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Friday Video from World Equestrian Brands: Rudolph the Red-Nosed Racehorse

 

Folks, it’s happened. Somewhere along the way, amongst sidelong glares at fellow riders complaining about heatwaves, and hissed utterances worthy of the Stark family, winter jolly well came.

If you’re anything like most equestrians right now — Floridians, look away, for this is not for you — you’re reading this from somewhere within a pile of slightly musty turnout rugs, hiding from the savage glare of a fresh and understimulated nag. I applaud you, winter rider, and I applaud your 4G for being able to penetrate several layers of 400g fill and stubborn mud. While your office compatriots are dithering over which besequinned dress to order for their upcoming slew of Christmas parties, you, my friend, are wondering whether the black gunge under your fingernails — a remnant of some particularly determined mud fever picking — will be subdued by a last-minute swipe of sparkly nail polish. Never fear — the purple patches on your extremities, left behind when your circulatory system went into hibernation two weeks ago, will be far more noticeable.

He sees you when you’re kicking. He knows when you miss strides. Photo courtesy of Kate Tarrant Eventing.

But winter isn’t all bad. After all, December does bring with it a smattering of holiday festivities, which, if nothing else, are a marvellous excuse to drink hot alcoholic beverages during daylight hours. And I mean, yeah, you need to clip your horse, but isn’t it satisfying shoving your hands under his rug and burying your fingers in his fluff until you do? Yes. Yes, it bloody well is.

Regardless of how you celebrate the holiday season, one thing is absolutely certain: eventers do festivities a little bit differently. Okay, there’s the stocking for your horse, for which I offer absolutely no judgment, and yeah, there’s the Santa hat you may or may not have jammed atop your skull cap, but there’s also the spirit of ferocious competitiveness that we can never quite leave at the door. Even if that means making your six-year-old niece cry during a particularly hard-fought game of Heads Up. So in the grand spirit of the thing — and in the interest of adding even more madness to what is, perhaps, the most delightfully insane month of the year — I bring you Christmas cheer, equestrian style.

You’ve heard of Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer — prepare yourself for Rudolph the high-speed (?) noble steed (???).

Giddy up!

Go Eventing.

Friday Video from World Equestrian Brands: The Healing Power of Horses

Sometimes, I find the best sort of activity for a Friday night is a recreational cry. You know the kind — you put on an almost flamboyantly sad film (see: Atonement, or literally anything with a dog as a primary character), pour yourself a problematic amount of Riesling, and get stuck into a jolly good weep. You can keep your laxative teas, Kardashians — my favourite form of detox is a slightly tipsy emotional purge, and I won’t be shamed for it. Nor will I soil myself in public. I hope.

This week’s Friday video certainly falls within the realms of the recreational weep, though only if your style in crying doesn’t err towards the pedantic — star of the show Peyo is, as the eagle-eyed among you will notice, lacking a certain pair of wibbly-wobbly dingly-danglies, and thus, undeserving of the term ‘stallion.’

Otherwise, though, this lovely little video shows us a few things we all already know: horses really are the world’s best healers, and these big, slobbery, expensive goons really can communicate an awful lot with just a look and a breath. Peyo does a seriously special job, delivering his own brand of bedside care and support to his hospitalised friends with the help of his owner, Hassen Bouchakour. Together, they understand that sometimes, words aren’t enough — to be on equal terms with an animal who looks you in the eye and doesn’t shy away from your illness can be so much more powerful. This is your final warning: remove mascara, press play, and let loose.

To learn more about Hassen and Peyo and the brilliant work they do in their home country of France, check out their Facebook page, Les Sabots du Coeur, which translates as ‘the Hooves of the Heart’. This week, Peyo will be honoured at the Salon du Cheval in Paris, so if you’re popping along to catch some of the showjumping action, you can meet him for yourself!

Friday Video from World Equestrian Brands: Feet on the Ground, Eyes on the (Four) Stars

“Um, over here, my son.” The (rather suspect) Creation of Crisp: a little-known piece from EN’s shrine to Eventing Jesus.

Happy Friday, denizens of the Eventing Nation, and welcome to your extra-special double-feature video offering. This week, we’re getting the rare and exciting opportunity to dive into the busy Sussex operation of Eventing Nation’s new favourite eventer, Tom Crisp. You might remember Tom as the man who offered up so many powerful words of wisdom for us after finishing sixth at Pau last month — a result that made him the only rider to complete all four European CCI4* competitions this year.

Some of you may also remember Tom for a slightly different reason. Four-star, you say? How about PHWOAR-star, ha ha ha, ha ha… don’t worry, I’ll see myself out.

Anyway, we see you, loyal readers, and we want to give you what YOU want, for we are a fully functional democracy, and definitely never a well-meaning but verging on tyrannical eventing-crazed dictatorship. Never! You asked for Tom, and we’re delivering him on a metaphorical plate, thanks to budding filmmaker Safiya Hodgson, who has kept herself seriously busy this year balancing work experience on Tom’s yard with the creation of two brilliant videos about everything she saw and learned while she was there.

In part one, meet Tom and discover his journey to the upper echelons of the sport…

…and in part two, take a tour of Team Crisp HQ, where you’ll get an insight into the running of a bustling top-level eventing yard, which still manages to maintain a down-to-earth, family-centred ethos. The lynchpins? A great team, as you’ll discover, which is led by head girl Amy Akehurst.

Need any more convincing? You get to take a look at Tom’s second job, too — he’s a retained firefighter. You are welcome, ladies.

Happy Friday!

Friday Video from World Equestrian Brands: Appreciating the Unique Talents of Horses

It’s World Horse Appreciation Day, apparently, although I only discovered this a few minutes ago (cheers to the Burghley Instagram page for enlightening me; I feel like a sufficiently dreadful equestrian journalist). Anyway, it made me feel a bit better about the full twenty minutes I spent in the feed shop earlier, debating whether or not it might be a bit much to buy my horse her own advent calendar this year. I’m just appreciating my horse, while she appreciates the (presumably) agonisingly long wait for Santa Claus, and also extra treats.

There’s plenty of reasons to appreciate the horses in our lives: they put up with us attempting to school them, after all, and they often take a hell of a lot of jokes where choosing a stride is concerned. On bad days, they’re a sweet-smelling and nonjudgmental shoulder to cry on, and on good days, they’re our very best partners in crime. Most of all, they teach us something — about riding, or about ourselves, or, at the very least, about failing graciously.

But enough with all the serious stuff. Today, I vote we appreciate horses for their rather more individualised sets of skills. Skills such as…

Weeing elegantly

Offering convenient dismounting options

One Way To Dismount 😂😂

One Way To Dismount 😂😂

Posted by Renault Master Horsebox on Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Accepting others, despite their differences

I forgot to post this picture from the Swedish Warmblood Inspection, in Colts Neck, NJ. Foals are presented with their…

Posted by Hope Hill Tack Shop on Thursday, October 4, 2018

Artistic jumping

Teamwork

(For licensing or usage, contact [email protected])

Funniest. Thing. Ever. 😂


#catridingapony

Posted by Becky Yank on Saturday, December 30, 2017

Early education

 

Today: My first trot up 😍

Posted by Arville Sporthorses on Monday, October 16, 2017

Roof

 

First snow ⛄️ President & Mini Cooper ⛄️ #capitalweather #capitalhorses #af1 #minicooperpony

Posted by Kama Godek LLC on Thursday, November 15, 2018

Has your horse got any, um, unique skills that you’re feeling extra appreciative of today? Drop the story — or, even better, a pic or video — in the comments, and let’s all appreciate these ridiculous creatures together. Go weird horses, and Go Eventing!

Friday Video from World Equestrian Brands: Splish, Splosh, Give Your Pony a Wash

I am firm in my belief that, whether you’re three, thirteen, thirty, or some derivative thereof, if you have a pony (or, indeed, a horse that you lovingly refer to as a pony), then you’ve been tempted, at some point, to bring it into your house. Yeah, okay, it would be impractical. HELLISH on the carpets, possibly the end of your soft-furnishings, perhaps the end of any co-habitation situation you might be otherwise enjoying. But: ponies! Ponies on the sofa! Ponies binging The Good Place! Ponies curling up like lil stinky lapdogs at the foot of your bed, merrily farting their way through the night. Um, blissful.

Anyway, little Harriet the hero took what has merely been a long-standing daydream for those of us who are chronically bonkers and made it a reality, bringing Wicked the pony (sorry, is that not THE best name for a pony?!) into the downstairs loo for a spa day. The best bit?

“Not.

Again.”

Harriet, we salute you (and your high-fashion horsey wardrobe).

Gallery: French Eventing Bids Adieu to Olympic Star

A fitting farewell: Astier Nicolas officially retires Piaf de B’Neville in a moving ceremony at Pau. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

In an emotional retirement ceremony on the final day of Pau, France’s Astier Nicolas said a fond farewell to Piaf de B’Neville, the fifteen-year-old Selle Français with whom he recorded his first four-star win and considerable success at the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Piaf de B’Neville (Cap de B’Neville x Homelie III, by Reve d’Elle) was unofficially retired in May of this year, with the intention of a ceremonial retirement at the French four-star, which he won in 2015. He was last seen in international competition in 2017, when he finished fifteenth at Badminton.

Astier produced ‘Ben’ through the levels himself, debuting him internationally at Aldon CCI1* in England in 2010. Ben would finish third, and less than a year later, he would jump around his first CIC3*, coming sixth. But, said Astier of the horse, who possesses only about 50% blood breeding, “he shouldn’t be doing this — but he does!” In fact, unlike so many of the world’s top eventers, Ben had never been intended for the upper echelons of the sport — instead, he was spotted by Astier at a Toulouse branch of the Pony Club, where he was being ridden by his young owner.

“He’s such a hard worker, and so trainable that you can be optimistic that he’ll soon be much better,” said Astier in a 2013 interview with EN. “You couldn’t have a much easier horse than Ben. He’s very good to work with, and he always tries hard for you; he’s very laid-back for the most part.”

Photo by Tilly Berendt.

In 2012, Astier and Ben had their first major win together when they took the prestigious under-25 CCI3* at Bramham. Suddenly, both the young French rider, fresh from his studies at Hartpury, and his exceptional horse were thrust into the spotlight.

