The snow-caked streets outside Gothenburg’s Scandinavium Arena are lively with excitement as fans gather for the FEI World Cup dressage. Families with infants clutching pony-shaped balloons giggle outside the auditorium and teenagers wearing jodhpurs and Chelsea boots wait patiently for their heroes. Inside, the busy arena is all but silent; bristling with tension as the most popular dressage event, Freestyle to Music gets underway.
It’s the eighth qualifier ahead of the finals in Paris this April and the stakes are high. Swedish contender Malin Rinné and her stallion, Scharmeur were eliminated from the event when her horse took a wrong turn: each rider must stick to their prescribed list of movements without deviation.
I’d planned to catch up with the promising Danish rider Cathrine, who was due to perform eighth out of the ten riders. At just 26-years-old, Cathrine has already competed in the Olympics, set up her own training academy and launched a line of equestrian clothing.
It was an exciting start. Even a novice could see that there was something special about the interaction between the horse and rider as her 15-year-old chestnut gelding, Atterupgaards Cassidy, danced to a carefully chosen set of music. Seamless transitions between difficult moves led to high scoring from the judges. They exited the arena to a standing ovation while we rushed backstage to chat to her.
As we stepped backstage, we were told that Cathrine had just broken a world record with a perfect ten in the category of difficulty. We soon out that she had won first place at the Freestyle to Music qualifier in Gothenburg, with an impressive score of 88.2%, overtaking one of Cathrine’s own idols, Germany’s Isabell Werth.
LPW: So Cathrine, thanks for meeting with Le Prestige! How is the event going so far?
CD: I’m pretty happy right now! I was anxious before today, because I had the freestyle this week and I tested it out this week, and it didn’t fit. And I’ve just listened to it, so I know every single bit of the music and today it all came together and I’m just so happy.
How many hours a day do you spend with your horse?
I groom Cassidy myself every day and he’s the last horse of the day, every day. I have six or seven horses and then I have a little break, and I spend that together with him. I have my lunchbreak with him then I brush him for one hour every day, then I train him. Normally I only train him tough two times a week, and the other days we just go out hacking [light exercise]. He’s not working a lot. Because he knows the stuff, we just need to polish up the moves every time we go for a competition. I just need to keep him happy, because then he will understand everything I tell him.
“It’s about passion, and then you have to work.” – Cathrine Dufour
You teach dressage as well?
A lot. That’s my main business. I have quite a few young students and I’m very into young people coming from the same place where I’ve been myself – trying to bring them up. I had a few for the European Championships; a medal for a pony rider, and I have a huge passion for these young people having a dream just like myself and I want to take them under my wings and see how far they can go. I have around 30 lessons a week with ten students a week, so they are riding three times a week, but I teach every day.
So what advice would you give to someone who wants to pursue a career like you?
It’s about passion, and then you have to work. Day and night for I don’t know how many years. I started out when I was 11, doing the team competition where you’re a little more competitive, and I’ve just dreamt about the Olympics since then. You come across a horse that fits you, and Cassidy was not meant to be a grand prix horse – I bought him from a person who said he would never compete at grand prix, but suddenly everything came together.
I love Cassidy him more than anything. I spend more hours with this horse than any other person. He’s my soulmate.
You’ve also got a clothing range.
Do you have a clothing range?
Oh yes, I have a clothing range! Merchandise. I just started it. All this comes from the fact that I wanted to share what I knew to younger riders because I always wanted Isabell, or one of those top riders to share their tips. I thought, how are you so good? What saddle, bridle? From bottom to top. I just want to show people this is how I train, this is how I do things, I’ve made a Dufour Club – wanting to invite people back to my yard and then having some meetings like this, sitting down, talking, then – what do you want to know? Trying to share my knowledge. From that came a small merchandise line, very small, just for the hardcore fans!
What are your plans for the future?
I want to be Isabell. I want to have the same passion as she has, the way she’s passionate about riding, that’s just amazing!
Photo credit FEI/Arnd Bronkhorst