Charlotte Jorst’s American Dream
Charlotte Jorst only bought her first horse at 35 when she was busy creating a watch company with her husband. Today, she ranks among the Top 15 dressage riders in the Unites States while she’s also embarked upon a new business adventure.
By Camilla Alfthan, photos courtesy of Charlotte Jorst
A steely faith characterizes Charlotte Jorst whether it’s in business or with horses.
”I love being the underdog who comes from behind. To face a steep mountain and not knowing where to begin – overcoming the obstacles and then you end up winning anyway,” she tells when we meet during the holidays in her native Denmark.
“With horses it’s insanely difficult,” she continues. “You’re always behind and you never get it quite right. There’s always a new challenge once you’ve overcome the previous. I find that absurdly interesting as horses are unpredictable.”
Together with her husband, Henrik, Jorst created Skagen Design – a global watch brand which was recently aquired by Fossil; the largest watch company in the world. During 22 years the couple worked on building the brand from scratch, designing the watches and shipping them in cardboard boxes from their New York flat where it all began.
After selling their company for an astronomical sum of money – which inspired the (cheeky) title of her book ; “The first billion is the best” – Jorst has literally plunged herself into a life with horses while she has also launched a new sportswear brand by the name, Kastel Denmark.
”I love being the underdog who comes from behind. To face a steep mountain – and then you end up winning, anyway.”
The first samples arrived in December and she’s wearing them everyday on and off the ring in Laguna Beach where she now trains with the German Olympian, Günther Seidel, after the USEF chef d’Équipe advised her to do so improve her level.
The 49-year old Dane has come along way since she got her first riding lessons at the age of 35, when she bought a ranch in Reno, Nevada, with her husband who is now doing real estate while their two daughters, Camilla, 24, and Christine, 20, have left home to study at the university.
“I couldn’t even ride when I got my first horse,” she laughs. “As a child I went bareback riding on Norwegian fjord horses but that was it. I’ve tried show jumping but I couldn’t quite figure it out. I had no timing, but I know that I’m good at dressage. ”
In the past few years, Jorst has entered the upper echelon of the sport with a great string of horses that include Vitalis; a seven-year-old Dutch-bred and Westfalian-licensed stallion with who’m she last year made the finals of the the six-year-old championships in Pferden, Germany, representing the USA.
“I’ve made my way competing against adult amateurs. They all know me and they’ve seen me on the circuit for years. I’ve been one of them, driving my horses around, grooming them and, basically, starting from the bottom.
Now I’m only competing against professional riders who have been riding all their lives. That is completely new to me,” tells Jorst whose other top horse is Nintendo, an 11-year old Dutch stallion who’m she imported from Denmark at the end of 2013.
“The other day we reached a fourth place in a Grand Prix. We only did a Special Kür once before. It’s so exiting and challenging to always do something new – things you never tried before. My first Grand Prix was a CDI and I got 62 per cent from the judges. The following time I was at 68! The learning curve is the best part of it all,” she smiles.
Her enthusiasm and her constant drive to move forward is refreshing. Until recently, her ultimate goal was to compete in the 2016 Olympic Games in Brazil. Now she aims at making a mark in the World Cup tour.
Not that a successful ride is necessarily what inspires people the most.
Recently she flopped at the United States Equestrian team headquarters after a hurricane and a flash flood had passed through the arena.
“I forgot my programme three times in a row. I was so embarassed that I hid myself in the stable for the entire day without eating or drinking anything. When I mentioned the incident on Facebook people’s reactions were instantaneous. They told me how they are often afraid to disappoint. It’s the journey towards your goals which is the most interesting part of it all. You are constantly challenged and your own, worst fears become challenges, too.”
Having the courage to be frank is the best way to move forward, she finds.
“So many people just wait for someone to buy them a horse. But maybe they could ride in the mornings and work in the afternoons?”
“If you’re insecure or sad you should say so. Others may feel the same way and it helps them open up. Just doing that is unusual in a competitive environment,” tells Jorst who admits to having her own, different ways of doing things. A habit that comes from making her own business for so many years.
“It’s great fun to start so late. The advantage is also that I can afford to buy the top horses with money that I made myself,” she tells having shelled out “a large sun of money” for Vitalis and Nintendo.
“So many people just wait for someone to buy them a horse. But maybe they could ride in the mornings and work in the afternoons?” she reflects.
Her hopes are that the horses will be financed by her latest business adventure, Kastel Denmark – a sportwear brand with protective UV screen that she launched at the beginning of 2014.
“I wear the shirts all day long without having to change into something new after I get off my horse. I just put on a jacket and then I’m off, feeling sharp and well dressed.”
The idea came to her when she was riding under the intense, scorching sun in Nevada.
“Melanoma is one of the biggest cancer killers in the States but there’s so much you can do to protect yourself. My shirts cover your arms entirely and they go all the way up covering your neck while they also keep your skin cool,” tells Jorst who spent a year and a half just looking for the right fabric.
Though she never worked in fashion before she finds that it’s easier than watches. She’s even convinced that Kastel will do just as well – if not better – than the hugely successful Skagen Design. Her goal is to make a 50 million dollars turnover in seven years and then she’ll launch herself into footwear which she’ll give another seven years.
“I love making business and I love learning new things – when everything is uncertain and you don’t know where to start. Once there’s a routine I get bored. With Kastel we’re at the very beginning of it all and there’s so much to do. The horses are a break from it all.”
Though not entirely different.