In 2013, buoyed by the previous summer’s success, they entered their first Badminton. This was the horse’s first effort at the level, though it wasn’t Astier’s — by that point, he’d clocked up three four-star completions with Jhakti du Janlie, though just one of those had been a clear, and he’d never yet graced the hallowed grounds of the Gloucestershire estate.

Astier Nicolas and Piaf de b’Neville at the final horse inspection at the 2016 Rio Olympics. Photo by Jenni Autry.

Not many can claim the considerable accolade of finishing on their dressage score at their first — or indeed, any — Badminton, but that’s just what Astier and Ben did on that fateful debut. They added nothing to their dressage score of 32.8, allowing them to finish 9th in the illustrious company of La Biosthetique Sam FBW, Nereo, Opgun Louvo, Avebury, and Clifton Promise. His turn in the spotlight justified, he had entered the major leagues of the French eventing stratosphere.

Ben’s first team call-up would follow, and he and Astier headed to the European Championships at Malmö later that summer. There, they would deliver another impeccable clear round inside the time across the country, and although an uncharacteristic three rails down on the final day would preclude a top 20 placing individually, their efforts would help the French team to a bronze medal finish.

In 2014, Ben would make a follow-up appearance for the French team, and this time, he cracked the top ten himself, jumping a quick clear at Aachen’s CICO3*. Once again, the team took bronze and proved the country’s formidability in the sport — a particularly pertinent point when you consider that the ‘A’ team was occupied with that year’s World Equestrian Games, for which Ben was initially selected. Unfortunately, a minor injury led to his withdrawal before the competition.

Astier Nicolas and Piaf De B’Neville at Pau in 2015. Photo by Leslie Wylie.

But the lows of the sport — and there are always lows, even for the superstars — weren’t to last. An incredible 2015 season, in which Ben finished in the top ten of all four of his international competitions, culminated in the highlight of his career: he and Astier would win their home CCI4* at Pau that autumn in front of an enormously appreciative crowd of fans.

“I’ve been waiting for this moment for a long time,” he said afterward. “Even when I was young I dreamed about this victory.”

Astier Nicolas and Piaf de b’Neville at Badminton 2017. Photo by Jenni Autry.

2016 was Ben’s final full season of eventing, and he made it one to remember. He took the inaugural leg of the then-brand new Event Rider Master series, making light work of the tough terrain and tight time at Chatsworth. That summer, he would finally enjoy his most important call-up yet: Ben was heading to the Rio Olympics.

We talk a lot about the French eventing team and how, for all their peaks and troughs, they can never for a moment be underestimated. Never was this more true than at Rio, where they earned the gold medal — just their second ever in eventing. For Astier, it would be a day of double celebrations — he and Ben dug deep after their hard work on the previous day’s cross-country and earned the individual silver medal for their efforts.

From left: Karim Florent Laghouag, Mathieu Lemoine, Astier Nicolas and Thibaut Vallette. Photo by Jenni Autry.

“It’s been a very long wait to bring the French flag back to the top, and we were really patient. We’ve had a French win already when they were Olympic champions in Athens, and we’ve been waiting a lot, and it’s such a good relief today. Also we have a team of good friends — the victory has a sweet taste today,” Astier said.

Astier Nicolas and Piaf de b’Neville. Photo by Arnd Bronkhorst/FEI.

Just one international appearance would follow for Ben, who picked up fifteenth place at Badminton in 2017. Thereafter, niggling health concerns would keep him out of international competition, and in May of this year, Astier announced that the horse would no longer compete.

Astier Nicolas, Piaf de B’Neville, and Julie LeMarinel at Ben’s retirement. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

It was only fitting that the horse’s fans — and, in fact, Astier himself — should get the chance to say goodbye at the site of the horse’s biggest victory, and there was hardly a dry eye to be seen as his impressive career history was read out. The ceremony was conducted in the traditional manner: Astier rode his long-time partner into the arena, and Ben was then untacked, rugged up — much to his chagrin — and led on a final tour of the main arena. His partner in this lap of honour was Julie LeMarinel, who was his groom at the Rio Olympics. He’ll spend his retirement at Julie’s dairy farm in Cherbourg, near his place of birth, and act as a companion to the cows and a conveyance around the farm.

“He’s the horse of my life, so far — whatever happens, he will always be a horse of a lifetime,” says Astier. “Where I am now, that is all thanks to him, so that’s a big thing. He’s a very happy horse, and he’s retired in a good state, happy and healthy, and now he goes back to his native land with Julie, who’s a very good friend of mine and was there from the beginning, when we were first starting at the upper levels. So there’s a lot of good vibes!”

All of us at EN wish Ben a long and happy retirement, and implore Astier and Julie to send us some photos of him hanging out with his cow friends.

 

The Four Stars of Tom Crisp: Britain’s Under-the-Radar Superstar Reflects on 2018

Tom Crisp and the exceptional Liberty and Glory make easy work of a tough and influential Pau course. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Great Britain’s Tom Crisp has earned himself an interesting and impressive statistic this season: he’s the only rider to complete all four of the European four-stars in 2018. Two of those were on his top horse, the seasoned Burghley campaigner Coolys Luxury — he added a fifth trip around the Lincolnshire fixture to his copybook, just months after giving Tom his first Badminton completion — while the other two were on his Pau mount, Liberty and Glory. Owned by Tom’s wife Sophie and father-in-law Robin Balfour, the homebred eleven-year-old mare pulled off a remarkable sixth-place finish at Pau earlier this month, giving Tom his best-ever result at a four-star. In doing so, the pair made the biggest climb of the week, leaping 48 places up the leaderboard after their first phase standing of 54th (37.8).

Liberty and Glory, so named because she was born on the fourth of July, had rather more mixed fortunes at Luhmühlen, her four-star debut — an honest, green mistake meant that she missed a flag and then clocked up a 20 when she wasn’t quite sure what she was meant to jump next. But, nonetheless, she completed the competition and evidently learned an enormous amount in doing so, which allowed her to come to Pau at peak fitness and with the competitive maturity of a much older horse. For Tom, whose trip to Pau marked his twentieth four-star start, their top ten finish was the culmination of a long-held aim and an incredible amount of hard work.

“It’s always been a bit of a childhood dream to come in the top ten at a four-star against the best in the world,” he says. “She’s been unlucky with some of these little whoopsies so far this year, but I’ve felt so close to a big result with her, and it luckily all came together this weekend, which is nice for everyone.”

Armed with this considerable experience, Tom is in the best possible position to compare and contrast these four unique events, and so we decided to pick his brains about Pau and its continental compatriots. Someone get the man to Kentucky and Adelaide, so we can get the Crisp analysis of all six events!

“This year’s Pau course wasn’t as twisty as previous years — I thought it had a nice flow to it,” reflected Tom in EN’s analysis of the course. “As a course builder, Pierre questions the horse by using open striding. Is that a good thing? Is that a bad thing? It just is what it is, really, and you have to go to Pau prepared for it. When in France, ride like a Frenchman; be open and attack the distances. Oddly enough it did work; there were certainly places where you’d walk it and think it wouldn’t, but it worked for me and it worked for most of the people who rode it positively.”

Tom Crisp and Liberty and Glory. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

“Pau’s course was set in such a way that people would get round if they wanted to,” he says. “Luhmühlen was a little bit the opposite — you either jumped clear, or you walked home. There weren’t any particularly friendly options if you did have problems; you either had to choose a difficult alternative or jump the same fence again, and for whatever reason, it was never easy to get to the option you chose. It was the toughest course I jumped this year, just a serious challenge from beginning to end, and no options if you just wanted to complete rather than compete. You tend to see that, though — one year, a competition will be nice and easy, and the next, they beef it right up. Then it’ll quieten down a bit again. Each of the course designers have their own ideas, their own flavour.”

As if four CCI4* completions in a season wasn’t quite enough to be getting on with, Tom and his family saw their season punctuated by a catastrophic fire, which destroyed part of their East Sussex yard while they were at Luhmühlen. The cause of the fire was never confirmed, and fortunately, the barn’s residents were turned out at the time, but the ongoing rebuild has added an extra dimension to Tom’s busy schedule. Alongside eventing full-time and ensuring sons Harry and Hugo have plenty of opportunities to compete their own ponies, Tom works as a retained firefighter, too, and is busy building his own house. Despite all of this, he and his team regrouped and headed into their late-summer three-days without missing a beat.

Burghley has historically been a happy hunting ground for Tom, whose best four-star result prior to Pau was eleventh at the Stamford estate in 2014, aboard Coolys Luxury. With its long, stamina-sapping gallop stretches, its intense natural terrain, and its dimensionally massive fences, it’s a far cry from Michelet’s tight and technical course. This year, the final third of the Burghley course featured exclusively single fences — a new tactic by Mark Phillips that tempted complacency.

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Sitting 21st overnight after a clear round around one of the biggest and boldest tracks there is!! We're all super proud of Tom and Cooly! Cooly's looking great ahead of tomorrow, still dragging me around the field for the perfect spot to roll!! A massive shoutout to all our team, sponsors, owners and supporters, we simply wouldn't have these kind of opportunities without you all! With @londoncapitalandfinance @highwealdhorsehydro @baileyshorsefeeds #londoncapitalandfinanceplc #teamlcf #LCF #highwealdhorsehydro #baileyshorsefeeds #fedonbalieys #voltairedesign #voltairedesignuk #burghleyhorsetrials #burghley #burghley2018 #lrbht #lrbht18 #lrbht_official Photos thatlnkd to @equusphotouk

A post shared by Tom Crisp Eventing (@tomcrispeventing) on

“We all thought that the finish at Burghley walked very friendly this year, without anything too testing, but the horses made hard work of the last few fences. I don’t think you can ever underestimate how much that track takes out of them, though, particularly the long gallop up Winners’ Avenue towards the Cottesmore Leap. Even if there’s nothing technical, it’s always relentlessly big. At Pau, there was the big white table at 16, probably a couple of single fences that were up to four-star height, but every single fence at Burghley, even the let-up fences, are at the maximum dimensions. Whereas at Pau you can canter around the racetrack and think the fences don’t seem too big, at Burghley they’re eye-poppingly massive and physically demanding.”

Tom Crisp wins the Laurence Rook trophy for the best British rider completing Badminton for the first time. Photo by Kit Houghton/Mitsubishi Motors.

Badminton, too, offered a sufficient challenge — though for Tom, much of it was mental.

