After dominating the young rider divisions from coast to coast, Kassandra Barteau took her career in an unexpected direction when she reached the senior ranks.
If you’d asked Kassandra “Kassie” Barteau two years ago what she’d be doing in 2011, her answer probably wouldn’t have been painting fences.
In 2009, Barteau was finishing up a storied young rider career. She claimed the national young rider title three years in a row, won individual gold in the freestyle test at the North American Young Rider Championships and represented the United States at the FEI Young Rider Dressage World Cup in Germany, not to mention collecting more than 35 regional championships and being ranked first in the nation from training level to Grand Prix.
As she stepped out into the adult ranks in 2010, it looked like she was set to continue her winning ways. She won the Prix St. Georges test in the Collecting Gaits Farm/USEF Intermediaire I Championship and was regularly taking small tour wins and Brentina Cup blues.
But then the 23-year-old decided to take a chance and make a radical departure from the only life she’d known—riding eight to 10 horses daily and spending ceaseless weekends in competition as an assistant trainer at KYB Dressage in Maple Park, Ill., for her mother and stepfather Yvonne and Kim Barteau.
She left her horses behind and moved to San Diego to assume the role of a working student under the tutelage of Steffen and Shannon Peters at Arroyo Del Mar.
Pulling Up Roots
“Now she’ll call me saying, ‘Mom, I’m painting fences!’ or ‘I just made a huge feed order!’ ” says Yvonne.
Kassie was inspired to write a letter to the Peterses after spending the winter of 2011 in Wellington, Fla., with long time trainer and mentor, Cathy Morelli. She’d spent the previous winter in Wellington as well but had gone home to Illinois for the rest of the season.
During that summer, Kassie began experimenting with supporting herself by teaching some beginner lessons and clinics. But she wasn’t enjoying independence. “I was riding a lot less while I was trying to do my own thing in the Chicago area and teaching some up-down lessons. I was not me. I was much less happy being, in a sense, a normal person,” says Kassie.
So she decided to apply for a working student position.
“I encouraged her, but I was a little worried that maybe they already had a system set up that she wouldn’t fit into,” says Yvonne. “I told her that all you can do is put in a real heartfelt request. She wrote something up and showed it to me, and I said, ‘That should do it.’ Steffen responded immediately.”
The Peterses were impressed by Kassie’s “enthusiasm to learn and continue her education, even with the success she had at a young age,” says Shannon. She did a weeklong trial in March before they determined she was a perfect candidate for their team.
Kassie packed up her Jeep and headed west to sunny San Diego in late April 2011.
All In A Day’s Work
“We make the feed for morning and night, clean feed buckets, water horses; a lot of horses get wrapped at night, so we do that. We make sure the laundry is done, we ice horses, hand walk, treadmill some horses and have certain grooming responsibilities. Really whatever needs to get done—longeing, walking horses down to the arena, anything,” Kassie rattles off the list of things she now does each day.
Shannon says Kassie plays an integral role in the rigorous daily schedule to run the Peterses’ 60-stall operation.
“Our entire staff starts at 6 a.m., and it’s nonstop until 3 p.m. The staff rotates daily chores—walking out horses, putting horses on the HorseGym and Vitafloor. She is in charge of every aspect of care for the horses that she is assigned to. We certainly like things done a certain way, and I think it has added to the skills she already has,” says Shannon.
As she works off lessons with Shannon and Steffen, Kassie has just one training project: her 6-year-old Dutch Warmblood Aramo. The Peterses have also offered her a few stalls to take horses in on training so she can continue to support herself.
But you won’t see her in a shadbelly for a while, as the show ring veteran has no competition plans in the immediate future.
“I’m just focusing on training right now,” she says.
Furthermore, Kassie understands that the education she’s receiving while she’s not in the saddle is invaluable. Her countless hours spent riding meant she missed out on gaining a solid foundation of horse care.
“Kassie was more valuable on the back of a horse than in the barn, so she ended up on a horse most of the time,” Yvonne says of Kassie’s role at KYB. “Now she’s getting that background education.”
Kassie explains that in order to achieve her ultimate goal—to ride and train professionally with a small eight to 10-horse operation—she’ll need the ability to keep horses sound and healthy and run a barn just as much as she needs those riding skills. And perhaps, it’s a bit of a life lesson as well.
“I think I took it for granted, riding so many horses. People tacked them up for me, and now the roles are reversed,” she reflects. “I think it makes you more well-rounded, and it makes you really appreciate the people who have been working underneath you. Riding is just a small piece of it all.”
All’s Well On The Home Front
Kassie’s decision to split from her parents and KYB was not met without scrutiny from the public. And while she insists there is no bad blood amongst the Barteaus, she admits the decision was a personal one just as much as a professional one.
“I was homeschooled and didn’t go to college. I was always with my family,” she explains. “I wanted to try something new and broaden my perspective. Horses have always been my college, and I’m trying to learn more about what I want to do in life.”
A successful Grand Prix competitor and trainer herself, Yvonne didn’t disagree. “Our education in this business comes from experience. There’s so much to running it that you can’t learn in school,” she says. “Horses are Kassie’s school, and I told her that.”
While she admits that it was hard to let go of a daughter and a valuable asset to the KYB team, Yvonne maintains that Kassie’s decision came at the right time. “There was a pressure, and probably rightly so, for her to go away and be her own person away from us,” she says.
Yvonne lauds Morelli for helping Kassie grow as a rider and a person before making the decision to move to Arroyo Del Mar.
“She helped Kassie emotionally and personally even more than professionally. I think it was good for Kassie to see someone older in this sport who comes to decisions the same way that she does,” says Yvonne.
Morelli admires the sacrifices Kassie made to continue learning.
“It shows you the kind of person she is,” Morelli says. “She never thinks too highly of herself, and she knows that learning what it takes to manage the stable and form a support group is a basic part of the education.”
Yvonne and Kassie both insist their relationship is better than ever.
“Sometimes you have to go away for a little bit…It’s easier to look back and see how much someone loves you when you’ve been away,” says Yvonne.
And Kassie hasn’t cut ties completely with KYB. When Kim and Yvonne travelled to Maryland for the PVDA Ride For Life in June, Kassie flew to Illinois to ride and teach at the farm. She was also planning a surprise party for her boyfriend Rob Jarvis’ 30th birthday during her visit.
“I think she would be more sad or more disappointed if she didn’t have a horse out there,” says Yvonne. “She gave up other training opportunities and put her relationship with her boyfriend on hold because she thought this was important enough. She worries that she’s not in the show ring, but she’s going to have to see the light at the end of the tunnel.”
And while she may not be riding as much as she’d like just yet, California has struck a chord with Kassie, who has no plans to turn her Jeep back east. The rider glows as she talks about how much she enjoys the company of the Peterses and the crew at Arroyo Del Mar.
“I love my lessons with Shannon. She’s very descriptive and encouraging and a huge role model of mine,” Kassie says. “I see it panning out, but who knows. I wouldn’t mind living in California, so I don’t know if I’ll live here forever or if I’ll go back home.”
But her experience in the industry comes through as she adds, “You never know with horses. All you can do is surround yourself with the best influences possible.”