U.S. eventing fans were treated to an unexpected surprise when 27-year-old Astier Nicolas, who won team gold and individual silver medals for France at the Rio Olympic Games, traveled to Florida to compete at the Ocala Jockey Club International Three-Day Event.
Clayton Fredericks invited Astier to ride FE Ophelia, a 9-year-old Zweibrucker mare, in the CCI*. Astier and FE Ophelia added one show jumping rail to their dressage score to finish ninth in the 70-horse division on 51.2.
Astier kindly sat down with EN in Ocala to chat about what he’s been up to since Rio, share his impressions of eventing in the U.S. and give a sneak peek of what’s next for his Rio mount Piaf de b’Neville.
EN: Have you visited the U.S. before?
Astier: “Yes, once before on a family trip more than 20 years ago. We visited my brother, who was studying in Chicago, and then came down to Florida.” (And, yes, they did go to Disney World!)
EN: What do you think about the venue at the Ocala Jockey Club?
Astier: “I’ve been here all week long, and it is amazing. This is a great venue; I’m amazed. I came here during November in Europe, so it’s great to be here in the USA with sunshine. There’s a lot of room here and there’s some great galloping courses. The event looks like a success. I hear everybody praising it.”
EN: Do you think the Ocala Jockey Club could host a CCI4*?
Astier: “There’s room for it and potential for it. A few adjustments and there you go.”
EN: Do you catch-ride a lot of horses?
Astier: “That’s the first time I’ve done that, though after the Olympics I had many horses come in (for training), and particularly I had horses to fix and they came just a few days before the event.”
EN: Are your horses on vacation right now?
Astier: “They do a little bit less when I am away, but my top horse has just come back from holiday last week. I am based in Tourville-en-auge near Caen, which is a very handy cross over to Great Britain. It’s not exactly the eventing place in France, but coming here and seeing the distance you all drive …”
EN: What are your plans for Piaf de b’Neville in 2017?
Astier: “I’d like to come to Lexington with my top horse. I had heard only nice things about Lexington, and it’s the only four-star besides Adelaide which I haven’t done. I’m really excited about this idea, so we’re finalizing the project with the French federation. The organization wants to help us with coming over as well, so if everything goes to plan we should make it.”
EN: What other top horses do you have coming up the levels?
Astier: “I have this one good horse, but that’s what I have. I’ve got babies, but I don’t have any other major horses. It was a good year because success followed me, and I tried to fill the gap in my string. There’s still some gaps, and I can only rely on him for the Europeans and the Worlds.”
EN: Have you bought any horses here in the U.S.?
Astier: “No. I looked at a few horses during the competition, but I didn’t do what I did sitting with my pen and paper at Le Lion watching every one of them. I more enjoyed Florida, and I did my horse shopping before. I am more shopping for Tokyo than for the Worlds. I’d love to go to the Worlds with Piaf de b’Neville, but you don’t know. By Tokyo he’ll be 15. He’s got some good mileage.”
EN: What else have you been up to while in Florida?
Astier: “Just chilling and enjoying my time here observing American eventing. It’s relaxing, and it’s good after the hectic season I had. It was very, very busy at the end of the season for me. This was a good rest.”
EN: How is U.S. eventing different than eventing in France?
Astier: “It’s full of big trucks! That’s what grabs my attention. Lorries are quieter.”