“Badminton was one of my best results this year, even if, at 19th, it wasn’t one of my best placings, just because it was my fourth attempt and me and Coolys Luxury actually completed. It had become a real nemesis for me,” he explains. “I really thought, ‘it’s just never going to happen for me.’ Last year I said, ‘I’m not even going to try again; I’m not going to put the horse through it; I can’t get him right and ready in the spring.’ And you listen to what people say, too, about your record with an event. It’s so easy to give up and to give in, but if you quit, it lasts forever. Pain is temporary. Trials, tribulations, all the hardships of eventing, they’re temporary, but giving up is permanent. You’ve got to push on, and push on, and there are times you feel like you don’t even want to do it anymore, you can’t do it anymore, why are you even doing this? But these are normal feelings, and we all have them, and it makes it all the more special when you keep digging and you find something positive at the bottom of the pile, and it all comes good. And that’s really what Badminton was.”

Tom Crisp and Coolys Luxury at Badminton. Photo by Kit Houghton/Mitsubishi Motors.

It’s easy to forget, when we’re not the ones in the irons, that much of what makes the eventing game such a tumultuous one is the mental battle that must be fought, often before an event is even entered, and then over and over again on the way to triumph or disaster. It can make it rather hard to quantify what makes a course fair, or tough enough, or readable enough, but it can also turn statistics topsy-turvy, too.

“Lori goes into next season with a combination of Pau and Luhmühlen to take forward — it’s all experience, and it’s all progression. Luhmühlen didn’t look good on paper, but it prepared her for Pau more than anything else. It was a good round for her, and we learned that she can dig deep, and if things go wrong she doesn’t take it badly — she just keeps thinking forward. I thought then, ‘this horse is going to get some really good results; I know this horse is capable,’ and I felt so excited and positive about it. But in eventing, and especially at the four-star level, it’s all narrow margins — you don’t have to do a lot wrong to have a 20 slap you in the face; sometimes it comes down to not doing enough right.”

Robin Balfour, Harry Crisp, and head girl Amy Akehurst with Liberty and Glory at Pau. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

This is a particularly familiar concept for anyone who’s trained or competed a quirky horse. Tom’s wife Sophie initially produced Lori to the BE100 level, and Tom took the reins in 2015 to make the move up to Novice and one-star. By the end of the next year, she was an established Advanced competitor. Often, the road to the top is punctuated with a variety of potholes; for Lori, these manifested themselves in her formative years.

“She’s always been a little bit funny; the first time she went cross-country schooling, she just laid down and wouldn’t go anywhere. It took her an hour to get in the water the first time. Sophie really struggled with her — she used to refuse to leave the start box. At the beginning I said ‘look, let’s just get rid of it,’ but she’s always been a textbook jumper and a flashy mover, she just wouldn’t apply herself. So I just took all the pressure off her, never used my legs or spurs, and then we just clicked from there. We get along well, although she’s still a funny thing — she doesn’t let just anyone into her stable, and she can’t be tied. She even fractured her skull once while she was being plaited because she didn’t like that she was tied up.”

Strip away the pressure, work with your horse’s natural tendencies, and take it on the chin if it doesn’t go to plan: Tom Crisp has developed an formidable battle plan – and a good sense of humour – over his years in the industry. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Removing the pressure and nurturing that innate spark has created an impressive competitor: Lori attacked the Pau course with aplomb, opening her stride to find those famously French forward distances. Earlier in the week, Tom had half-joked that the diminutive mare was his FiscerRocana — on Saturday, it was easy to see why. Now, he has a result in hand that proves that his faith in the horse was well placed. Sometimes, he stresses, it can take all too long to get to that point.

“You can be confident in knowing that your horse is capable, and you’re capable, and on a good day, everything will come together and the results will follow. It’s all a bit of a mind game — you know you can do it, and you know your horse can do it, but if you let the occasion get to you, or the placings get to you, or people’s expectations, or anything, really, it allows that bit of tension to creep in and that’s enough to block the communication between you and your horse. You’ve got to relax and do what you know you can do but that’s sport, that’s the beauty of sport, that’s what we love about it. The occasion, the expectations — it’ll always mean something.”

Tom and Lori at Pau. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Though outwardly cool and calm under pressure, Tom recognises that those moments — and those good days — are worth celebrating, though he’s not immune to that age-old sportsman’s curse: he’s already hard at work and looking ahead, trying to set himself up for an even better 2019.

“I don’t think it’s sunk in yet, to be honest — you sort of think, ‘my god, a week’s gone by already,’ and that’s that; it’s already history,” muses Tom on his incredible end-of-season result. “I’m never satisfied; that’s my mindset — I’ve got a good placing, and no one can take that from me, butI’m already thinking about next year: what I can do, the horses I’ve got coming through the ranks, how I can improve. But that’s kind of a self-destructive way of thinking, isn’t it? Never being satisfied with what you’ve done — that’s such a familiar trait for sportsmen.”

Tom Crisp and Liberty and Glory at Pau’s final horse inspection. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

One of the most impressive things about Tom, other than that endless tenacity, is the self-awareness with which he tackles his role in the sport. While the impetus behind his drive to succeed might be the horses themselves, he takes some of his inspiration — and those moments of calm contemplation — from an unlikely source.

“I really love watching golf, and I think there are some comparisons that can be made between the two sports,” he explains. “Winning the Masters in golf is so rare; you see some players who have been out there for 30, 35 years, and they’ve always been in the top twenty or so, but they’ve never won a Masters. Then, all of a sudden, they come out and they win it, and it’s so lovely to watch. There’s a few stories like that, and you can always see just how much it means to them. They must have thought they’d never achieve it. But you’ve got to have goals, no matter how impossible they might seem, or what are you working for?”

For Tom, with twenty four-stars under his belt and so many years already spent chasing his goals, it looks as though the very best is yet to come. Go Eventing, and go Team Crisp!

You can keep up with Tom and his team on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, or check out his website for information on forthcoming clinics, training opportunities, horses for sale, and much more. 

The Pau That Was: Analysing the Influence of Cross Country Day

Izzy Taylor and Be Touchable produce one of the rounds of the day to sit third after cross country. Unfortunately, the horse was withdrawn before the final horse inspection. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

One thing was for certain after last year’s Pau CCI4*: if you hadn’t previously been paying attention to the French four-star, tucked away in the foothills of the Pyrenees and the tail-end of the eventing calendar, you almost certainly were thereafter. It’s been all too easy, after all, to consider Les 4 Etoiles de Pau a ‘soft’ option; a sensible move-up course, or the haunt of first-timers. But to consider it thus would be to do it a disservice: Pau, which earned itself four-star status just 11 years ago, might not be a Badminton or a Burghley, but with just six events at this level worldwide, should it try to be?

“It’s always been a proper four-star, but it’s a very different track because it’s flat, and with the manmade mounds it just makes it a bit different, in that respect,” says Nick Turner FBHS, who represented Great Britain internationally in both show jumping and eventing before turning his hand to coaching. He took charge of the Brazilian eventing team at London 2012 and the Irish eventing team at Rio, and is one of the most respected trainers in the industry. He’s also been the man behind the CrossCountry App’s official coursewalk for the past couple of years, giving him the chance to dissect the questions from a broad spectrum of viewpoints.

“The horses who are a little bit colder, or lacking a bit of blood, can often get round here, but then you have your Burghleys, which a horse who’s less blood would likely find more difficult than this. But I think, dimensionally, it’s always been big — the terrain lends itself to horses getting round often, but to me, you’ve got to have your wits about you and not underestimate what’s out there.”

Course designer Pierre Michelet — occasionally, and mostly affectionately, dubbed ‘Michelet the Menace’ — certainly has a big job on his hands when it comes to creating a four-star track on the small swathe of land he’s been granted. Where Badminton, Burghley and Kentucky benefit from sprawling estates and long galloping stretches, which lend themselves to enormous timber efforts punctuated by tighter, technical questions, Pau works under almost completely opposite circumstances. It’s set just north of Pau’s city centre and, though it operates within the confines of a racetrack, which should, in theory, allow for plenty of galloping space, only a third of the course opens up into the track. The first and final thirds of the course wiggle their way through the limited space alongside the main road, fringed by garages, schools, and garden allotments. To get a better idea of what this looks like, check out Pau’s site from the air:

An overview of Pau’s site. The first and last third of the course cover the left third of the site, while the middle third criss-crosses the racetrack to the right.

Comprendez-vous? That works out something like this: as you can see, there’s not a lot of time or space for horses and riders to settle into a rhythm and just travel — instead, they’re always thinking ahead to the next adjustment or turn.

For the sake of comparison, let’s take a look at Badminton’s site. It’s a pretty stark contrast, and in both cases, it well and truly defines the identity of each event and the role it plays within the sport.

Badminton estate: so much room for ACTIVITIES.

2017: The Year of the Dragon

2017 was an interesting year for Pau. Michelet, who is known for designing tough, technical tracks — the Rio Olympics and that European Championships course at Strzegom were among his masterpieces, lest we forget — suddenly kicked into overdrive, creating a beast of a Pau course that caused myriad problems across the board. Many of those problems occurred in the first third of the course: the first water, in particular, was hugely influential, causing issues to 11 combinations. Of those, five retired or were eliminated at the direct route, which consisted of a hanging log into the water and then a bending line over two skinny brush arrowheads.

Ros Canter and Zenshera, eventual 7th-place finishers last year, jump through the first water on the 2017 Pau course. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Slightly further along at fence 11ABC, we saw a large brush atop a steep mound. On the landing side, and after bounding down the mound, horses and riders were faced with two angled brushes over ditches, with an acute turn between them. About halfway through the day, the second of these hedges was removed, taking with it some of the intensity of this tough, scrappy line. In total, nine combinations would fault at this combination through the day.

Nana Dalton and Absolut Opposition clear the final element of 2017’s influential ditch-and-hedge question, before the second hedge was removed. In the background, you can see the first two elements of this fiendishly tricky question. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

So what changed between 2017 and 2018? On paper, the numbers actually aren’t dissimilar — this year, we saw a 64% completion rate with 38 of the 60 starters finishing, as opposed to last year’s 63%. In 2017, 72% of the combinations who finished the course did so without jumping penalties, while this year 28, or, just shy of 74% managed the same. The number of double-clears was up this year, though; 2017 saw just two add nothing in this phase, while we had four come home without time this year.

