The heartwarming story of a Danish dressage phenomenon, crowd favourite and Instagram darling, Cathrine Dufour, and her once in a lifetime horse Atterupgårds Cassidy.
By Maria Graae. Photos Erik Kunndahl
Back to back golden girl at the 2012 and 2013 European Young Riders Championships, Dufour is currently leading the FEI U25 Dressage World Ranking List. Running a successful dressage stable in Roskilde outside of Copenhagen, she is known for her effortless style, both in and out of the saddle.
If not sooner, you’ve might have spotted 24-year-old Dufour and her hot-to-trot Atterupgårds Cassidy among the Olympic contenders, at this years Rio Games. The pair certainly has that star quality aura paired with lightness and grace, that makes them stand out in any crowd.
– It’s love. Really. The connection we share is something so very special. He’s just my sweet boy and my little pony, says Dufour proudly when asked about the connection with her chestnut wonder-boy Cassidy.
However, the road leading the dream-team combination to Rio, has had a few challenging detours of the sort that most interesting and exciting roads tend to have.
-I’ve often wondered, whether we had what it took, to do Grand Prix at the very top level. So many thoughts have been going through my mind; it’s been a tough winter. In December we were fine, in January everything fell apart, and it all felt like rubbish, Dufour openly confesses.
Dufour joined the 2015-2016 FEI World Cup Series at JBK in Odense, Denmark, October 2015, in her first senior season at international Grand Prix level. After a difficult test, in which her temperamental chestnut was spooked by the live jumbotron, the pair scored a 64 %, which Dufour has described as a flop. Then the pair redeemed themselves, in December, winning the 2015 CDI Roosendaal Indoor, earning 73% in their second ever Senior Grand Prix. Then came January and CDI Drachten, once again Cassidy lost his cool, got scared and spooked.
Since then they’ve trained with a television screen at his stall and at the indoor arena.
– It’s made the world of difference, but somehow he just finds it easier to cope when we’re outdoors. He’s always quite excitable, and that will probably never change.
In addition to this, the way their lessons were carried out, changed slightly.
– We discovered by starting out with piaffe and passage, and then go to gallop, we could excite him in the same way as in the competition. Doing that for a month or so, he finally settled more.
Behind her success as pony, junior and youngrider is a remarkable partnership, lasting for more than a decade. In a world of ever-changing horses, sponsors and trainers, Dufour has made an extraordinary an very successful case of sticking to the same trainer since her very early pony years. By now Dufour and Willum have reached a point where it’s almost a father-daughter relationship.
– Rune is almost what I would describe as an extra father figure, we know each other inside out, and he’s just always there for me, Dufour says.
Like many of the very best athletes, Dufour has experienced periods of self-doubt and lack of confidence, which she’s chosen to stay open about.
– Having Willum by my side, has absolutely made all the difference in the world, he’s always there to pick me up, calmly suggesting that we steadily train our way out of whatever is causing a problem.
Last year Dufour and Willum both had the opportunity to train with Kyra Kyrklund.
– Kyra’s and Rune’s systems are much alike, but having fresh eyes on us, really has strengthened and inspired our piaffe and passage work. And in dressage, it’s truly the little things, that makes the big difference, Dufour exclaims, speaking with great warmth of the Finnish dressage icon. – She’s awfully nice and still keeps an eye on us, which is just amazing.
– When it comes to their training regime, Cassidys is quite simple, he’s ridden almost everyday, however the chestnut only enjoys intensive training, like passage and piaffe work, twice a week when Willum is assisting the pair. The rest of the combinations training is spent doing light long-frame trot work, hacking or galloping at full speed, much to the hot-to-trot geldings’ obvious satisfaction.
The Danish Dressage Championship, this June, proved to be a definitive turning point for the pair, when Dufour and Cassidy captured the champions title, by being in a league of their own, out classed the competition and won all three rounds of the championship, earning 76.8 % in the Grand Prix, 79.6 % in the Special and an impressive 83.9 % in their brand new Freestyle.
– It felt amazing. The second day of the competition, in the Grand Prix Special, I had my best ride ever. The ride wasn’t perfect, but the feeling of the ride was, it was just such a high. Rides like that, riders chases for months, or even years. For me it was 5 years since I last had a similar experience of ease, calm and control. It just all came together.
And not to forget: At the very moment, Cathrine is finishing 13 in Individual Grand Prix Freestyle Olympic debut. We wish her the best luck in the future!
Keep up with Cathrine Dufour via dufourdressage.com