Warmbloods in Washoe County
Skagen Stables brings Denmark to rodeo country
In the surprisingly verdant green grass of January, roly-poly twin tabbies torment a baby mouse. One well-fed feline gives the charcoal-colored victim an occasional bat, the other cat observes with a bored expression. Guinea fowl briefly shriek, pecking at grain near the barn-board footbridge that crosses Dry Creek. Such circle-of-life overtones are all in a day’s work at Reno’s Skagen Stables.
There, at the crest of the hill to the arena, stable owner and mom Charlotte Jorst is up to her riding boots in the daily discipline of riding, jumping and training on horseback with daughters Christine, 16, and Camilla, 13, and their trainer, Lynn Mullins.
With her husband, Henrik, in Hong Kong assisting at the branch there for Skagen Designs–creators of watches, sunglasses, clocks and pens—Charlotte reflects on leaving Denmark nearly 20 years ago, when the stunning blonde with sky-blue eyes took a gig that would forever alter her future.
“I was working at Carlsberg [brewery]. Henrik was over here already, and I wanted to come over. It was very hard to know how to without a work permit—very difficult because I’m just an immigrant. People think of immigrants as Hispanics, but I’m also an immigrant, so for me, the same rules applied. Modeling was really the only way to go. So I came over, and my job consisted of [wearing] a ‘Miss Carlsberg’ banner, and I would go into bars and sign my photos. It was hilarious because when I walked in, just because I had that thing on, everybody would yell, ‘Miss Carlsberg!’ I’m telling you, it was unbelievable! As soon as I took the sash off, nobody noticed. Everybody would come to me and ask, ‘So, Miss Carlsberg …’ That became me.”
Working for the Anheuser-Busch-distributed brew paid off—literally, in the form of Jorst’s pilsner-powered MBA degree from a Danish university. Jorst, now 42, attended school and pushed the prototypes for Skagen watches during the day. At night, she donned the pageant-like persona and uniform until “it got really old because everybody would ask me the same thing. But that was kind of the start of how we could do the watches. I was traveling from town to town, and I’d take samples with me and present.”
From those inauspicious beginnings, Skagen Designs has built a Biggest Little City-based international empire. When sleek Skagen watches became hot sellers in the United States, the Jorsts took it home to Denmark, where they were a hit, too.
Empowered by the success of their company, which saw revenues of $70 million last year, the Jorsts started Skagen Stables three years ago. Skagen Stables boards five horses, complementing nine of the Jorst’s own.
These stately steeds and magnificent mares are no ordinary horses. They’re Danish Warmbloods, a breed endemic to their homeland and now thriving with the Jorst family.
“I’ve totally gotten into this, and so have the kids,” she says. “It’s so time-consuming that they don’t have much time for anything else. For me, that really works. I talked to my brother in Denmark, and he says, ‘I think [idle teens are] a universal problem, with TV and computer games. They all sit in front of the TV.’ I never have those issues with my kids. They’re [training] all day long.”
All the hours invested allows the Jorsts to forge long-term bonds with the Danish Warmbloods, like Asterios, just one of the beautiful horses feasting on rich grains of oats and hay, lots of carrots, an occasional apple and the classic treat, a sugar cube. Asterios’ nose knows Jorst has one now, and she pulls it from her pocket and feeds it to him, laughing.
“They are so spoiled,” she says. “They’re just like huge dogs.”
A couple of stalls away, a dark, alpha-looking male will not be denied. He commands attention, steadily stomping the steel gate with his well-groomed hoof until Jorst comes over.
“This is Kalypso,” she says, stroking the neck of the towering 17.1–hand horse that’s as statuesque in his species as Jorst, at 5 feet 11 inches, is in hers.
“He wants me to pay attention to him,” she says. “[Warmbloods] all have these wonderful temperaments. One of my prerequisites for this was that I want kids to be able to come here and be totally safe. You can’t have horses that kick or buck, where people would be afraid of dropping their kids off. These horses are just so sweet. Kids are going to make mistakes around horses. They just are. It’s the nature of the beast.”
At that moment, Kalypso and the horse next to him toss their manes back in tandem.
“They’re just excited. This one hasn’t been out in awhile,” Jorst says, kissing Kalypso, who nibbles her sleeve. “Now I know what it is. They’re hungry, so they’re being really demanding. It’s a nice place for people to come and hang, and in the summertime, there are usually tons of kids here. My own girls love it. It’s funny because I never thought I would be into all that. I just thought this would be this highly competitive barn and blah, blah, blah. And now, I just love to hang with the cats and the horses and just be. Exist. Just enjoy.”
A hawk glides over the arena without breaking the girls’ concentration as they prepare for competition in California. Working with her Warmbloods is cherished time. As Jorst says, she still spends more time at Skagen Designs than she does here.
In addition to boarding, Skagen Stables offers riding and jumping lessons. For discerning buyers so inclined, there are Warmbloods for sale. Kalypso is available for an expression-adjusting $125,000, while Filine and Magic go for $45,000 and $38,000, respectively.
“It’s a great dream,” Jorst hollers over Kalypso’s clanging. “It’s a wonderful thing to have achieved. It really is. In Denmark, we are always on television because we have achieved the American dream. There’s so much interest, and I think it’s really good for American kids to know that it’s possible to do all this. Even when we did this, I thought, with my usual enthusiasm and optimism, that I could just open [the stables], and it would be totally smooth riding. And it wasn’t. There were a lot of problems in the beginning because I didn’t know how to run it. The arena took much longer than I thought. I thought I’d have an indoor arena instantly, and it didn’t work that way. That was really good for my kids to see because they’ve really only seen us being super-successful, and to see me fail and try again, until we now have something we just love.”
As Jorst dashes off to pick up her daughter’s birthday cake, the tabbies’ lifeless mouse, suffering no more, lies forgotten, fodder for that hawk, perhaps. Filine whinnies. As the Jorsts say in their Danish language, which they speak to their children at home, “live r artig (life is good).”