge Farm in Nashville, TN. She welcomed me and my horses and we proceeded towards Nashville, making it there in 13 hours when it is normally an 8 hour drive. Luckily, my rig got good enough mileage for me to reach the first available fuel which was the last of it at that stop. Many people were becoming stranded alongside the interstate with no gas to go any further.

Hugely relieved to be pulling into Linda’s farm at 2am, I quickly settled the horses in and tried to go to sleep. I think I may have been asleep for a few minutes but the thoughts of what was happening in LA/MS kept me awake. I surrendered to my “awakeness” and just watched CNN.

It was unbelievable to see what was happening as we all know, although news about my area, north of Lake Ponchartrain, was unavailable. All the reports were from the south shore and the city. There was absolutely no communication available in or out of the area so I was left to guess how things fared; people, horses, houses.... What a helpless feeling to not know what is going on and if help is needed, not being able to do anything about it. Not knowing if my house was still standing... It was a known fact that there was no fuel available so even if I wanted to get back, I simply couldn’t. I didn’t get word from anyone I knew there for about 6 days. That was the longest 6 days of my life. In the mean time, my cell phone being based in LA, would only work about a 20th of the time and then I might have gotten a few minutes before the call would drop. I felt completely useless and frustrated, not knowing what to do next. I was trying to get an idea of when a return might be possible and was hearing anything from 2 weeks to 3 months!

I finally got word by email that the horses left at the ranch in Louisanna were all unharmed although suffering through blazing hot days, with no water or power so the solution there was to put all the horses in the pastures which had ponds for them to drink from. That meant horses at all ages and levels of training were now living in a giant herd! A hard concept to take when you have spent years caring for them in detail and worrying about things like shavings in their tails and whether their manes are pulled to the perfect length... At least they were going to be ok.

I still had the challenge of how and when to return home. It was 2 weeks now that I had been away, living on my 3 days worth of clothes and personal belongings. I spent all of my time trying to get in contact with friends and family and riding the 4 horses that I brought with me. Good thing I packed that tack at the last minute!

Dressage at Devon, To Go or Not to Go

My next challenge was deciding if I would go to Devon or not. I really didn’t want this wretched storm to be an excuse for me not to go and I had the two horses with me that I had entered. I had been in contact with my friend in Covington about getting to my house to try to find my show clothes, boots and passports so that I could make it to Devon. He got there, had to literally climb over and through many trees and downed power lines to get into my house. ( 4 huge trees were on my house and two came through into the bedroom and bathroom) and after emptying out the maggot infested my show stuff and sent it to me. He had to drive an hour to Baton Rouge to send it to me since there was no mail in our area.

So I made it to Devon and because of that, felt I fought the effects of the storm at least a little. By the time I made it back, power had finally been restored to my house so I could think about living there again but it was 6 weeks before the power was restored at the ranch. So training and working there was somewhat impossible in such a hot climate, not being able to rinse the horses off after working and no fans to keep them cool. Their covered arena took on about 1.5 feet of water so it had to dry out as well. Little by little, things got better there but some things got worse. The stress level of the people in the area was rising more and more. Traffic had quadrupuled with evacuees living on the north shore, making the simplest of errands an all day affair. We all had so much more to do now fixing houses,, while trying to maintain life as it was as much as possible.

This has been an experience that I hope never happens again to any of us but am glad for the positive things it did for me. It gave me the kick I needed to move on in my life and start a new phase; To sort of clean house and start new. It is a powerful and exciting feeling. I have sold my house in Covington, which wasn’t hard with so many now homeless people needing housing and have moved to Florida for at least the whole show season. I am not sure what is next for me but I know it will be something great. Katrina did a great job in making us all realize what is important and what simply doesn’t matter.

Related Links
Blitz Horses for Sale-Corland H, Otto, Regalia
10/01-Heather Blitz Storms the ABIC/USDF Region Three Finals at Grand Prix and Third Levels