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July 3, 2009

Bateson-Chandler Breaks Into The Big Time At Collecting Gaits Farm/USEF Dressage Festival Of Champions

Katherine Bateson-Chandler and Dea II. Photo by Sara Lieser

This Robert Dover protégé proves she can hold her own in good company.

Katherine Bateson-Chandler knew winning the Collecting Gaits Farm/USEF Intermediaire I Championship wouldn’t be easy. A stellar class of small tour horses traded places all winter in Florida, and anyone could have emerged the champion.

But Bateson-Chandler peaked Dea II at the right moment, and despite steady rain throughout the competition, she captured her first national title at the Dressage Festival Of Champions, held June 18-21 in Gladstone, N.J.

“She showed me she’s a true international horse,” said Bateson-Chandler. “Through the winter she’s been great, but she had one bad show where she got a little intimidated by the environment, so I was hoping that wouldn’t happen here. She’s shown she’s grown up a lot over the season. I’m thrilled with her.”

With almost two inches of rain over the course of the competition following nearly constant rain in the preceding weeks, things got pretty sloppy in the Dick and Jane Brown Arena at the U.S. Equestrian Team Foundation’s headquarters. The ground jury, headed by Janet Foy, decided to call the competition after the junior class finished on Sunday.

“We watched the first class, and the kids did a great job, but there were spots in the arena that were deep and slippery, and there were still lots of puddles,” said Foy. “The last thing we want to do as a ground jury is to harm a horse. Our first priority always is for the welfare and the safety of the horses.”

Competition also ended early on Thursday morning after the Brentina Cup test. The ground jury members called a riders’ meeting then, but they didn’t consult with the competitors on Sunday. Foy was concerned that the riders’ rankings in the championships would affect their vote.

“We might look like the bad guys now, but if we’d let the competition go on, and even one horse had been hurt, and one horse was no longer an international competitor—to me that’s a worse problem than stopping the competition,” said Foy.

Final standings were determined by the ranking after two classes for the Intermediaire I and Grand Prix competitors. The Brentina Cup, young rider and junior championships were able to ride all of their tests.

“Since we had a ranking after two sets of competition, that is the ranking of the championship,” said Gil Merrick, the assistant executive director of sport programs for the U.S. Equestrian Federation.

Bateson-Chandler had already ridden and won the Prix St. Georges (73.10%) and the Intermediaire I (74.57%) over Jan Brons and Teutobod. But less than a point separated the pair, so Sunday’s freestyle ride might easily have changed the outcome.

“I would have loved to have done it. I love my music, and I think it’s really fun. The choreography is great, and I was really excited to show it, because I think the music really fits her. So I’m dis-appointed,” said Bateson-Chandler.

“I think my horse is pretty good in whatever footing, but if they believe the footing is dangerous in any way, shape or form, or getting up to the footing was dangerous, then we’re always looking out for the best interest of our horses,” she continued.

“I’m going with the idea that all the decisions made are in the best interests of the horses. It’s up to the show management to decide what’s going to happen. I just live with what they tell me is going to happen,” agreed Brons.

“But I was all geared up to catch up. I was hoping that she’d make a mistake somewhere, and then that would open the door. We were that close.”

Hard Work Pays Off

Despite the disappointment of not finishing the competition, Bateson-Chandler’s win with the 9-year-old Hanoverian mare (by Daidalos) and her third-placed finish with Rutherford were just the confirmation she needed that she’s on the right track, especially in an exceptional field with scores above 70 percent down to fifth or sixth place.

Bateson-Chandler got her start in the horse industry as six-time Olympian Robert Dover’s groom. He encouraged her to make the change to full-time riding and training after the 2004 Olympic Games. She’d been giving dressage lessons to Jane Clark, who was one of Dover’s biggest supporters, so Clark naturally decided to sponsor her.

And while Bateson-Chandler, 34, was extremely grateful for her opportunities—she qualified Dover’s Rainier for the 2005 Grand Prix Championships and rode FBW Kennedy in 2005 and 2006—there were always naysayers who doubted her ability to bring along her own horses.

“Last time I was here, I was with Rainier. Everybody should have a first Grand Prix horse like him. Robert did such an amazing job training him and then training me on him. That was a great first experience to get in the ring,” said Bateson-Chandler. “To then move on with green horses has been really great. I showed [Dea] in her first Prix St. Georges. She’d just been doing fourth level when I got her. Rutherford had never shown before. I went from one extreme to the other, from horses that had shown a lot to these two green horses, but it set me up really well.”

Bateson-Chandler cited luck, but it took lots of hard work to get both horses showing solidly in the small tour.

“When I first started riding [Dea] in September, she’d just really confirmed her single flying changes, she’d just started doing tempi changes on a long wall. I was tentative to even show her at that level during this past Florida season,” she said. “She hasn’t been shown a lot, but she’s been shown by really good riders.”

Bateson-Chandler, Wellington, Fla., found Dea while she was in England training with Carl Hester last year.

“With a mare, it’s important to have a special relationship with them. You can’t bully them into stuff. You have to be partners,” she said. “As a rider I like that. I like to have a long relationship with my horses; I like to be in the barn a lot. I do a lot of their care in the barn. I was a groom for so long, and that’s been a big part of my life, so I enjoy that part. I spend a lot of time with her, and hopefully we’re building a trusting relationship.”

Bateson-Chandler has her sights set on Grand Prix with both her small tour horses.

“I haven’t put the [Grand Prix] test together yet, but she’s ready. She has to build strength more, but I’m hoping we can do a green Grand Prix at the end of July,” she said. “I want to start getting in there with both of them and picking away at it. It takes a little while to work out the kinks when you have a green Grand Prix horse, so I’d like to get started as soon as I can.”

