Deep in the south of France, nestled into the Pyrenees mountains, 64 of the world’s best horse and rider combinations are gearing up to tackle the final northern hemisphere CCI4* of the year. This year, we have three Americans in the running — so we caught up with Boyd Martin, Buck Davidson, and Allie Knowles to find out how their horses have settled in and what they think of the challenge to come.
Allie Knowles has made her first competitive trip abroad following a season of ups, downs and a steady climb back to form. She suffered a rotational fall in March at Red Hills International CIC2*, suffering multiple breaks to the right-hand side of her body and crossing Kentucky off her spring to-do list. By June, through sheer determination, she left the start box at Plantation Field. Now, she brings her top horse, the Sound Prospect Syndicate’s 15-year-old OTTB Sound Prospect, to France to make up for their missed CCI4* this spring.
“This is both of our first trip to Europe, so I’m basically just following these two guys and learning from the best here,” she laughs. “I’m really looking forward to giving this a try, and just happy that I was able to fit it into my schedule and do something this year.”
The combination come to Pau on the back of a win in the Advanced division at Morven Park as well as a ninth-place finish in the CIC3* at Richland Park earlier in the season.
Buck Davidson and the 11-year-old Copper Beach are also seeking redemption after a Rolex that didn’t go to plan.
“He’s been very good this fall, but he had a bit of a rough spring,” he explains. “He went to Kentucky, but he just didn’t feel right to me — he was totally sound, he just pulled something in his back, so I chose not to run him.”
Just a few weeks prior, Carl Segal and Sherrie Martin’s rangy chestnut had won the CIC3* at Chattahoochee Hills and, despite the spring setback, they would go on to win the Advanced at the Richland Park Horse Trials and the Plantation Field CIC3*.
“He’s been going very well and he feels great,” he says. “We’ve won two CIC3* this year — so now we’re going to try to win a four-star!”
Boyd Martin‘s ride Crackerjack, owned by Lucy Boynton Lie, has clocked up plenty of frequent flyer miles, contesting Badminton Horse Trials, Luhmuhlen and Pau in the 2016 season.
“He’s done a bit — this is his seventh four-star,” says Boyd. After a tumble at Badminton’s notorious Vicarage Vee, the duo rerouted to Luhmuhlen last year, finishing 10th after a fast clear round across the country and a single rail on the final day. Then, they got on the long road to Pau, where they found themselves lying in sixth place after cross country. But it wasn’t to be: despite the best ministrations of the team, Crackers was spun at the final horse inspection, leaving Pau as a big ‘what if’ on the horse’s record.
Boyd’s familiarity with both horse and course should play in his favour this week, although he admits that the tight, twisty course “doesn’t really suit Crackers that well, because he’s a bit wild and hard to control, so I’m better off on a more straight, galloping, big fence course.”
But, he says, “I love riding here: I’ve ridden Remington here, and Crackers, and Welcome Shadow. It’s a different style of cross country riding — it’s like a go-kart track, and you need a brave, honest, quick-thinking horse. It probably doesn’t give you the best feel when you finish the course — you feel exhausted, and you’ve been pulling the horse around everywhere, but I’ve got to say, I think eventing’s going towards this. Narrows, corners, mounds, lumps and humps — we’d better get used to it.”
The American horses flew over together and spent a few days in Chantilly, near Paris, unwinding after their journey and preparing for the next leg.
“To be honest, the flying’s the easy part,” says Buck. “Pau is a difficult event for everyone to get to, whether they’re coming from the U.S., or the UK, or the continent. It took us 14 hours in the truck to get here from Chantilly, and so the biggest thing is getting them here early enough that they have time to acclimatise and feel fresh and ready to go.”
Keeping busy until the last minute, Boyd sent Crackers ahead with his groom while he competed at Waredaca over the weekend.
“Bucky gave mine a jump, and I sent a groom with him so he could have a gallop and a bit of flatwork, but it’s unusual — usually, you’re riding your horse right up until a four-star, but by the time I got here on Monday I hadn’t seen my horse in seven days!”
We’ll be following along with the trio’s progress this week, as well as all the news and updates from Pau. The Pau Pro himself will be bringing us his insights into the cross country course, too, so if you’ve ever fancied walking a course with Boyd Martin (and look, I once opted not to bother walking the Novice course I was actually riding in favour of trailing around an Intermediate after him, so don’t even try to lie to me), you’ll get your chance this week. Let the mounds, lumps, humps, and Chinchillas commence.
In the meantime, Go Eventing, and Go Americans at Pau!