Things to know about Danish dressage sensation and Instagram star Cathrine Laudrup-Dufour

Laudrup-Dufour has established herself as one of the world's top dressage riders. Find out about her social media following, some unorthodox training methods and how she's now part of one of Denmark's most famous sporting families.

By Rory Jiwani
Picture by (c) Copyright 2022, dpa (www.dpa.de). Alle Rechte vorbehalten

From unlikely beginnings, Cathrine Laudrup-Dufour has become one of the top equestrian dressage riders on the planet.

In a sport dominated in recent years by equestrians from Germany, Britain, and the United States, Laudrup-Dufour has helped Denmark return to the top in a discipline sometimes dubbed 'ballet on horseback'.

With over 250k followers on Instagram, the 30-year-old has made it her mission to share her journey and "welcome people into this crazy world".

Read on to find out more about Laudrup-Dufour and her voyage to the top.

Starting out and finding "heart horse" Atterupgaards Cassidy

Born in Hvalsø some 50km west of Copenhagen to Mona and Peter Dufour in January 1992, Cathrine started riding at the age of five.

The Dufours run an industrial cleaning business, but young Cathrine was keen and her parents were persistent.

In 2018, she told Horse and Hound how they managed to persuade Rune Willum - who later became her trainer - to teach her.

"We kept asking him to give us just one lesson. He was like, 'A pony rider? No thank you.' But we kept asking until he gave in, and then he was stuck with us. My parents weren't horsey but were very supportive and had faith Rune would guide us in the right way."

That persistence paid off with Willum helping the youngster advance through ponies and into junior horse riding competitions at 15.

In the spring of 2010, the 17-year-old Dufour tried out a seven-year-old Danish Warmblood named Atterupgaards Cassidy whose scheduled sale had fallen through.

Dufour recalled to Dressage-News.com in 2017, "We went and tried him out and the owner was totally game on. I wasn’t into him that much. I thought he was a bit tight in the body. It didn’t click.

"But then I went back to the car and I remember my father asking Rune, ‘Well, what do you think about this horse?’ He replied, ‘This horse can get European medals.'”

A month later, they took silver at the European Junior Riders Championships and one of dressage's most popular partnerships was formed.

Entering world class despite Cassidy's quirks

Cassidy was originally thought of as a horse for the junior competitions, but he and Dufour just kept improving into the senior ranks.

The young horse had his fair share of quirks, however, including getting spooked by the sight of himself or other horses on big screens.

She told Horse and Hound, "We were second-last at our senior international Grand Prix debut and after that I took the TV from my apartment and put it in his stable. He was so frightened but he’s getting better now."

The piaffe, one of the key moves in dressage, also proved troublesome.

"Cassidy was like, 'What? Trot on the spot?’ He didn’t get it at all," she said to Dressage-News.com,

"He was so easy to teach other movements that the lack of piaffe and passage begged the question, "What should we do?" Cassidy’s hind quarters weren't well suited for those movements.

"It took a lot of time to teach him. I almost gave up, I must say. Should we give up and sell him and try to buy another one… a year before the (Rio) Olympics. But he was the apple of my eye."

Finland's six-time Olympian Kyra Kyrklund "cracked the code" as Dufour told The Horse Magazine.

"We did things like placing the whip in different places, doing some work from the ground, holding the reins a different way, it was just actually quite basic for me now.

"They were just small changes that kind of made him think, “Oh right, you want me to trot on the spot! Why haven’t you told me this before?”

That made all the difference with Cassidy and Dufour making the Danish team for Rio 2016 before helping her country to team silver at the 2017 European Championships in Gothenburg.

They also won bronze in the Grand Prix Special and Grand Prix Freestyle as Dufour's idol Isabell Werth claimed double individual gold.

Cathrine Dufour competing at Rio 2016 on Atterupgaards Cassidy
Picture by 2016 Getty Images

New partnerships in and away from the dressage arena

In addition to her competitive career, Dufour has run a training business for several years and - up until last year - lived and worked at Grønagergaard stables in Roskilde.

That's a full-time job in itself with some 40 horses stabled there, and Dufour shares her day-to-day life with her thousands of followers on Instagram.

In late 2018, Dufour amicably ended her long-term association with Willum to work under Kyrklund and Danish team trainer Nathalie zu Sayn Wittgenstein, a member of the Danish royal family who won team bronze at Beijing 2008.

That came after an injury to Cassidy saw the pair miss what would have been her first World Championships in Tryon, North Carolina.

Cassidy has since made way for two younger talents in Bohemian and Vamos Amigos, but Dufour's "horse of her heart" will receive an emotional send-off at the FEI World Championships in Herning on 8 August, a qualifying event for Paris 2024.