But numbers need quantifying, and the way that Michelet planned his course this year reflected much of the feedback he received after last year, which made for rather tough viewing and saw some seriously experienced combinations head home very early in the course. Rather than building almost impossibly technical questions, which can tend to punish, rather than reward, the efforts of even the best jumping horses, he created a stamina test that made use of even twistier sections of track and man-made mounds. This created an equally influential course that didn’t feel, well, heartbreaking in the way that last year’s often did.

“I wasn’t in love with it last year, at all,” says Nick Turner. “I felt that it was unfair on horses, and punished those with a big heart, and that was my one concern last year – that it was just one ask too many. The fences came up much more rapidly, and there were a lot more combinations. Within the waters, it was a lot more technical. I didn’t feel last year’s was overly horse-friendly, whereas this year, Pierre had softened it to a degree, but it still was a true four-star course. It allowed horses to read the questions much more than last year’s course did.”

Nick cites the ditch-and-hedge question at 11ABC last year as one of those asks too many: “I was glad to see it removed this year.”

Kim Severson and Cooley Cross Border clear 34A… Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Of course, this was still a Michelet course, and a Pau without some tricky and seriously technical questions would just be, well, a go-karting track. This year, one of the most influential combinations on course came very near the end at 34AB and 35. Utilising the last of the man-made mounds (a phrase that never seems to get any less questionable, no matter how many times I type it), any combination that’s placed here has historically been a bit of a late heartbreaker, chucking eleventh-hour 20s at otherwise clear combinations. This year, he placed a large, but straightforward, brush-topped rolltop at the crest of the hill, and as our competitors wound their way down, they encountered two offset skinny arrowheads — in fact, the same skinny arrowheads that had caused so much drama in last year’s first water. There was an alternative route, and the two arrowheads were separately numbered, which allowed for some creativity between the two, but for the most part, competitors sought not to waste any valuable seconds through the penultimate combination.

…before popping down over the direct route at 34B. They would be the first of several high-profile combinations to glance off of the next skinny at 35. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

So what made it so tough? Horses and riders are tired at this point, both mentally and physically, and traversing a final bit of terrain like this is tough work. So, too, is rebalancing and finding the right line as they speed down the hill, and this is a great example of that adaptability that Michelet built to seek: many riders walked this line six, seven, eight times, trying to figure out whether the obvious four-to-two stride method was the right one, but ultimately, what you got depended on how your horse landed from 34A. More often than not, it was a much shorter, flatter effort than anticipated, and those who adapted on the fly and held for three balanced strides between the two skinnies were home clear.

The crucial point here is that Pierre Michelet was able to take the feedback from 2017 and spin it into something constructive: the hard combinations still existed, certainly, but we saw him make use of separate numbering (34AB and 35, rather than 34ABC; 24AB and 25 in the middle water rather than 24ABC), which allowed for a slightly wider margin for error, and we saw a much more even smattering of issues across the course, rather than carnage in one or two locations. In fact, that penultimate combination at 34AB and 35 was, by the numbers, the most influential on the course — and it only caused problems for five of the competitors. The result? A course with true four-star technicality, but one which relied on time and survivable, innocuous glances off fences to turn the tables, rather than cheap thrills and spills.

Apportioning Influence: The Role of Cross Country on the Leaderboard

Only four of the top 10 after dressage managed to stay within this elite group — World Champion Ros Canter and Zenshera produced the goods for the second year in a row but slipped two placings to fourth after adding 7.2 time penalties. They made this up overnight, though, when the withdrawal of Izzy Taylor‘s Be Touchable, also a top-10 remainer, boosted them to third. Interestingly, Ros thought this year featured a harder course than last year’s track, with its energy-sapping, tight loop back around into the first water.

“I thought it rode tougher this year. There was that extra little loop at the beginning, going through the water twice, and it was just all over the place,” she explains. “Last year I had the most amazing round, and you don’t have those very often, but I definitely had to work a little bit harder this time. He tired more this year than he did last year, and I think it was just the circling around — he’s not a Thoroughbred, and he has to dig deep from the word go.”

Ros Canter and Zenshera jump into 2018’s final water. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Elsewhere in the top 10, Denmark’s Peter Flarup and his Frankie climbed from 10th to seventh, moving up one more to third overnight and adding just 5.2 time penalties. Our eventual winner Thibault Fournier, an incredibly impressive first-timer at the level, was fifth after dressage, but his foot-perfect double-clear catapulted him into the top spot with Siniani de Lathus. To watch his round back, and the rounds of his fellow French compatriots, is eye-opening — it’s suddenly easy to see how each of the tough combinations on course should be ridden. There’s a good reason for that, and it’s not just ‘Sissou’s’ naturally open stride — it’s how Thibault rides him into each fence, with minimal fuss and set-up.

Interestingly, the separate numbering of fences occasionally led to some questions — did they, or didn’t they? “I think the numbering was wrong there – if you committed to that arrowhead, you should have been deemed as presenting. It’s too close to tell,” says sixth-placed Tom Crisp. Give the above video a watch and see what you reckon.

“Michelet is very clever in how he sets courses; maybe, on first thought, they don’t look overly technical, but they are, actually – you have to keep the concentration,” explains Nick. “I think it’s the forwardness of the lines; they’re built for that very forward, very French way of riding, and when you start adding strides or not staying committed, it can cause issues. But also, within that commitment, you can get it wrong — you can commit to the distance between the first two fences in a combination, but if you have a third, that’s where we saw it unravel, somewhat. Michelet encourages forward riding, but that forwardness can just create a lack of traction in the hind end, that connection, really. If horses are used to being ridden that way — as the French horses usually are — it’s fine, but our way of riding, more traditionally, is a little bit more connected, so some of these fences end up being on the end of a horse’s stride.”

“Yes, we can” — eventual winner Thibault Fournier gives a masterclass in forward riding across Pierre Michelet’s Pau course. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Chris Bartle, chef d’equipe of the British team, agrees with this assessment: “Pierre always sets very forward distances, he really commits riders, which suits the French style of riding, and so I think those who really attacked it normally had a good ride through. The spread of questions on course were often related to that distance issue, that positivity, and saying ‘yes, we can!’ and going for it in a rather French style of riding.”

It was a great day overall for first-timers — four of the top 10 going into show jumping were debutante riders, while six of the horses in the top 10 after cross country made their debut at the level last week. Notably, three of these top 10 horse-and-rider pairs are French, including Thibault. They also had three of the four double clears we saw — Thibault is joined in this honour by fellow debutantes Alexis Goury and Clara Loiseau, as well as Gemma Tattersall and Pamero 4 —  corroborating the idea that their style of riding, and the style of riding that Pau favours, really is that different from what we’ve become accustomed to in the UK and US.

Playing the Four-Star Comparison Game

The biggest climber of the week was Great Britain’s Tom Crisp, who we spoke about in our final report from the competition. Tom moved an incredible 45 places up the leaderboard after cross country, finishing 48 places up after a double-clear show jumping round. His score of 37.8 in the first phase had him well off the pace with the 11-year-old mare Liberty and Glory (Caretino Glory x Little Runnymede, by Ginger Boy), a petite homebred owned by Tom’s wife Sophie and her father Robin Balfour. But now that we’ve seen the dressage coefficient removed, there’s much, much more room for movement — only five marks, or just over 12 seconds, separated 15th place after this phase (William Fox-Pitt and Little Fire, 30.5) from 42nd (Patricia Pytches and CES Ballycar Chip, 35.5).

Tom Crisp and Liberty and Glory. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

“This year’s Pau course wasn’t as twisty as previous years — I thought it had a nice flow to it,” reflects Tom. “As a course builder, Pierre questions the horse by using open striding. Is that a good thing? Is that a bad thing? It just is what it is, really, and you have to go to Pau prepared for it. When in France, ride like a Frenchman; be open and attack the distances. Oddly enough it did work; there were certainly places where you’d walk it and think it wouldn’t, but it worked for me and it worked for most of the people who rode it positively.”

For Tom, it’s crucial that four-star tracks retain a high level of influence on the final standings, but there’s a fine line between asking the right questions and entrapment of horse and rider.

“You want to test the rider’s accuracy and ability to hold the line, and you need to test boldness and all that sort of thing, but you don’t want to trap horses and get them to a place where they no longer understand where they’re meant to be going,” he explains. “It’s such a fine line because in many ways, you want to catch people out – otherwise, you end up with a high clear rate and not a lot of change on the leaderboard. It becomes a bit cheap if everyone’s getting around; I much prefer to see a lower completion rate at the top level. If I’ve gone to a Burghley or something and I’ve not completed, I’ve always thought that that’s the way it should have been.”

We spend a lot of time debating how we can maximise the influence of the cross country phase, without setting an impossible — or dangerous — challenge to less experienced competitors. When Captain Mark Phillips got it so right at Burghley this year, I implored the eventing community to shout about it, and in this case, I say much the same thing. Pau is not yet perfect — as a four-star, it’s still in its infancy, and getting it really, truly right at this level is a very, very difficult prospect — but Pierre Michelet is to be praised for using what he learned last year to streamline the conceptual basis of his cross country course and create something that was as quintessentially Pau as we’ve yet seen.

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Friday Video from World Equestrian Brands: Win Pau (Without Leaving the Couch)

Thibault Fournier and Siniani de Lathus. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Is anyone else suffering from horrendous Pau withdrawals? It’s a funny old time of year; for those of us on this side of the pond, the final four-star wrapped up eventing in 2018 and placed a neat little bow on top of it and now, the long wait for March seems a yawning one, devoid of all the things we get out of bed for in the morning, and forcing an unnatural separation from our lorry park pals and confidantes.

For me, certainly, this year’s trip to Pau was a seriously special one, and I’m finding myself not just missing the highs of a week spent immersed in the most glorious sport in the world, but missing the friends I made along the way, too. Emotions are running high in my little cottage – as they tend to in November — so stay tuned, because I’ll be channeling them into yet another of my long and rambling reporter’s notebooks, but also some extra bits and pieces looking back at the Pau That Was.

The good, the bad, and the husband material.

