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Confidence is Key for Katherine Bateson-Chandler and Haute Couture

Short-listed Olympic dressage hopeful Bateson-Chandler reconnects with her mare through groundwork after a challenging start to show season.

Earlier this season, the Olympics might have seemed like a dream dashed for Wellington, Florida-based Katherine Bateson-Chandler. She and 12-year-old KWPN mare Haute Couture (Connaisseur – Destiney, by IRS Krack C) began their winter season at Adequan Global Dressage Festival (AGDF), but encountered issues with tension and reactivity inside the boards. The problems resulted in judges excusing the pair from the ring on two occasions.

Bateson-Chandler felt herself reeling after those shows and admitted that her own confidence had taken a hit. A relentless online assault from commenters didn’t help matters, nor did the fact that she felt her mare also losing some of her natural confidence in the aftermath of those experiences.

Katherine Bateson-Chandler cherishes her relationship with 12-year-old KWPN mare Haute Couture. The pair spent time reconnecting to improve their communication after a rocky start to the show season. © Susan J. Stickle

“As hard as everyone else was on me, nobody can be harder on myself than me,” Bateson-Chandler reflected. “I wouldn’t say I am the most overly confident rider by nature. That’s always something I’ve had to work on in myself.”

Bateson-Chandler was undeterred. Yes, the Olympics in Paris loomed large, and she’d spent countless hours preparing Haute Couture for a call-up to what would be the rider’s first Olympic Games later in the year. But for the moment, at least, those big goals went out the window. The priority was clear: She needed to reconnect with her horse and work on understanding the issues that had caused them to have such an uncharacteristically inauspicious start to their Olympic quest.

Reconnecting Through Groundwork

The horsewoman credits new tools she learned from an experienced horsemanship trainer and dressage coach Claire Gallimore to improve her communication with Haute Couture. This included basic groundwork and relationship-building exercises, something Bateson-Chandler had always expressed interest in but had never taken a deep dive.

“We ticked every box,” she recalled. “We practiced again and again and again. Not even hard work, just at the walk and on the ground. Claire is amazing. She helped me discover more things to do with Haute Couture on the ground. She’s such a mentally active mare that she never really ‘lets down’ and this work helped her focus.”

When it came time to test their efforts in competition, Bateson-Chandler and Haute Couture conquered whatever demons had come to haunt them before to deliver a consistent, competitive test with no fireworks during Week 10 of AGDF. “I was in tears at the end, just from the relief,” she recalled. And it was more than just a personal victory. The performance would earn the pair a personal-best score and a win in the CDI3* class.

Suddenly, the Olympic dream was back in focus, and Bateson-Chandler was named to the Short List for Paris by US Equestrian a few weeks later.

Early Bond

When she first purchased Haute Couture with Jennifer Huber from Danish rider Dinja Van Liere, Bateson-Chandler knew she was adding a horse that was very much her type to her stable. Were the Olympics on her mind as she formed an early bond with the mare?

“Honestly, I have a hard time saying, ‘I bought a this horse for the Olympics,'” she said. “I think you have to get the horse, get to know them and where you end up is where you end up.”

Through the relationship Bateson-Chandler has maintained with former rider Van Liere as well as her longtime coaches/mentors Carl Hester (GBR) and Ashley Holzer (CAN), she dedicated time to getting to know her “sports car” of a ride.

“Having eyes on the ground is key, not just people telling you how to ride. Them just being there as a mirror gives me confidence more than anything,” she said. “And it just takes time to get to know a horse. She had to come to my riding, and I had to go to how she was trained. It can’t be either/or.”

Letting Go & Moving On

Bateson-Chandler devotes a lot of time encouraging balance and self-carriage in the mare’s training and noted that Haute Couture is probably the most athletic horse she’s ever sat on.

“She’s like a cat. She can turn herself inside out and put her legs in crazy places,” she laughed. “And because she’s so crazy talented at half-passes, I try not to do so many of those. Instead, we do a lot of leg yielding to get her supple throughout her entire body and not just her legs. We also do a lot of transitions to improve her balance. Carl is very focused on balance, which is something we all work on, but that’s really his cornerstone. That has been really key with her.”

At home, Bateson-Chandler and Haute Couture practice a lot of leg yielding and transitions to get the mare supple through her entire body and to improve their balance. © Susan J. Stickle

Haute Couture is a “love bug” and very confident in herself back at the barn. “She’s always got her ears up and wants to be in your pocket. She talks all the time. She’s a really fun horse to have around.”

It’s this relationship that Bateson-Chandler cherishes and prioritizes, even as the pressure of an Olympic selection looms. For her, overcoming the challenges she and her mare faced earlier this season have made her feel like she can handle anything her career might throw her way. “The pressure from that difficult part of my season seemed like the most pressure I’ve felt in my career. So honestly, everything past that hasn’t felt the same. Maybe that happened for a reason, and now I’m just grateful and hungry for it.”

Doing Right by Her Team

Bateson-Chandler has been chosen to compete in the FEI Dressage Nations Cup Rotterdam CDIO5* at CHIO Rotterdam, one of two options for the short-listed riders currently training in Europe. Other short-listed compatriots will compete at Kronberg or, in Steffen Peters’ case, Aachen. “Haute Couture knows Holland, and I wanted to do something a little different from everyone else, take a punt and see how it goes,” she explained. “We’re going to give it all we have and see where it puts us.”

This would be Bateson-Chandler’s second senior championship, with her first being the FEI World Equestrian Games in 2010. She’s also represented the U.S. on multiple Nations Cup teams, and Haute Couture herself was a reserve for Tokyo in 2021 with Van Liere. But the team selection isn’t the sole indicator of success or validation for the horsewoman.

“I think this time is different because of the way things worked out. And she’s only 12, so I know there is so much more in this horse. I just want to do her, her talent and her owner justice. You always feel like it’s on you to make this happen,” Bateson-Chandler said. “But we’re also lucky in this sport. You see people in their 70s still doing it. Other athletes have very small windows of opportunity. As equestrians, we get more opportunities in our lifetimes. I just want to make this team proud. I feel like we say that word a lot, but it’s so true. There are so many involved, and my biggest goal is to do right by them.”

For more dressage advice and training tips from Katherine Bateson-Chandler, click here.

Thanks to Sentinel Horse Nutrition for our coverage of the 2024 Paris Olympics. This includes rider interviews, competition reports, horse spotlights, photos, videos and more.

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