By Erika N. Chen-Walsh
At the beginning of this season, I rode into the schooling ring the afternoon before a Silverwood Dressage show, my horse resplendent in his royal purple polo wraps, and I in my hot pink riding gloves, ready to practice my freestyle. Yvonne, from the judge’s box said, “I can see it is not picture day for you today.” Once again, I found myself in the penalty box for dress code violations.
I am a repeat offender when it comes to fashion offenses. A recidivist. A chronic offender. The joke on Team KYB is that the Hand of Kassie is evident on me. Let me explain.
First, I am one of Kassie Barteau’s biggest fans, both personally and professionally. Kassie beams sunshine from an inner (and outer) beauty that charms humans and horses alike into a sunny sense of well being. The world is a better place with Kassie in it. (And if you have been deprived of the extreme pleasure of meeting one of the most talented and charismatic riders in the US, please check out the USDF Connections feature article on her here: The Road Less Traveled.)
I came to KYB Dressage at the dawn of Kassie’s greatest riding accomplishments (so far). I was a new boarder and client who had never met her one day when she quietly stole into the barn, flashed a movie-star smile on me and started wrapping the opposite legs on my stallion. “Hi!” she announced. She was a scrawny 15 year old that looked more like 12, pale skinned with luminous blue eyes and the lithe, scruffy look of a character from Oliver Twist.
During the next six years she grew into a young woman whose talent and genuine character would always be her defining characteristics, even more so than her formidable, golden-haired good looks. Kassie still holds the record for being the most winning young rider in the history of the USDF. She is a three time USEF National Champion and multiple NAJYRC Gold medalist. Kassie has been ranked first in the Nation at levels from Training through Grand Prix over thirty times. She has earned 36 Regional titles and had earned the scores for her USDF bronze Silver and Gold medals by her 18th birthday. (Maybe I should have titled this blog “Confessions of a Kassie Fan.”) She also gave me lessons and trained, rode and won with many of my horses for many years.
The flip side of that unbelievably shiny coin is…well, a bit of chaos. I remember being at the North American Junior/Young Rider Championships in Virginia with Kassie. Her horse, Gabriella, was impeccably groomed, fat and shiny with a sparkling browband and immaculate tack. Kassie’s show breeches at 8 am already had ketchup and hot chocolate stains on them. Her shirt was half untucked, and her hair mussed and wispy. “Kassie, please put on some clean breeches and some make-up. Look professional!” Yvonne admonished. Kassie bit her lip, standing crooked, with one foot on its side said, “Mom, these are my clean breeches!”
And that is the Hand of Kassie. (But honestly, that is the worst thing anyone can say about her.)
So, it is with a certain amount of pride that I find myself in such auspicious company. Nonetheless, I am constantly in the penalty box. This year it was first my helmet. Next, my jackets. My saddle pads must match my breeches. My polo wraps must be white or black. I have been trying hard to comply with fashion etiquette, but it’s a hard sell.
Kassie decided a few years ago to step out of the limelight and give others their chance at glory. She is currently the head trainer for Al-Marah Arabians in Clermont, Florida. She came home for her birthday in July and gave me the privilege of a lesson with her.
Even on the road less traveled, her star shines just as brightly. She told me that earlier this year, she ran into a stallion in-hand class, improperly dressed in riding breeches, in what I am sure was a delightfully disheveled state…and won. I feel so vindicated. Maybe the fashion penalty box is not so bad after all. And with that thought, I once again feel the Hand of Kassie upon me. I think I’ll go dig my favorite breeches out of my clothes hamper, the ones that now have a big hole on the outer thigh, and proudly head out to the barn.