“We’re going to really concentrate on bringing those Intermediaire horses up,” agreed interim U.S. Chef d’Equipe Jessica Ransehousen. “A lot of these horses are on the cusp of being our next Grand Prix horses. I think we’re going to have a new variety of horses coming out in the late fall and early spring that are going to be really fun to see.”

Brons said Grand Prix is his goal with Teutobod also.

“I’m going to put it all together after this horse show, and when I feel he’s ready to actually go down centerline with it and do a good job—when I know I can give him confidence doing it—then I’ll take him in,” he said.

Although Brons hoped he might move ahead of Bateson-Chandler in the final class, he expressed only pleasure over “Teddy’s” performance.

“The horse did the best he could, he stepped well up to the plate and smacked as hard as he could, and I rode very well, and that’s what it was.”

Experience Tips The Scales

As the Intermediaire riders contemplated moving their talented young horses up, Leslie Morse entered the Grand Prix championship secure in the knowledge that she and Tip Top 962 were a solid pair at the level.

They contested the Collecting Gaits Farm/USEF Grand Prix Championship in 2006, finishing third overall, and that same year Morse represented the United States in the World Equestrian Games with the 15-year-old Swedish Warmblood stallion (Master—Hortensia).

The pair came into the championships as the top-ranked combination, and it was no surprise when they produced a solid Grand Prix test to take the lead on Friday (72.00%) over Pierre St. Jacques and Lucky Tiger (68.59%).

Those placings would end up deter-mining the championship. If the riders had competed in all three tests, then the Grand Prix would have counted for 45 percent of the score, the Special for 35 percent and the freestyle for 25 percent. Since the Special was canceled, the Grand Prix was worth almost twice as much as the freestyle.

“I wanted to put in a solid, solid ride, and that’s what we did,” said Morse of her Grand Prix test.

She’d planned to ride less conservatively in the freestyle but hadn’t counted on the wet weather.

“At the beginning of the class it looked solid, but when I was going it was sloggy and heavy,” Morse said. “The centerline was very tricky. We were trying to stay away from it.”

Despite the difficulties, Morse had nothing but praise for the ring crew. “It’s amazing the arena has held up this much. The maintenance crew has been brilliant in what they had to do,” she said.

Morse, 44, debuted a new freestyle, using music from Annie Lennox and Stevie Wonder. Karen Robinson of Applause Dressage helped her put it together.

“It’s extremely difficult,” said Morse. “I will be making some changes. We’ve used this competition as a trial with it, and I’ll keep tweaking it here and there until we get it absolutely solid.”

It was up-and-comer Adrienne Lyle who led the honor round on freestyle evening with Wizard (74.95%), the horse on which she won the Brentina Cup last year. She rode to a fun medley of country music including Big & Rich’s “Save A Horse (Ride A Cowboy)” and John Denver’s “Thank God I’m A Country Boy.”

“That girl is going to be a star in no time,” said Ransehousen. “We really saw a lot of nice combinations, horse and riders that are going to break out into some big time good stuff.”

Morse placed second that evening (74.25%) but her Grand Prix score was easily high enough to earn her the overall title.

“It feels great! Tip Top did a fabulous job. We’ve really grown together, and I’m very proud of him,” she said. “I’m very excited to go to Europe from here.”

Morse, Beverly Hills, Calif., plans to head straight to England to ride with Kyra Kyrklund. She hopes to contest CDIs at Hartpury (England), Hickstead (England), Verden (Germany) and Hansbeke (Belgium).

“It’ll be a great tour. The timing is excellent to help us move forward in the next few years. I’m very excited. Thank you to the USET Foundation for the grant,” she said.

Morse also expressed disappointment in not being able to ride the Special. “It’s a wonderful test for Tip Top. I was looking forward to doing better today than yesterday. That was very important to me,” she said. “But I think the decision was extremely wise. All the horses did a great job yesterday and the day before. I think we should call it a day, get out before anybody gets hurt and move forward.”

The Comeback Kid

As the reserve champion, St. Jacques, 44, agreed that safety of the horses needed to be the priority.

“The footing is getting slippery, and it’s getting not safe for the horses. But you’re a competitor, so you want to go out there and compete. You’re torn,” he said.

However, St. Jacques, Anthony, Fla., still had plenty to celebrate. His last trip to Gladstone came in 2005 when “Tiger” placed fifth in the Grand Prix championships. But St. Jacques went through a divorce in the intervening years, and the 14-year-old Danish Warmblood gelding (Lucky Light—Teike) needed time to settle.

“I took him to a lot of events and just let him hang out. My girlfriend, Samantha Taylor, was trying to qualify for the Olympics [in eventing], and that was more important,” said St. Jacques. “He just chilled out. We were staying home and doing the training. A lot of people, when they saw me schooling on the dressage day, were really scared, but I told them I would never make the time.”

Tiger performed a very obedient Grand Prix test, although he got a bit tired in the last piaffe. His freestyle didn’t work out as well, in part, according to St. Jacques, because it’s several years old and doesn’t really fit him anymore.

But finishing in second place at the national championships certainly proved that Tiger is back in action.

“It feels pretty darn good,” said St. Jacques. “I don’t have a sponsor—this is a one-man show. I don’t have any plans to go to Europe. I’m going to go back home and let him rest for a while. I’ll probably do a couple of local shows and then go to [Dressage At Devon (Pa.)]. That’s been my goal all year. I really want to work on getting Tiger stronger, because there’s a lot more horse in him. He’s got great confidence now. There’s a really top horse in there.”

“I’m really pleased about how nicely Pierre rode,” said Ransehousen. “He’d had problems with his horse before. They look as though they are being properly addressed. He’s riding really well. That’s all very exciting. We’re looking at new faces that are going to be important in the future.” 


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