In the meantime, though, I’m quelling the post-eventing blues by watching every single hatcam I can get my hands on. Last weekend, we enjoyed a trip around Pau’s course courtesy of Ireland’s Joseph Murphy; this week, let’s ride along with the winner. Thibault Fournier and Siniani de Lathus recorded one of only four double-clear rounds on Saturday, and they were a joy to watch: the Pau course, after all, is built to suit a very forward, very French style of riding, and that’s just what we witnessed when we saw them head out to tackle Pierre Michelet’s magnum opus.

Now, we can see it from Thibault’s point of view — an extra-effective training tool if you tend to find yourself down on your minute markers, or if you just fancy shouting “allez! Allez! Allez!” into a fence, like a certain not-at-all-French eventer we know. (That would be the apparently very popular Mr. Crisp, in case you didn’t catch the livestream. Don’t worry. Plenty more on him to come.)

Thibault Prevails: French Prove Unbeatable at Pau & Wood Wows in 8th

Let October 28th forever be remembered as the date when the young and the restless take over the world. In 1216, a nine-year-old Henry III became the King of England, and a mere 802 years later, we would see a four-star first-timer become Pau’s youngest-ever winner.

Let’s set the scene, shall we? The temperatures have plummeted, but the hordes of French people — in matching Pau pack-a-macs, natch — just keep growing. Stage right, a small child rapturously plays in the smoke unfurling from a burly local’s Gauloise, trying to catch it between pudgy fists like it’s some sort of sad, carcinogenic bubble machine. Stage left, three men in horse suits are cavorting and whinnying, and hey, does anyone suddenly fancy some saucisson du cheval? Wink, wink, nudge, nudge, and so on, and so forth.

Mais oui.

Okay, now picture all those soggy French people and their besuited horse-man-beasts stamping their feet, waving their cigarettes, and sobbing in unison while a boy and his horse dizzily zoom around the main arena, and you’re halfway to understanding the carnage that ensued when 23-year-old Thibault Fournier won on his four-star debut at Pau today riding Siniani de Lathus.

Thibault Fournier and Siniani de Lathus become national heroes. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

The young Frenchman is barely out of age classes — in fact, he finished 11th at the 2015 Young Rider Europeans, which was basically yesterday, and his intention when coming to Pau for his first four-star was simply to see if he felt he was ready for the step up in level.

“It’s amazing – I didn’t expect this at all, it’s amazing,” he gasped through tears of joy after the plucky round with just one pole that propelled him to an incredible victory today. He and Siniani de Lathus (Volchebnik x Elia de Bunouviere, by Tenor de la Cour) had been overjoyed to find themselves in fifth place after an impressive 25.5 dressage, and their clear round inside the time over yesterday’s cross-country — one of only four — cemented the overnight lead. They went into the main arena, crackling with atmosphere (and men in horse suits), with just one pole in hand over Gemma Tattersall and Pamero 4.

Thibault Fournier and Siniani de Lathus win their first-ever four-star. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

They would need it. An early rail tumbled, and Thibault knew he’d lost his safety net — just one more mistake would see him lose out on the pipe dream that had suddenly, against all the odds, become a very real possibility.

You see, to get a sense of the scope of Thibault’s victory today, we have to rewind a little bit — not quite as far back as those Young Rider European Championships in 2015, but nearly. After that promising round, he and Siniani de Lathus made the move up to three-star, opting for a spin around Chatsworth CIC3* in 2016. They finished second there, and everything looked primed for an enormously successful season, but what comes up must so often come back down with a thump. The horse had most of the 2016 out before coming back for Boekelo CCIO3* in the autumn, the first in a string of frustrating competitions, which saw them pick up cross-country jumping penalties in three three-stars and fall in another. But they kept on keeping on, and Thibault kept dusting himself back off — and when the pair reappeared for the 2018 season, they did so with a quiet determination to succeed. They peaked — or so they thought — in June, finishing second at Bramham’s CCI3* for under-25s. Under. Twenty. Fives. The Bramham Baby Crêche. Toddlers and Titles. CCI three stars for Wee Stars. (A stretch? Perhaps.)

That moment when you win your very first four-star. Totes relatable, yeah? Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Anyway, fast forward again to the present day, and Thibault’s Season That Wasn’t has barely been packed away in the attic, and yet here we are. This sport, eh? Peaks, troughs, spectacular surprises and astonishing defeats. In a Pau that has seen some of the world’s best walking back to the stables (Oliver! Tim! Andreas Squared!) and no less than four debutantes finish in the top ten, this has been the hymnbook we’ve been singing from all week.

On finding himself in the lead after cross-country, Thibault’s stunned excitement initially gave way to a mature pragmatism: “I started to think, it’s possible, maybe, that eventually I can do it, but I just said to myself, keep relaxed, have fun, and if you do it, it’s amazing, but if you make two faults, you have time to do it again,” he explains.  “But then, the horse was very good from the start to the end of the showjumping. I had a fault early on because I think I was just a bit relaxed at the start, but it made me wake up a bit and then it was really better in my riding and I felt the horse really stay concentrated on the jumps and it was really nice to feel.”

Can you even? We cannot EVEN. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Really nice to feel, indeed — as the pair cleared the final fence the crowd erupted in a particularly Gallic show of national pride and emotion. Thibault, too, burst into stunned and ecstatic tears, thundering around the arena like a man possessed before coming to a sudden halt, leaping off, and hugging the 12-year-old Selle Français gelding who’d partnered him to the top.

Thibault is congratulated by his friend and fellow competitor Alexis Goury, who finished in 7th place with Trompe l’Oeil d’Emery on his own four-star debut. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

He was promptly spirited away by most of the population of France, who are so terrifyingly assertive in their group hugging tactics that it’s genuinely possible to find yourself squashed between several members of the last few Olympic teams, an overbred dog, and two sweaty men named Thierry. I scarpered, but before I did, Thibault made me feel old one more time, just for funsies.

“I’m still young, and the horse is too, and I hope he has a good recuperation and we can have success like this later.”

Nice try, pal, but you’ve still got nothing on Henry III.

Gemma Tattersall and Pamero 4. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Gemma Tattersall took second place by just 0.4 penalties, but it wasn’t for lack of trying — she and Clive Smith’s Pamero 4 (Perigueux x Rita, by Perpignon) were the only pair to finish on their dressage score, which had seen them in 13th place on 29.9 after the conclusion of the first phase.

“I’m absolutely chuffed to bits to finish on my dressage score, and with Pamero coming out today literally fresh as a daisy,” she says. “He pulled my arms out in the warm-up, and he was so fresh and jumped so well. I think all the fitness work and things we’ve been doing have really paid off.”

Pamero has historically been a difficult horse to manage, tending to go off his feed and requiring almost 24/7 turnout and the company of his ancient Shetland friend, Sooty, to keep him happy. “It’s a massive credit to my home team — he’s my head girl Charlotte Overton’s favourite horse, and she spends her life feeding him and tending to his every need, and it works. These horses are athletes, at the end of the day, and sometimes if it takes a lot of managing to get this result, that’s just what you do.”

Though he attempted his first four-star here with previous rider Laura Collett, Pamero only really stepped up to the level this spring, cruising around Badminton for a classy clear.

“Badminton was my first four-star with him; I was very early to go and it was a very long course with very tough ground this year, so I decided, for the horse’s future, not to push him for the time and to try to give him a good feeling. He finished really strongly – okay, yes, we were slow, but I’ve come here and been able to set off out of the startbox meaning business, but able to let him settle into his rhythm, which naturally is that four-star pace, where it wasn’t before. He’s had to work at it but now the gallop and stride length is immense, and to come around a course like that and do what he managed to do yesterday – sometimes you get those really, really good rides and get your confidence up. I had a really good ride at Strzegom a couple of weeks ago, and it all helps with your confidence, you know? I had a super, super ride on Santiago Bay, barring one mistake, and it just sort of gave me a really positive feeling to ride him around.”

Clara Loiseau and Wont Wait. Photo Tilly Berendt.

France’s Clara Loiseau and Wont Wait, her own 14-year-old Thoroughbred gelding (Starborough xx X Impatience xx, by Lycius xx) owned by Isabelle Peters, spent their week climbing the scoreboard rung-by-rung. They were 20th after dressage then moved into 5th after a fault-free cross country round, floating up another couple spots with a one-rail show jumping round to finish 3rd. Like Thibault and Siniani, this is the four-star debut for this pair as well. At just 26 years old, Clara is another young gun to monitor closely. This next generation of French eventers is coming for us all!

Peter Flarup and Frankie. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Denmark’s Peter Flarup and Frankie enjoyed a grand tour of the top 10 throughout the event — they were 2nd on the first day of dressage and 10th on the 2nd, then 7th after cross country, finally landing in 4th on Sunday after a one-rail round. The 11-year-old Danish Warmblood gelding (Federico xx x Stald Mejses Dream Girl, by AK’s Rush), owned by the rider, now has two four-stars on his résumé, and they’ll be happy with the dramatic improvement achieved in show jumping from Luhmühlen last year when they pulled four rails.

Ros Canter and Zenshera. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Ros Canter and Zenshera, her own 14-year-old Dutch gelding (Guidam x Telvera, by Matterhorn), were poised to finish 3rd but two rails and one time fault saw them into a final placing of 5th. Even still, they one-upped their 7th place result here last year.

The biggest climber of the day was Great Britain’s Tom Crisp, who moved an incredible 48 places up the leaderboard. His score of 37.8 in the first phase had him well off the pace with the eleven-year-old mare Liberty and Glory (Caretino Glory x Little Runnymede, by Ginger Boy), a petite homebred owned by Tom’s wife Sophie and her father Robin Balfour. Liberty and Glory, so named because she was born on the fourth of July, couldn’t be more of a family project — she’s out of Sophie’s former Advanced eventer. This is her second four-star; she went to Luhmühlen earlier this year, though an honest mistake kept them from making a similar ascent there.

Tom Crisp and Liberty and Glory. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Today, ‘Lori’ jumped like she was on springs, obviously feeling none of the effects of yesterday’s cross-country challenge, despite the fact that she hasn’t had a cross-country run since August.

“We saved her at Waregem CIC3* because the conditions were horrendous,” he explains. “But we’ve got a good little understanding between us. She’s the sort of horse you can’t dictate to or bully — you need to sympathise with and motivate her, and you’ve got to make her believe she can do it. I can’t use leg on her, can’t use my whip on her.”

