Top Danish rider Emilie Martinsen lives in Brussels, travels the world with her horses, and is heiress to a Scandinavian fashion empire.
Photography DITTE ISAGER Text JULIE MOESTRUP / The Horse Rider’s Journal No.1
The bright spring sunshine beams into the opulent rooms, as Danish rider Emilie Martinsen opens the door to her family’s manor house in Hørsholm, north of Copenhagen. The maid is rummaging in the kitchen, the gravel on the long driveway crunches under the grooms’ feet, and the stables are full of life.
The pretty, blond 28-year-old woman in the doorway is not just heiress to the farm and the horses. She is the majority stakeholder in Friheden Invest Ltd., owner of one of Northern Europe’s larger fashion enterprises, IC Companys, which produces labels, such as By Malene Birger, Tiger of Sweden, InWear and Designers Remix.
Emilie is also the former Danish show jumping champion, internationally recognised for her equestrian skills, and currently preparing for her first European Championship; and thereafter, if she qualifies, the London Olympics in a year’s time. Emilie Martinsen steps over a black Labrador which is snoozing unperturbed by the activity in the entrance hall. She welcomes me in and sits down at a long table in the kitchen which has been lovingly restored along with the rest of this 17th century farm.
Emilie explains that she lives in a town house in Brussels, due to its close proximity to the European competitions and the practicality of saving many hours in transport from Denmark. She is welcoming yet at the same time guarded. It is the first time Emilie Martinsen has agreed to an interview, and it is certainly not due to any lack of interest in her. She has simply chosen a life away from the spotlight, as fame does not interest her in the slightest. The only reason she has consented to the tape recorder on the table being switched on this morning, is that The Horse Rider’s Journal is neither about fashion nor business – it is about horses.
Emilie Martinsens’s family has always ridden. Her parents are dedicated hunt followers and it almost cost her her love of riding: As a 10-year-old she lost her front tooth when another rider rode into her during a hunt. A few years went by before she found the courage to get on another horse. And despite having her own pony, Emilie has not had an over-privileged upbringing. “I was never given whatever I wanted. As a child I was often told that we couldn’t afford certain things. As I grew older and began to understand my parent’s economic situation, I would say: ‘It’s okay for you to say I can’t have it’,” she explains.
At school she was teased about her privileged life. She recalls a classmate who shouted: ‘When’s your limousine coming to collect you?’ and remembers the feeling of not being able to stick up for herself. Today, she believes that it has greatly affected her.
“Many people think I’m snobbish until they get to know me better. But I am probably just guarded and used to being judged because of my background,” she contends. Her current boyfriend is neither interested in horses, nor in fashion; he has his own catering company in Copenhagen. And her circle of friends is small, as she would much rather have a few good friends than many acquaintances. “I have become hardened. That’s what I’ve learnt to become and what I feel I have to be.”
When she was 20 years old, before her toughened exterior contributed to her success as Denmark’s former best show jumper, Emilie Martinsen told her parents that they could sell her horses; she did not want to ride any more. She was ready to throw in the towel and further her education instead, study psychology at university, or do something else entirely. Her parents convinced her to consult a life coach first, and this became a turning point in her life. She realised that her most important challenge was to stop caring about what other people thought.
“I had carried the feeling of inadequacy around with me for so many years. I no longer believed in my own ability to ride,” she says, adding with a smile: “But then I got better.” She started riding full-time at the age of 21. “I love it because it’s a sport that involves a living animal. You never know what the day will bring. It depends not just on me but also on the horse. I need to know the horse 100 percent,” she says.
Becoming the Danish champion in 2010 was another turning point for her. “For everyone to see that I am good enough is a huge pat on the back. Although it’s actually nothing special compared to the competitions I ride in throughout the rest of the world.” In November 2010 she left Denmark and moved to Belgium in order to be in the hub of equestrian sports. Today, she has seven horses stabled 20 minutes drive from Brussels. She gets up at eight every morning and sings in her car all the way to the stables. She then rides for four to five hours, eats lunch and heads for the gym, where she has a personal trainer. By the evening, she is exhausted and rarely has the energy to go out. But she acknowledges her privileged lifestyle:
“There is so much money involved in equestrian sports, and it’s a huge advantage not to have to worry about the financial aspect. But it’s difficult to be a professional rider if your life is not in order. You have to feel at peace in your own skin. I believe that 20 percent is about riding technique and 80 percent is about state of mind,” she explains.
She is therefore grateful to have a good coach. “When the mental aspect of riding is so influential, you can actually become as good as you want to be.”
Emilie Martinsen’s parents have made their fortune from the fashion empire, IC Companys, an amalgamation of Danish clothing labels exported to over 40 countries worldwide. Although Emilie is the majority shareholder in the company, she has no plans to become an active member of the family business. “It’s never interested me. Yes, I’m into fashion, but I’m not interested in the company. I try to be there for my parents at our own shows whenever I am home, but I don’t have any friends in the fashion industry,” she explains. Despite being impeccably dressed she does not feel at home in the fashion world.
“Most days, I make no effort to look good whatsoever. I’m at the stables all day, after all, which is why my wardrobe is packed with clothes that I’ve never worn. When I eventually do go out, I love to dress up and make an effort, but often end up being far too overdressed,” she says, smiling, and adds:
“That’s certainly how I feel, but no one else probably notices.”
Following a generational handover in the company last year, Emilie Martinsen now owns a 90 percent stake in Friheden Invest Ltd.. This has prompted Danish stock market analysts to ask whether she has plans to take over her parents’ company. Her response is unambiguous: “When I think about how hard it has been for me to win respect as an equestrian sportswoman, I don’t even want to contemplate what it would be like to follow in my parents’ footsteps and reach the top purely because I’m their daughter,” she contends. If she one day decides to work with something other than horses, she would much rather start her own business, she continues – but that is not something she concerns herself with at this moment in time.
What currently consume her thoughts are the horses, and her ambitious goals leave little room for anything else. If she is to succeed in reaching the London Olympics, she needs to do well at the European Championship – and that means hard training from now on. And no summer holiday. “I think I have a great chance if I use all my time and energy. It can be frustrating if the horses have a bad day and it’s mentally tough at times. Still, it’s so gratifying when everything goes well and people say ‘Wow, you’re good’. I think sportsmen and women have a great need for recognition. I know I certainly do.”
She is not quite sure where the need stems from; perhaps it is because, as a single child, she was always told that she was good. She smiles as she explains how her mother always praised her, even when her performance was downright terrible.
“Even when I was lousy my mum would say that I was good. When I then pointed out that I had in fact been disqualified, she would respond: ‘Yes, but it was great up until that point’. I had to plead with her to be honest and tell me when I wasn’t good enough.”
Today, Emilie is more than good enough. Nevertheless, the riding still costs more than it earns. Very few people in the world make money from riding – and the only way to do so is to sell one’s horses when they are in top form. “But my dad owns my horses which means that I get to decide when I want to sell them. That’s a huge bonus,” she says. “Not a day goes by without me thinking about how lucky I am. That I can ride and do exactly as I please is almost too good to be true. But it also carries with it a responsibility. I can’t stop now when my dad has put so much money into it. I can’t run away, go on holiday, or take a break from it. But I don’t want to either,” she explains with a smile.•