For almost two decades, Katherine Bateson-Chandler was a dedicated groom. Then, she decided it was time to give her dreams of dressage stardom a shot.
Katherine Bateson-Chandler is no stranger to the power of mentorship. At 17 years old, Katherine was offered a job by Robert Dover to groom his team of dressage horses — but it was much more than that.
With Robert’s hands-on approach to training and care, he gave Katherine a unique view into the world of dressage, and the lessons she learned led her to start her own business. Now 47, Katherine has climbed to the top of the sport with her 16-year-old Dutch Warmblood, Alcazar, while she continues to develop her training program and mentor the next generation of riders.
A Career Made Possible Through Grooming
Like many young riders, Katherine dreamed of being a dressage rider but the financial side of the sport posed a challenge. By working for Robert, Katherine was able to balance her love of the sport and offset the cost of riding — all while gaining an incredible education.
“I loved grooming,” she says. “If I wasn’t forced to focus more on the riding, I think I’d probably still be doing it. I got to travel the world and be in incredible barns in Europe. It took me places I never could have dreamed of going.”
But after 17 years, Robert urged Katherine to set off on her own. “I’m one of those people, if I’m with somebody in a situation, I’ll stay there forever,” Katherine told The Chronicle of the Horse in 2020. “Finally, [Robert] was like, ‘Look, you really need to go out on your own and do your own thing.’”
To build her own business, Katherine had to forego some of the grooming duties to focus on riding and teaching — but the lessons she learned from Robert inform her philosophy daily.
“I try to stay very involved in my horses’ care,” she says. “I know what veterinary care they need, I know that my horses need to be turned out looking like they’re ready for a show every day — that top level of care is ingrained in me.”
Beyond keeping the horses healthy, Katherine’s education included a deep dive into horse and rider biomechanics and movement — a lesson that’s helped her as she transitioned away from grooming and toward a career in teaching and showing.
“I was very lucky because I was Robert’s ground person,” recalls Katherine. “Even when I had no idea what I was looking at and no clue what that even meant. From the first day I started working for him, he would have me sit down and watch him ride his horses and evaluate. He taught me to have a really good eye from the ground.”
The Importance of Mentorship and Accessibility
Along with Robert, Katherine counts Carl Hester and Ashley Holzer as two important people in her career. “I think we all need mentors,” she says. “I know I can always go to them and they’ll inspire me.”
While Katherine is still building her own training program at the farm owned by her sponsor, Jane Clark, she’s excited to work with young dressage riders in the future — including sharing the message that you don’t need a strong financial situation to succeed in dressage.
“I think it’s fun to be able to inspire the next generation and let them know you don’t have to come from money to ride at an international level and be successful at this sport,” says Katherine. “Everyone can come from all different backgrounds. If you’ve got the determination and work ethic, then anything’s possible.”
“If you look at the group of top riders in our country right now, I would say the majority of them don’t come from a great financial background. But all it takes is somebody to believe in you.”
Back and Better Than Ever
With the winter show season in Wellington off to a strong start, Katherine looks forward to returning to the podium with Alcazar, aka “Lonzie.”
“He’s a really special boy to me,” she says. “We’ve been through a lot together — when you’ve been with a horse that long and you’ve spent as much time with them, you get on and you just feel like you’re home.”
Over the near-decade the two have worked together, they’ve shared major high points — including a memorable show at Aachen in 2019 when the duo achieved three personal bests. “Lonzie just felt incredible that whole show — and to have your personal best at what, to me, is the greatest show in the world is really special.”
With most of 2020 off due to the pandemic, Katherine shifted her mindset. “We never get this opportunity where there isn’t anything to do,” she says. “I tried to make the best of it and think of it as a positive — finally, a little bit of a break.”
Giving Lonzie and the rest of her horses time off was a good lesson, too. “You don’t need to keep hammering away at it all the time,” Katherine says. “Sometimes it’s not such a bad thing to take that pressure off for a little bit.”
While the 2021 Olympics in Tokyo are on Katherine’s radar, she’s keeping her options open to see how everything pans out. “I think a lot of athletes are trying to see how this is all logistically going to happen,” she says. “More realistically, I’m looking at doing some really fun Nations Cups this summer and I’d love to do Aachen again in September.”
Ultimately, Katherine looks forward to spending time with her horse. “Lonzie feels like a million bucks right now — he feels like he could go for years so I pray that he does.”