Tom’s wife Sophie initially produced the mare to the BE100 level, and Tom took the reins in 2015 to make the move up to Novice and one-star. By the end of the next year, she was an established Advanced competitor, but the road to that point wasn’t always an easy one.

“She’s always been a little bit funny; the first time she went cross-country schooling, she just laid down and wouldn’t go anywhere. it took her an hour to get in the water the first time. Sophie really struggled with her — she used to refuse to leave the start box. At the beginning I said look, let’s just get rid of it, but she’s always been a textbook jumper and a flashy mover, she just wouldn’t apply herself. So I just took all the pressure off her, never used my legs or spurs, and then we just clicked from there. We get along well, although she’s still a funny thing — she doesn’t let just anyone into her stable, and she can’t be tied. She even fractured her skull once while she was being plaited because she didn’t like that she was tied up.”

For Tom, whose previous best result was eleventh place at Burghley with Coolys Luxury, today’s result is the fulfillment of a long-held dream.

“It’s always been a bit of a childhood dream to come in the top ten at a four-star against the best in the world,” he says.”She’s been unlucky with some of these little whoopsies so far this year, but I’ve felt so close to a big result with her, and it luckily all came together this weekend, which is nice for everyone.”

At the beginning of the week, Tom quietly told me that he knows this horse has a four-star double clear in her, joking that “she’s my FischerRocana.” Though he’s probably ruing the tiny 3.6 time penalties he added on Saturday, he shouldn’t be — the feisty, game little mare and her experienced pilot looked pure class from start to finish and at this, the beginning of her top-level career, she already looks incredibly exciting. Consider this one an EN One to Watch.

Ryan Wood and Woodstock Bennett. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Our top placed Aussimerican, Ryan Wood and Woodstock Bennett, an 11-year-old gelding (Shannondale Sarco St Ghyvan x Ponail Belle, by Beau Royale) owned by Curran Simpson and the rider, headed to show jumping in 8th place. Just getting to the ring itself was a cultural adventure, Ryan says.

“Crazy warm-up … the Europeans, they’ve got the biggest warmup arena but they’ve got the least amount of jumps,” he recounts. “So there was one oxer and everyone was riding for it. Luckily I had my muscle there, Phillip Dutton, and he was able to take charge, and we had [the one and only Lillian Heard] there helping, and we had a good warmup.”

“He went in there and just lifted and he jumped a super round,” Ryan says. “He had one rail down, the backrail of the oxer (at #9) and I could have given him a bit more leg off the ground maybe, but he was trying his heart out to come out and jump like that on the final day of his first four-star.”

If some rails are expensive, others are reasonably priced — this one may have cost them up a move up the leaderboard, but they remained in 8th place. A top 10 finish abroad is a fantastic result for a four-star first timer, but if you go to give Ryan a high-five be sure to aim for his left hand, as he jammed the right one pretty well landing from a drop on cross country yesterday and will be returning to the States with several broken fingers.

Kim Severson and Cooley Cross Border. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Kim Severson and Cooley Cross Border, an 11-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (Diamond Roller X Whos Diaz, by Osilvis) owned by the Cross Syndicate, jumped one of the most foot-perfect rounds we saw all afternoon. Crossy’s feet are tucked up to his chin like a show hunter in every photo. Their double clear round, one of six in the division, boosted them from 25th to 17th place.

“He was incredible. He jumped out of his skin,” Kim says. “I owe a lot of thanks to my team last night for getting him through the jog this morning, and for my buddy Ryan Wood for jogging him for me (as she’s not quite sound herself today). I couldn’t be happier.”

Kim thanks Crossy’s owners for coming over to support him and Crossy’s vet, Dr. Keith Brady, for looking after him so well.

Dream team! Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Our US debutante Hallie Coon capped off an incredibly impressive week with a completion in her first four-star. She and her eleven-year-old mare Celien (Tenerife VLD x R Quicksilver, by Hamlet) added three rails and a time fault to finish just outside the top twenty. Though they began the week in eighth place after an incredible personal best of 29.1 — a first sub-30 for the mare at any FEI level — they slipped down the leaderboard slightly on yesterday’s cross-country course when Hallie very wisely opted to nurse her tiring horse through the final major combinations instead of chasing the clock.

Hallie Coon and Celien. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

“It was a really good first experience,” she says in reflection. “The week had its highs and its lows; the high absolutely was the dressage, which is encouraging for me, because in the past it’s been our weakness, and to show that potential is really encouraging. Typically, we’re a pair that would be in the middle of the pack after dressage, and then we’d clamber our way up the ranks through the two jumping phases, and so it’s really exciting for me to have had this breakthrough. While on paper the jumping phases don’t look phenomenal, I think it’s a huge step in the right direction and I’ve learned so much about my horse this weekend. I feel like I have the knowledge now to move forward and really improve on this result for next time. The major issue was the fitness, and we had a plan and followed it and I think she’s going to come out of this as a better horse for it. We know we have to do more next time.”

Now, Hallie is looking ahead to a busy winter in Ocala with her string of horses, and hopes to make a return journey to the UK in the spring to maximise her learning experiences and build for the future.

That’s all from us for now at Pau — we’ve got line-dancing to do and wine to drink and raqlette to eat and some serious #PardyPau withdrawal symptoms to sleep off — plus more photos to add to this report. But we’ll be back — we’ve got plenty of post-Pau thoughts and analysis, as well as all the bits you didn’t get to see, coming at you thick and fast this week.

For now — au revoir, sacre bleu, and zut alors, for zat is all zee French vee know!

Pau Final Top 10:

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Pau 2018: Dissecting the Cross Country Course with Joseph Murphy

Joseph Murphy and Sportsfield Othello at Pau 2018. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Pau is known for a few things: swimming rats, French stereotypes, abundant day-drinking, and course designer Pierre Michelet, who spends most of his time zooming around the course on a scooter, cackling and twirling the ends of his moustache, or so we’re led to believe. There’s a rumour that suggests that if you stand in front of an arena mirror and say “zut alors, zat is a short four!” three times he’ll appear, red-eyed and spectral, and make you jump a curving line of skinny fences as penance for disturbing his slumber. Others say that you can summon him by putting pointed studs, a triple espresso, and a man in a horse suit in a circle and singing the French national anthem, which is Seven Nation Army by the White Stripes, we think.

Michelet the Menace, as he’s been affectionately dubbed, is the man responsible for one of the most consistently interesting courses in top-level eventing. Lacking the sheer space of venues like Badminton, Burghley, and Kentucky, Pau is best known for its serious twists and turns as it snakes its way between the gas stations and garden allotments of the city’s fringes. It’s not a galloping track, despite the fact that it takes place at a racetrack — instead, it’s rather more akin to go-karting-meets-crazy-golf.

There are three distinct sections to the course: the first and the last sections run just about parallel to one another, and they’re the business ends, with constant turn-and-burn action and swathes of people bunched up against the close roping. There’s very little margin for error in these parts of the course, and the minutes are slow ones here — there’s no opportunity to get ahead of the clock at the beginning of your round, and nor could you plan to shave off the seconds once you hit the final section. Instead, riders will need to plan to pick up the pace quite considerably when they hit the middle section of the course, which takes them out onto the racetrack and offers up some slightly longer galloping stretches. But even so, there’s nothing like Burghley’s infamous Winners’ Avenue here — it’ll take tactical riding and a forward stride into each and every fence to make up the seconds.

Pau cross-country essentials:

  • Length: 6320m
  • Optimum time: 11:06
  • Fences: 38
  • Jumping efforts: 45
  • Potential double-clears: 8 to 10, according to Joseph Murphy

EN walked the course with Ireland’s Joseph Murphy, who rides his eventing warhorse Sportsfield Othello and first-timer Fernhill Frankie this weekend, and is known for his gutsy, get-it-done approach to cross-country. He’s also the king of the hat-cam video, and we’re very excited to report that he’ll be wearing a camera for both of his rounds today — stay tuned for the videos and your chance to ‘ride’ the Pau course for yourself.

“The more I walk it, it’s probably starting to look a little bit better, because at the beginning it was very difficult to see a flow, but after a few walks you can start to get it into your head and figure out where the quickest minutes are,” he explains.

The course begins a little further along the back-stretch than it did last year — rather than starting in the gateway of the main arena, competitors will leave the start box behind the collecting ring, giving them plenty of hustle and bustle nearby to contend with. But that’s fine — the first couple of fences are straightforward ones, designed to give the competitors a chance to establish a forward, confident rhythm as soon as possible.

Fence three.

The first fence is the Bac de Châtaignier Audevard, a table with a sloping profile and a generous floral groundline, heading into a sweeping hairpin turn to fence two, the Tronc tordu Locexpo, a simple hanging log. Fence three, the Table de pique-nique Noa, gives us Vietnam-style flashbacks of last year, when we suggested that perhaps the families of beaver-sized swimming rats made use of Pau’s colossal tables for family dinners — this year, the course builders have kindly left a selection of plates and bowls out for them to use.

William Fox-Pitt considers the idea of a dinner party with the rats, and finds it lacking.

But aquatic vermin and a real risk of rabies aside, there’s not much to do here but bowl on down and jump the fence out of as forward a stride as can be managed. Then it’s onto the Château de Pau, a castle on a hill, which used to be the first part of a combination, but is now just a single fence and a disappointing Ed Sheeran song.

Fence four.

Next up is fence 5AB and our first combination, the Oxer ajouré – pointe Freejump, which is a table to a corner and can be ridden on four or five strides.

Fence 5A.

Fence 5B.

Quite an upright fence at six, the Mur de Pierre means that riders will have to waste a second or two setting up, but if they tackle the fence to the right of centre they’ll find themselves on the shortest route to 7AB and 8, the first water.

Fence six.

This was seriously influential last year, but it’s got a whole new look for 2018. Our intrepid competitors will have to pop over an elevated, brush-topped rolltop in the water, four strides up a big bank out and then one stride to 8, an offset hedge. There’s an alternative to 8 that takes you back around to the left, but riders will have to be sure to call out their long route early, as there’s not an enormous amount of space between the bank and the direct route.

Fence 7A.

Fence 7B to 8, combined driving bollards notwithstanding.

