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Dressage dream turns out simply grand in Maple Park

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MAPLE PARK – Ginna Frantz was in her mid-50s when she decided to leave a successful career in public relations and go after her childhood dream. That was about 10 years ago.

She recalled that when she was 8 years old, she thought “someday I’d be a great horse lady.” She decided to make that a reality.

“All my friends said, ‘Are you crazy? Why don’t you just take it easy and stop pushing yourself?’ ” she said. “But what am I going to do?”

Frantz, now 65 years old, is living that dream. Those entering Grand Prix Equestrian, off Welter Road in Maple Park, are treated to a welcoming clubhouse with a view of an indoor arena in which horses are trained to excel, with help from Kim and Yvonne Barteau, who make this the home of KYB Dressage.

Walk down a hallway decorated with photos and ribbons from competitions from all over the world, and you’ll encounter the prized horses that call the barn home. And eventually, you’ll meet a potential Olympian named GP Raymeister, a dark bay Holsteiner stallion. Raymeister stands calmly, and those who work with him every day said he truly has a star quality about him.

“He is a celebrity,” Yvonne Barteau said. “He is the Brad Pitt of our barn. And he’s beautiful. He is movie-star handsome.”

“And he is sweet,” Frantz said. “He’s a stallion and incredibly athletic, but he’s so dear.”

The ability to house such a highly regarded competitor is a big part of what Frantz has accomplished in Maple Park. Her career switch was more than a new path. She has put together a dressage barn that has excelled at the highest levels. For five consecutive years, she has been the top point-getter in United States Equestrian Federation events among dressage owners. And she was in second in 2006. But she said her endeavor is about more than that. With the Barteaus, she is able to offer elite training, but she said that those who are just starting can find instruction there, too. Farm manager Jessica Lawton said, “We teach everyone under the sun.”

And there is plenty for spectators to take in, as well. KYB Dressage and Grand Prix Equestrian will stage a production, “The Spirit of the Horse,” at 7 p.m. Dec. 14 and 5 p.m. Dec. 16 at 45W015 Welter Road. Tickets range from $10 to $25.

Yvonne Barteau said it’s an opportunity for people to get a glimpse of just what goes on there.

“A lot of people would see this place and be a little bit daunted or say, ‘What goes on here? A bunch of snobby dressage riders?’ ” she said. “It’s a good chance for us to have fun, and they can see these horses, and a lot of them are top competition horses. And you dress them up in a nice costume and put fun music on, and all of the sudden it’s a whole different atmosphere. And people love it. And they have a chance to see something they wouldn’t see normally.”

And for those who might think that such a dream is out of reach, perhaps it’s just a matter of people coming together at the right time. The Barteaus met in Orlando, when they were working at a dinner theater. But the pressure of performing was a strain on their family, so they moved to Illinois, to Gilberts, to pursue a future as trainers. Frantz’s journey led her there, where Yvonne Barteau was her trainer. They had built up a relationship that was growing.

“I was taking lessons with Yvonne, and she said, ‘What are your plans?’ I said eventually I would like to have my own facility,” Frantz said. “She said, when you go, we want to go with you. … That was one of the highlights of my life.”

Frantz said she went home, excited to tell her husband, sculptor Jeffrey Breslow, the news. She had found the top trainers that she said would be necessary to try something like Grand Prix Equestrian, which she called “the magical moment when it all came together.”

Frantz said she bought the property in 2004. She began a lengthy renovation of what she said was a small barn that has become a huge operation. And soon after, the accolades started coming in.

Frantz and the Barteaus are devoted to dressage, which Yvonne Barteau said is “like ballet and gymnastics on horseback.”

It is an equestrian sport. The U.S. Equestrian Foundation says “dressage teaches a horse to be obedient, willing, supple and responsive” and it “requires the horse and rider to combine the strength and agility of gymnastics with the elegance and beauty of ballet.” It is a competition, and judges measure performances.

How far it is taken is up to the participant, Yvonne Barteau said.

“You might want to just ride around safely and not fall in the dirt,” she said. “And that’s OK, too.”

But there is a chance for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, and that will be pursued with Raymeister. Yvonne Barteau said that is what she wants to do, but it is a journey that must be taken.

“As Yvonne has often said, he doesn’t have to learn anything more,” Frantz said. “This is it. He just has to make it better and better.”

But Yvonne Barteau said that making the Olympics isn’t required for her to consider all she has accomplished to be a success.

“I’m so blessed,” she said. “I get up in the morning, and I do exactly what I love to do. How many people really have that? Most of my best friends are horses. I’m lucky. Every single day, I’m lucky.”

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