In October 2019, Dufour met equestrian jumper Rasmine Laudrup at the CDI-W Herning and the pair started dating shortly after.

Rasmine is part of sporting royalty in Denmark as the daughter of footballer Brian Laudrup and the niece of Real Madrid and Barcelona hero Michael Laudrup.

She soon moved in to Grønagergaard and made a surprise proposal to Dufour in the stables after she had won the Danish Grand Prix title in Uggerhaine in September 2020 with Brian and mother Mette Kristine on hand to record the moment for posterity.

Second Olympic Games and ending Tokyo 2020 on a high note

Cassidy was very much Dufour's number one mount going into Olympic year having won Grand Prix Special bronze at the 2019 European Championships in Rotterdam.

But the postponement of Tokyo 2020 to 2021 and Cassidy's advancing years saw the Dane enter more competitions with younger gelding Bohemian, and she set a personal best Grand Prix score on board the 10-year-old to beat top German riders Werth and Jessica von Bredow-Werndl in Aarhus in October 2020.

A few months later, she picked Bohemian for the rescheduled Games, explaining to eurodressage.com, "It is a quite tough to travel there, and the atmosphere can be a struggle for the horses, especially older horses.

"Bohemian is still young, he is improving all the time, and when it comes to travelling I think it will be easier for him to cope with everything."

There was upheaval in Dufour's day-to-day life too as she and Laudrup and their horses moved to Fredensborg just north of Copenhagen in April 2021.

Bohemian's relative lack of experience was shown at the Ville de Compiegne Grand Prix in June when he was spooked by the scoreboard and refused to compete in the Grand Prix Special.

Dufour won admiration for her handling of the horse, gently asking him if he was okay before deciding not to pursue the matter any further than necessary.

In Tokyo, a strong opening showing saw her and Bohemian take third in the Grand Prix.

But that was followed by a disappointing score of 77.72% in the Grand Prix Special which ended Denmark's hopes of making the podium in the team competition, leaving them in fourth place.

Dufour was determined to put things right in the Grand Prix Freestyle and did so in style.

Performing to music from Les Miserables, the pair earned a huge score of 93.086% for artistry and 81.929% for technique. That resulted in a career-best 87.507% which was eventually good enough for fourth place.

She told Horse and Hound afterwards, "He felt really amazing in the ring, and on the edge to a little bit dangerous, but I’d made up my mind to do that today. I was super excited to show off my freestyle tonight – it’s like a masterpiece.

"I thought I had nothing to lose. I’d go in there, right on the edge. It might break, it might stay good – and we succeeded."

A month later at the European Championships in Hagen, Germany, that same routine earned her 88.436% and silver behind Tokyo Olympic champion von Bredow-Werndl.

She had also taken bronze in the Grand Prix Special and helped Denmark to team bronze in the best event of her career so far.

Cathrine Dufour and Bohemian in the Grand Prix Freestyle at Tokyo 2020
Picture by Getty Images

Cathrine Dufour set for medal challenge at home World Championships

While there have plenty of changes in Dufour's life in recent years, some things stay the same.

Her schedule, as documented on Instagram, remains as busy as ever with the 30-year-old a rarity among dressage riders in spending hours in the gym on cardio and weight training.

As well as the horses, the Laudrup-Dufours - who married last September - have two pet dogs, Cookie and Carla, who are very much part of the team.

Dufour's teddy bear Gerd Doerich is also a regular fixture on the circuit, travelling with the Dane to every event.

A string of strong performances this season, culminating in a spectacular week in Aachen in July, has seen her assume favourite status ahead of August's World Championships in Herning.

Dufour claimed four individual wins out of four - three on board 10-year-old gelding Vamos Amigos including the CDIO5* highlight event - and led Denmark to a first Aachen Nations Cup success from hosts Germany.

That persuaded her to choose 'Vamos' over her Olympic ride Bohemian for Herning, despite the less experienced horse boiling over at April's World Cup Final in Leipzig.

As reported by eurodressage.com, she stated: "It was a tough decision but in the end of the day I just had to follow my gut. This championship will be with Vamos Amigos and I can't wait to participate in my very first WEG with such an incredible horse."

Dufour is bidding for Denmark's first dressage world title since Anne Grethe Jensen triumphed on board Marzog in 1986 at Cedar Valley, Canada.

There would be even greater history were Denmark to take the team title.

Since the first team event in 1966, the Germans have been on the top step every time but for two occasions: 1970 when the Soviet Union took gold, and 2010 when the Netherlands claimed victory.

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