"It's what you learn after you know it all that counts," is a quote of famous basketball coach John Wooden. Young hunter/jumper trainer Julie Weisz wouldn't say that she knew it all before hitting a roadblock in her riding, but she knew a lot and had accomplished even more, having been a top junior who graduated to compete successfully in jumpers at the highest level, including a good placing at the Spruce Meadows Masters.
When she hit that roadblock, longtime trainers Joie Gatlin and Morley Abey encouraged her to start working with Arlyn DeCicco's Balanced Equine Training techniques. What Julie learned, and continues to learn, is the knowledge that is at the core of her San Diego training business, Elpis Enterprises. She likens the start of her journey to "opening Pandora's box," a reference to a Greek myth that led her to name her business after Elpis, the Greek "spirit of hope." In the legend, Pandora unleashes evil spirits entrusted to her by Zeus, but Elpis remains behind to comfort humankind.
Balanced Equine Training is rooted in the concept that, just like people are right handed or left handed, "horses have two sides and are left sided or right sided," Julie explains. The effect is that one side is typically stronger and/or more supple than the other. It seems very simple, Julie acknowledges, yet realizing that concept and its impact was life-changing. "I would go to shows, and in some classes where the courses were set mostly in one direction—say a lot of right turns—I would win. In other classes set in the opposite direction, I would struggle."
"It became very frustrating," she continues. "I was losing confidence in myself to the point where I was considering walking away from the sport."
Instead, she took her trainers' advice and began working with Arlyn. One of the first lessons of Balanced Equine Training takes place on a lunge line. "The primary goal of the exercise is to ride an even 20m circle, being aware of left aids and right aids to keep the lunge line from falling on the ground or from pulling the instructor off her feet. Some can do it almost perfectly in one direction, but not the other." And that was the beginning of her journey seven years ago.
More To Learn
"Acquiring this knowledge is a lifelong process," Julie says. "There's always more to learn." Sharing what she's learned with students and horses is the focus of Elpis Enterprises. Her program is a great fit for clients who understand that a thorough horsemanship approach is the best way to earn show ring success and a gratifying relationship with their horse. It's by no means a shortcut to the winners circle, Julie notes, but rather a path to getting there with healthier outcomes, in part because injury prevention is one of the benefits of balanced training.
"It fits in well with the structure of the conventional hunter/jumper world," Julie notes. "In my experience, and from many different levels of training, there are a lot of different ways to achieve similar goals. My goal is to create a balanced equine athlete and balanced rider and to show that off in competition."
Julie is thrilled to base her Elpis Enterprises at Swede Equine in San Diego County's San Marcos. "It's a beautiful facility with great footing in the arenas and includes the option of grass turnout." While riding back East in the past, Julie realized the benefits of turnout for horses minds and bodies.
Earning a degree from and riding for Gettsyburg College in Gettysburg, PA also influenced Julie's training approach. Her economics degree has helped with the business aspects of the training profession, and riding for the school's IHSA team was "a fantastic experience." Julie was a team captain in her junior and senior years and enjoyed helping bring about a transformation for the Gettysburg "Bullets."
When Julie arrived at Gettysburg, the small equestrian team had a bit of a defeated attitude regarding its chances of becoming a real contender in the region. "I tried to convince team members that it was all about becoming the best riders we could be, no matter the level, and if we did that, we could succeed." During her tenure on the team, membership nearly tripled, retention rates improved dramatically, and so did the team's ranking. Seeing the impact of helping people believe in themselves "gave me a better understanding of the importance of teamwork," Julie reflects. "Even though riding is an individual sport, the team element plays a role in our partnerships with our horses and the people that come together to create a winner."
For more information, visit www.elpisenterprises.com or 949-303-9258.
Dr. Gerd Heushmann's DVD If Horses Could Speak and the book Tug of War: Classic Versus "Modern" Dressage. In both, the well-known veterinarian explains how anatomy and physiology affect the horse's performance and, in the latter, how widely-used incorrect training methods can undermine a horse's health and well-being.
A Horseman's Notes, by Erik Herbermann. A treatise on the intimate workings of the art of classical riding.
Centered Riding, by Sally Swift. "An innovative way of expressing the classical principals of riding using body awareness, centering and imagery."