Cathrine Dufour: Stubborn, In Control & Successful–Part 2 of 2

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Cathrine Dufour on Cassidy claiming the third 2017 European Championships medal for the Danish pair. © 2017 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

Nov. 23, 2017

By KENNETH J. BRADDICK

Cathrine Dufour describes her prime characteristic as “stubborn” in pursuing goals and immersed in every aspect of training and care including being her own groom for the Olympic mount Cassidy.

At 25 years of age, those features have taken her and the 14-year-old Cassidy from junior ranks to the Olympics, taking three medals at the European Championships and something she never thought would happen–beating Isabell Werth at a World Cup event at home, not once but twice.

Being stubborn and micro managing her horse life aren’t Cathrine’s only attributes–she’s articulate, incredibly hard-working, has a sense of humor, loyal to her team, candidly down-to-earth with a thirst to learn.

She and her Danish Warmblood gelding have grown up together, through medal-winning performances at European junior and young rider championships, to the 2016 Olympics, leading Denmark to team silver at this year’s Europeans as well as two individual bronze medals. The pair are ranked fifth in the world, the highest standing for a Danish duo in more than three years with scores that research by dressage-news.com shows are the highest ever for a Danish combination.

Next on the schedule is the Top Ten Dressage at the Sweden International Horse Show Dec. 2-3, with the sport’s biggest purse of €158,000 (US$187,000) and a Volkswagen car that would go a long way to helping get a successor to Cassidy.

The World Equestrian Games in Tryon, North Carolina next September is the goal for 2018.

Cathrine Dufour on Cassidy earning the European Championships freestyle bronze medal. © 2017 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

Cathrine and Cassidy began their Big Tour career just 10 months before the 2016 Olympics, racking up six shows before the Rio Games.

In those first shows, she recalled in a conversation with dressage-news.com, “I felt very anxious doing the Grand Prix because it was so difficult for Cassidy. Everything was so new.

“That feeling I had in the smaller classes, entering the arena, great confidence, knew what I was doing that was so different the last year because I didn’t know much about what I was doing… it sounds ridiculous, you know what I mean. I felt very insecure and I never knew how we were going to perform. He’s a really difficult horse.”

Kyra Kyrklund, the Finland trainer long based in England with six Olympics, multiple world and European championships as well as winner of the 1991 World Cup, came to help her late in 2015. Cathrine worked for years with Rune Willum and continues to do so, but Kyra brought a fresh set of eyes.

The results improved and Cathrine and Cassidy was the leading Danish duo in Rio, finishing 13th overall.

“I think it’s a good thing he has not been a Grand Prix horse for 10 years,” she said of Cassidy and the benefit of spending a lifetime growing up together. “The junior rides are quite easy for them, they’re not pushed to the limit. So I’m hoping for the World Equestrian Games next year.”

As much as she would like to compete for a start at the World Cup Final, especially after besting Isabell on Don Johnson FRH in this season’s opening Western European League event at Herning, Denmark Cassidy has other ideas.

The horse doesn’t care about live scores popping up during the indoor competitions but “when they have livestream on I can’t ride at all. It’s the only reason. He doesn’t like it.”

“I’ve really practiced with this screen,” she laughed. “I’ve had my television in front of his box for a year and he’s still super afraid of it. I’ve brought it into the indoor arena… he just doesn’t like it. He’s afraid of it. So I don’t want to push him any more. I just want to avoid it.

“He’s not usually scared. Back home he’s the cutest pony. His box is open almost all day and he’s standing like this, ‘Huh. Food? Over here.’

“He is such a cute horse and during the training back home he is really positive. I can’t remember when I had bad training with him last. He is so positive and so happy to work. He’s not spooky back home, only when he is pushed to the limit with the crowd. He doesn’t like the crowd and the screens.

“He’s a super sensitive gentleman. Even though he’s very, very hot and sensitive it is in a good way it makes him more on his toes. As long as I can keep him on the right side then everything is good.”

Cathrine Dufour and Cassidy at Aachen, Germany. File photo. © Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

Cassidy spends five hours a day in the paddock at the stables that were bought two years ago by her parents who until Cathrine developed an interest in horses had no involvement in equestrian sports.

“He’s treated like a normal horse,” she said. “That’s maybe why he is also fit because I train him two days a week then I’m in the woods, cantering, walking, doing something fun, just to keep him happy.”

Her main goal aside from competing Cassidy is to have another future star. She’s focused on training and buying and selling horses to earn enough money to do so. A deep-pocketed sponsor would help, too.

Although she admits it was a struggle to learn Grand Prix both for Cassidy and herself, she thinks “it’s definitely a good thing that you have the horse and teach him the tricks yourself because you really know him much better. I talked to Isabell about that because she doesn’t want to buy a finished Grand Prix horse because it wouldn’t suit her.

“It would be nice to have another Grand Prix horse to compete on just to get some more Grand Prix in my legs and really learn a lot more. In the future, if I can, I want to make another Grand Prix horse. For sure I want to do it by myself.”

She currently competes a seven-year-old at small tour that will be ready for Grand Prix in 2018. However, she doesn’t own the horse that is in her stable and expects it to be sold eventually.

The first word that comes to Cathrine to describe herself is “stubborn.”

“If I want to do something,” she explained, “I’m really doing it.

“For example when I was in high school I started up this business at the same time. A lot of days, I went to school during the day, rode until 10 at night, did my homework in the night, then went to school again without sleeping.

“So if there’s something I want to do I’m just trying to do it.

“Everybody asks me how can you ever be No. 1 in the world? That’s difficult with Isabell but you have to dream about it and really just have to work.”

Cathrine Dufour and Cassidy at the 2016 Olympics. © Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

And though she wasn’t familiar with the term micro-manager, she agreed when it was explained to her that she fit the definition.

“I am for sure,” she said. “I want to know everything and be capable of doing everything with my horses.  I don’t have a groom for Cassidy. I groom him myself every day. I’ve known him for so many years. I feel his legs every day. I can see in his eyes what is his temperament.

“I really love to be a part of the whole team. I really like to have full control and be the center of the team. I don’t have a huge team—my trainer, mum and dad and a very good vet so it’s not like I have 10 people to ride for me.”

She credits her parents with supporting her to make her own decisions and the confidence to pursue her goals. At first, her father was her trainer and her mother helped take care of the horses. Although Catherine now lives at the stables about 30 minutes from their home, they visit every day after finishing work at their cleaning company.

“They have always taught me to be confident and believe in what you’re doing, but try to keep your feet on the ground,” Cathrine said.

She’s thought about going to work with Kyra in England for a few months to learn more but she wants to keep training regularly with Rune as part of her team as well as being close to her family.

“You never know what happens,” Cathrine said, “but I think it would be great for me and my education to go to another stable and learn and see how it’s working. I’m by myself back home so I could sure be inspired and really learn something from another team.”

A year before the Olympics she began a course in leisure management to further her education beyond high school but put it on hold when she joined Olympic squad.

“Right now I just want to enjoy the time with Cassidy,” she said, figuring he may have two to three more years of top sport. “I’ve promised myself to enjoy this now as I can always go study again—because I want that, I want to use my head in some way.”

Cathrine Dufour and Cassidy. © 2016 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com