“You’ll be arriving here with a fresh horse, and you want them forward but thinking — and normally, fresh horses aren’t thinking,” says Joseph. “So it’s really a case of the rider’s being switched on there and in the right speed and the right forwardness. You don’t want them running through the bridle. The step up could be a looky sort of fence, or it might jump really well — we won’t know until we do it. The least pressure with the most forwardness is key here; I wouldn’t be trying to make too many adjustments.”

After the water it’s a right-hand curve to fence nine, which is the Barrier d’attelage Octobre Rose, a simple but airy upright adorned, apparently, with the contents of a child’s dress-up box in honour of Breast Cancer Awareness month.

Fence nine.

Hallie Coon plans out her second horse inspection outfit.

After popping the rail, competitors will have to head back to that first water — just to confuse everyone a bit — and pop down the drop in. This could take some of the horses by surprise — they’ve seen water once already, but it’s still early on in the course. Then they’ll canter on up and out of the water to fence 11, a beefy corner on an incline.

“Once you get out of the water you’ll almost want to do the next three minutes at 600mpm. It’s going to be a fast part of the course, and the horses have had a chance to get into it, so it’s time to get down to business,” explains Joseph.

Fence 10 from the take-off side…

…and from the landing side.

There’s another straightforward — if enormous — table at 12, before another big question at 13 and 14. This one takes the place of last year’s contentious angled hedges and ditches, which were reminiscent of a couple of Vicarage Vees on an acute turn. This year, there’s still a big jump (13) at the top of the mound, but now the competitors will have to bowl on down to a serious skinny, which is separately numbered as fence 14. There’s an alternative route here — if they don’t fancy the idea of jumping a seriously tall and seriously narrow fence at this point (although why on earth wouldn’t they? It all sounds great fun. Pass us the Bordeaux, please), they can pop 13, gather steam down the mound, and then curve around to a straightforward little log pile.

“I’d be wanting to meet this on my stride, and lining it up a little bit right to left and coming down on three strides, jumping it as I meet it. I don’t think people should worry too much about this fence.”

Fence 14: pretty easy, tbh.

Once clear of 14, it’s time to head out onto the centre of the racetrack, and the goal now will be to continue to ride as forward as possible. After a few slow early minutes, this is the time to gain speed and try to catch up to the clock, so a high cruising speed will be needed here and competitors will be travelling at 600mpm plus to get the job done.

The first fence in the track is 15, the Haie de l’Hippodrome de Pau, a massive but fairly innocuous staggered hedge, with an obvious profile that encourages riders to jump out of stride. Then it’s onto 16AB, a maximum width white table at the four-minute point. It’s four or five strides — four if you want to save time — to another corner.

“That’s on a really generous distance, and you can almost slightly angle the table and just keep rocking on four strides. But you don’t really want to be adding there; even on a short-striding horse that won’t be a great approach.”

Fence 16A is probably the widest fence on the course, though it should ride well and encourage a forward stride…

…down to 16B, the corner. It’s not visible here, but the corner features a helpful angled groundling, which effectively does the work of bisecting the fence for the riders.

At fence 17 we find yet another table, and this one utilises width, rather than height, to test the horses and riders. A lower fence might seem like a nice breather, but actually, it can offer up a bit of a funny jump; it doesn’t give horses an awful lot to look at and they may not make the best effort here. Once again, the key will be power and pace.

The trakehner at fence 18.

A peek into the abyss.

As we turn around the furthest point of the course we come to fence 18, a seriously airy trakehner, angled over a yawning great ditch. Helpfully, there’s a wooden groundline and flowers to help the riders see the right angle to take, which is slightly left to right.

Next up is 19, the Haie de laurier, which is an impressively wide and square box hedge with white rails on the take-off side to make it more readable. At 20 there’s another very airy upright rail like the one we saw at 9, though this one stands solitary in the middle of the open expanse of the racetrack and is a real departure from the wide tables we’ve seen so far in this section. Without much in the way of a groundline —  though there is a bush tucked under the rail — it’ll require slightly more set-up, so riders will need to land kicking to make up that second or two before they loop back around to the right towards 21 and 22, two corners that are jumped on a related distance with some variable terrain in between.

“It’s always a little bit like this at Pau, that you hit a flat bit and you just gallop, but that’s what makes it a little bit difficult, too, because then you come to a combination and your horse is strung out and very forward,” says Joseph. “It’s in the rider’s best interest to put them together a bit. For me, you almost need to be coming into 21 in a forward frame of mind and on the correct line, but not so open. But I do think that whatever stride you meet that corner on, you have to take it. You just have to pick it off on the distance you find.”

The first of the corners at 21 and 22. In the background, you can see the second — but horses and riders will have to traverse a dip in the terrain to get from the first to the second.

Fence 23 is one of the new fences on course this year, and it’s a classic four-star profile — Le palois is an enormous ditch and brush of the sort we see at Burghley and Blenheim. It’s big, it’s bold, it’s inviting, and it’s going to give a great feeling in the air — that’s one hell of a ditch, but a horse who might be tempted to back off the fence will be given even more reason to do so by the bright white sand on the approach. Still, riders will know they’re on the home stretch now, and that positivity will see them tackle it with aplomb.

Fence 23 — big enough for all the Citroens in the south of France to park in.

At 24AB and 25 there’s another water question. 24A is a table on dry land, from which the riders will canter down to two offset angled hedges (24B and 25) in the water. There’s a time-consuming long route here, but we’re unlikely to see many people elect to take it — with positive riding, this direct route should ride well. It’ll certainly ride better than 26, anyway, which was on the course last year, too — a short, squat ditch and rail, it doesn’t look like much but is rather too small for horses to get a read on, and it can cause some awkward efforts, as can the sight of the sudden road landing.

The view of 24B and 25 from the take-off side of 24A.

There’s a straightforward pop over the gigantic hedge oxer at 27 to guide horses and riders back into the twisty final section of the course, but our competitors can’t get complacent yet — there’s still plenty to do before they arrive home, and at this, the eight-minute marker, there’s no more opportunity to make up time. Competitors will know their fate here already, at least as far as time penalties are concerned.

The Delta Cambox arrowhead.

The Delta Cambox arrowhead at 28 requires some attentive riding — it’s stuck at the top of the hill and it’s a skinny enough question, and for a tiring horse, it can lead to a less-than-ideal effort. The great Andrew Nicholson took a spill here last year — though it doesn’t look like much, anything can happen here. Then there’s another wide table, the Mur Médias concrete box at 29, to offer a bit of a mental break before 30 and 31AB, the final water combination.

Fence 30 is a hanging log drop in, just like last year, but this year there’s nothing to jump once they’re in the water. Instead, they’ll have to canter up and out of the water and make an acute left-handed turn to two brush swans on a one-stride line.

“I was struggling to find a line for this, but I’ve found it, on reflection,” says Joseph. “You have to jump into the water normally, and as you come out, there’s actually a bit of a muddy patch that’s painted green — I was always planning to come slightly inside of that to keep the flow, but now I realise that’s a bit risky at the last part. I’m going to come one stride more out, thinking about the left turn after the B element — if you turn a bit too early into the A element you’ll find yourself almost parallel to the B element.”

The view from fence 31A to 31B.

Another straightforward table at 32 and a bit of a gallop precede the painter’s palette at 33. Although it’s just a single fence, this very upright skinny is splattered with paint and sits in the dappled light under the trees — last year, this meant that many horses seemed to struggle to read it and left a leg. This year, with a demonstrable lack of actual sunlight, it may give better results.

Fence #33 on the Pau CCI4* cross country course, “Palette de peintre L’Eperon.” Photo by Leslie Wylie.

The final major combination on course — though not, notably, the final combination — comes at 34AB and 35. Here we see the skinny brushes from last year’s enormously influential first water put to a new use — 34A is a big brush atop a mound on a downhill dogleg turn to the first colossal skinny brush at 34B. Because 35 is separately numbered, there’s the option to circle between the two brushes, and there are alternatives, too, but this close to home, many will chance the direct route, and many will have expensive mistakes here, especially if they fail to get a good jump over the first element.

“The first part is big, and they’re going to land a little bit on their heads,” explains Joseph. “So I’m going to jump it from the right to the left to land with a little bit of room so I can do a bit of manoeuvring, and then I’m going to just come down to those skinnies. I’m not going to try to think about it too much, but I’ll do a lot of preparation to the first part so I can land in the correct place and get to the skinnies from the right place. Your eye will tell you the distance, but I think if you come down in three strides it’s a bit risky and your horse will be running blind. If you come down in four, you’ll get the two between the skinnies well. I’ve jumped a good few fences down that hill over the years on both sides, and one thing I know is that they always land from the first fence with absolutely nothing.”

The final skinny brush at 35.

Fence 36 is the final fence before the atmospheric main arena, and it’s a simple one — just a nice, big, steeplechase-style brush to encourage horses home and see them into the roaring crowds and final fences. 37AB is a double of angled hedges, but they’re slightly shorter and with a kinder profile than last year, so shouldn’t cause any issues, and then it’s back around to the other long side and over the huge but sloping final fence.

And that’s your Pau course for 2018 — it’s long, it’s tough, and it’s a serious four-star track. The heavens have opened this morning in France, though the rain looks set to stop by about 1.00pm. Cross-country begins at 1:30pm local time/7.30am EST, and will be live streamed at the link below, or with English colour commentary via the Les Etoiles de Pau free app. There, you can also watch the previous days’ action back, with guest commentary from competitors and slightly hungover Eventing Nation correspondents alike. We’ll be bringing you live updates throughout the day as well as a full dissection of the day’s action later on. We’re wishing safe journeys around the course to all our competitors here today, and sending plenty of lucky vibes to our American contingent, headed up by four-star debutante Hallie Coon, who sits in eighth place overnight.

Want an even more in-depth insight into the course? Check out the CrossCountry app preview, where you can watch Joseph walk the lines in the combinations and discuss some more of the challenges the course presents.

Go Pau, and Go Eventing!

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Peaking at Pau: Meet Hallie Coon, Your New Favourite Rider

That moment when your best friend gives you everything: Hallie Coon and her horse of a lifetime, Celien. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

“I don’t usually try something new at a four-star, but I took a risk and it paid off,” laughed 23-year-old Hallie Coon after the career-best test that earned her and Celien a 29.1 today at Pau. That something new could refer to a few things, really — it’s the first time Hallie and the eleven-year-old Dutch mare have dipped below the 30s in an FEI competition, as well as, just as pertinently, the first time they’ve tackled a four-star. But what she’s actually referring to is something else: not content with being an also-ran in her CCI4* debut, she dug deep and took her chances with a bold new tactic today.

