In all honesty; Katharina Offel is one on the nicest riders we have ever met! Down to earth, honest, reality oriented – with a great sense of humor; all these qualities made Katharina one of the new WoSJ-favorites during our meeting with her. And of course, she is a fantastic rider who we love to watch in the ring. We sat down to talk with Katharina about her beautiful partner Vivant, what made her decide to ride for Ukraine, her co-operation with Ukrainian oil-billionaire Alexander Onischenko and her plans for the future.
The 35 year old rider – who changed her nationality from German to Ukrainian – is still based in native Germany. “I keep my horses at a yard outside Cologne, in a place called Lohmar-Breidt. There I work for Jochen Scherer, and our partnership has lasted for about fifteen years now. We have a dealing stable, and our focus is bringing youngsters up and into the top sport. In addition we have some horses for owners,” Katharina explains. “We have around thirty stables at our yard, and around 20 of them are filled up with our own horses.”
So, how did Kathi end up changing her nationality? “It happened in 2004 after I had won the German Championship. It is an unwritten rule that if you win there you get to ride in Aachen. Right ahead of the show I was told that somebody else than me would get to go instead, and that was kind of turning on the lights for me; I would never get the chance to compete at the big shows for Germany. Riding for Ukraine I would at least get the possibility, and show myself. I think it was a good decision I made, and I’ve never regretted it! Well, maybe once when I was at a prize giving ceremony in Munich – which is in the area of Bavaria where I am from – and they played the Ukrainian anthem as I had won. It really didn’t feel that good,” Kathi smiles.
There has been a lot of talk about Kathi’s co-operation with Ukrainian oil-billionaire Alexander Onischenko. Last year it was reported that Offel and Onischenko ended their partnership, but then in April the news of Kathi being back in the saddle on two of Onischenko’s horses appeared. What happened we ask Katharina? “Last year we had all of Onischenko’s and Casio Rivetti’s horses at our yard, so all in all 28 of the horses there were not ours. I really had no time for the other horses with all of Onischenko’s horses there, and we were not able to run our own business as it was back then. We then offered him to buy the yard, but he was really not so interested in his own place so in the end we decided to go in different directions. There was not more to it than that,” Kathatrina tells us.
It was not to end with this though, and a few months later Onischenko’s horses Vivant and Nobylis returned to Kathi. “Onischenko approached me in Arezzo and asked me to ride Vivant at the Olympics, and also to ride Nobylis. I would of course love to keep them after the Olympics as Vivant is my number one horse, but right now there is no plan – and the deal is that I will ride Vivant in London. So, I will be happy if they stay, but I am also prepared that they will leave and I’m ok with that as well. I take one day at the time now, but I could never say no to keep on riding him – I really like Vivant as a horse and as a partner. And the partnership you have with the horses is really important,” Kathi says with a small smile.
We can’t talk with Katharina without going even more into Vivant. “When Onischenko first bought Vivant he rode him himself, but after a while decided that it would be best for the team if I rode him. Then he went back to Alexander last autumn and he rode him this winter, before he came back to me in April. Vivant is back in form now, but it was not so easy in the beginning when I got him back. It took some time to make him adjust, but in the Grand Prix in De Steeg he was double clear and then he jumped two clears in the Nations Cup in Drammen as well. In Aachen he jumped super,” Kathi says. “Vivant does not act much like a stallion, he is just really nice. And – he loves liquorish, I think his previous owner Chris Chugg used to give that to him,” she laughs.
But, there are other stars on Kathi’s team as well; Cathleen, Charlie and Fidji Island are all horses that have jumped into the limelight with Offel over the past year. “Cathleen is a lady, and she has her own style,” Katharina explains. “She gets very fixed on persons, so her groom is for example really important to her. Cathleen is careful, and very fast. She likes small rings and indoor shows the best though,” Kathi says of the Cordobes-mare that she has had since she was a seven year old and on whom she won the prestigious Grand Prix Hermés in March.
Then there is Fidji Island, also a regular in the prizes for Katharina. “Fidji has all the scope needed, and she gets very excited when she gets into the ring. But sometimes she can be a bit nervous,” Kathi explains of the For Feeling-daughter. “Fidji got a little sick after the Global Champions Tour in Doha, and was out for three months so Aachen was her second show.”
Of Charlie – who Kathi has had since he was a six year old – she smiles and says; “Charlie is quite young in his mind. He was out for one year after a fall he had, so although he’s nine now he still behaving like an eight year old! He’s a real Grand Prix horse for the future, but he needs a bit more mileage.”
Katharina now rides for different owners. “I made a mistake last year with just having one owner, so now I ride for more than just one. Charlie belongs to an Ukrainian owner, while Fidji is jointly owned by and Ukrainian and a German owner. My new French horse Phebus du Grasset, we own ourselves” she explains.
Of all her amazing horses, does Katharina have a favorite? “My favorite horse of all times is actually Nike, who I used to ride before. Unfortunately he passed away earlier this year. Nike was the most lovely horse, he was like a baby! He had shivering though, and as a two year old he was actually supposed to be put down. Because of his shivering, you had to ask him things really slowly. Once, at a show in Barcelona when he was in his box in between the two rounds in the Nations Cup something happened a little too fast for Nike and he just tripped over!”
Even though Kathi is lucky to sit on top horses – it’s no secret that her job must be quite unpredictable. “But I know that, and it’s a part of my life so I’m fine with it. Over time I’ve gotten used to it. If I lose a top horse, I try to think that I’ve done something right to bring a horse to the top of the sport and if anybody else can sit on the horse and do the same as I did – well, then I’ve done my job!”