“I got her a bit fired up in the warm-up so she’d be more active and pushing with her hindend,” she explains. “I’m always a bit scared of doing that, because she can get quite hot in the arena, but I decided to take the risk. I was sick of being mediocre, and I thought if I tried it, I’d either be really wonderful or really terrible! So we took the risk, and it paid off.”

The toes of a true princess – crown emoji non-negotiable. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

It most certainly did — the pair’s three-star dressage average in their six runs this season has been 33.4, and to shave off over four marks at the biggest competition of your life, and riding the most difficult test yet, is a rare triumph.

“Honestly, coming into this I didn’t think there was any possibility of this outcome after day one,” she says. “It’s very, very surprising to me; I’m a little bit stunned and shellshocked still!”

But Hallie has always been quietly confident that the test was in there somewhere: “I’ve worked really hard, and I felt coming here that the horse was really quality and in a really good place, but I was questioning  whether I could put it together on the day. I’m as surprised as everyone else is — and I know everyone is surprised,” she laughs.

Hallie Coon and Celien. Photo by Leslie Wylie.

But should she be, really? After all, she’s produced Cece herself, taking her from her first event through to Advanced in just under two years. She bought her sight unseen from a video — “she was just a blur, jumping around in the rain” — as a rising six-year-old, and though the Dutch-bred mare had only showjumped and thus never even seen a solid fence, she knew she had to have her. Hallie was just seventeen at the time, but she knew she was onto something special.

“There was something there, a certain spring in her step, and this exuberance that she took everything on with,” she explains. “She’s not perfect; her form wasn’t necessarily perfect, but attitude shone through for me. I try to work off my gut instincts and not overthink things, and so I just went with it. I was at Buck [Davidson’s] when I saw it, and I called my parents straight away — I’ve never relied on them to get me horses, but I knew I had to move fast. We got her cheap and everything just came together.”

Hallie Coon and Namaste at Red Hills 2014. Photo by Jenni Autry.

Until that point, Hallie had enjoyed a taste of what was to come with Namaste, the tricky gelding she took over from sister Aryn and who she produced to three-star after moving up to him from her childhood pony. Though talented, Namaste wasn’t the easiest horse to maintain, and Hallie hoped that Cece might be the horse that could follow through on her major ambitions.

Hallie Coon and Celien at Fair Hill 2015. Photo by Jenni Autry.

Celien made her eventing debut at the Novice level in 2013, jumping around Ocala International for an inauspicious 13th place. Then she moved up to Training level a couple of weeks later, but Hallie decided after this second event that the mare, who had only ever seen the inside of showjumping arenas in Belgium, needed some more time to grow and mature. She spent much of the next ten months riding her around the fields of New Hampshire, letting her figure out her balance and grow into herself. When they returned to competition in early 2014, they did so with all guns blazing: within twelve months Cece moved through the levels from Training to Advanced.

“She’s extraordinary — she went from nothing to Advanced so quickly, because no challenge was great enough for her and she just had to have it all thrown at her or she’d get bored.”

Hallie Coon and Celien – a first trip abroad, courtesy of Karen Stives. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Now, Celien (Tenerife VDL x R Quicksilver, by Hamlet, a KWPN combination that sees her possess just 35.65% blood breeding) is eleven, with three-and-a-half seasons at the three-star level under her belt. After being named to the Emerging Athlete Eventing 5 program and receiving the Karen Stives Endowment Fund Grant, which allowed her to make her first competitive trip abroad this spring, a whole new world was opened up for Hallie and her mare. They helped the US team to second place at Houghton’s Nations Cup CICO3* in England, finishing best of the Americans in 15th place on their team debut and finishing on their dressage score of 34.7. Then, they took on the under-25 CCI3* at Bramham — widely regarded as one of the toughest three-star tracks in the world — and although an untimely abscess meant that they withdrew from the final horse inspection, they went clear across the country. Suddenly, Hallie realised that she could play with the big boys.

A team effort: Hallie Coon, Katherine Coleman, and Caroline Martin scoop second place in the Nations Cup, helmed by chef d’equipe Leslie Law. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

“Coming to the UK has been a brilliant experience,” she says. “It’s the first time I’ve been in a really high-pressure situation — Houghton was my first team appearance and I took it really seriously, so I was a bit crushed after my dressage. I just put a whole load of pressure on myself to get it done; I had to finish on that score, in my eyes. You can’t redo your first senior team experience. After Bramham, I realised that when it came to be crunch time, I could deliver. I’d always been a confident rider and competitor, but this gave me a whole new sense of confidence. I’ve never been put in that situation before — to find out I was able to rise to the occasion was as surprising to me as anyone else.”

Hallie Coon and Celien at Houghton. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

But the one thing that didn’t surprise her was how easy it was to get to work in the UK, even when sharing warm-up rings with the likes of Oliver Townend, the Price family, and Andrew Nicholson.

“The only thing that could have freaked me out about the top guys being around was that maybe I could have gone up against them, thinking it didn’t faze me, and choked. That would have been a real thing for me, discovering that — in my head, we’re all human, everyone makes mistakes, and some people are more successful than others. It doesn’t scare me or affect me, but I have great respect and admiration for all those guys that would make a lot of people starstuck. I feel like I can relate to them — we’re all here for the same reason.”

Through thunder and rain: Hallie Coon and Celien at Houghton CICO3*. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

After the disappointment of Bramham, Hallie knew she had two options: she could let her time in the UK come to an end and try again next year, or she could get creative and continue the learning experience. She opted for the later, and picked up the phone to her friend and confidante Richard Sheane, the brains behind the world-famous Cooley horse-sourcing enterprise in Ireland.

“After Bramham, I wasn’t really sure what to do, and I had to regroup and make new plan. My first call was to Richard; we’d met through Liz Halliday-Sharp a few years prior and he’d been really helpful when I was in search of a young horse, so I felt that he was the person I could go to, and trusted. We hopped over to his stables in Ireland, and from there, we were able to prepare for Mallow CIC3*, which was the final qualification we needed to go four-star. I went home for a couple weeks and they prepared her for me and really made it so that I was able to do it all. They were wonderful with her, and they’re genuinely amazing human beings. They took me in even though I wasn’t on a Cooley horse, and there was no benefit to their business as such — they’re just really genuine people who are willing to help out.”

Hallie Coon and Celien at Bramham. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

After Mallow, Cece enjoyed a well-earned holiday before the excitement of the latter part of the season. In August, they headed to Millstreet CICO3* for their second team appearance, though their sophomore effort didn’t go quite the way of the first. The US team failed to complete, and though Hallie finished the competition happy with the way Cece felt, they incurred an early and uncharacteristic 20 penalties for a step back at the event’s infamous Irish bank.

Hallie Coon and Celien at the Irish Bank. Photo by Radka Preislerova Photography.

After a summer of flying back and forth between Ireland and the States, where her remaining horses still needed runs, Hallie was ready to head back to the UK for the final preparations. She’s been based at Liz Halliday-Sharp‘s Chailey Stud this autumn, where Liz’s string of horses shares equal turf with the top-level dressage horses piloted by Luke Baber-Davies.

“We all do our own thing at Chailey, but it’s a great place to have been based because Liz will give her input here and there while we’re riding, just little things like, ‘activate the hind legs,'” Hallie says. “I also get to see dressage horses schooled every day – really good Grand Prix horses. Having that as the everyday standard might have upped my game a bit. They say you have to be around people who raise your standards, and both of those guys have certainly done that for me this fall.”

Now, after eighteen years of four-star dreaming and two nearly-there moments — Hallie first intended to make the move-up at Kentucky in 2014 and then again in 2015 with former three-star horse Namaste, but last-minute problems put paid to those plans — she’s finally at her first CCI4*.

Four-star debutantes Hallie Coon and Celien. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

For the girl who once “begged on my hands and knees to go to Ocala with my sister”, where they ended up having to share a bed for three months to make it work, this is the dawning of everything she’s ever hoped for. She’s even treated herself to the rare help of a groom for the week — freelancer Prairie StipeMaas Tobul, who formerly worked for Doug Payne, heads up her support team for the week. She’s also enjoying the support of Voltaire DesignFairfax & Favor, and Holland Cooper clothing, as well as team chef d’equipe Erik Duvander.

Praire StipeMaas Tobul and Celien at Pau. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

On her way to the top level, one thing’s for certain: Hallie has always found her own way to adapt, survive, and thrive in the sport she loves, and she’s not going to stop anytime soon.

“Next, I’d like to bring a horse or two over to compete in the spring,” she says, thinking ahead to what looks set to be an enormously exciting career. “Through that, I’m hoping to make it stick and stay in the UK. I’d like to aim for every senior team possible, have a horse at every level, and tackle the four-stars and the Event Rider Masters classes.”

We’ll be cheering Hallie on throughout the rest of the weekend at Pau (and beyond!) — you can watch her go cross country tomorrow at 4:06pm local time/11.06am EST, and you can find her on Instagram, too, where she’s busy documenting her adventures. Fellow four-star eventer Tom Crisp has kindly bestowed upon Hallie the charming nickname ‘Flat White’ — she, um, likes coffee — and so we propose a hashtag for your online cheerleading needs. #FlatWhiteGoesToFourStar — and she’s making it look easy so far!

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Izzy Taylor and Be Touchable Are Untouchable in Pau Day 1 Dressage; Kim Severson in Top 10

Izzy Taylor and Be Touchable take the lead on the first day of Pau. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

In a first day full of dressage heavy-hitters, it was the last horse to enter the arena — and a four-star debutante, no less — who would scoop the top spot at this early stage of Pau. Izzy Taylor‘s ultra-talented Be Touchable (Untouchable 27 x Ureka, by Indoctro) was never going to be an also-ran, though — the twelve-year-old has certainly made his mark at the three-star level, winning Bramham’s CIC3* earlier this season and claiming the title of British Open Champion when he finished second, but best British horse, at Gatcombe Park. Last year he shot into the public eye when he won Blenheim’s leg of the Event Rider Masters series as well as a CIC3* at Millstreet. He was always going to be a threat.

Izzy Taylor and Be Touchable. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

But the 16hh gelding, owned by Sophie Dodds, seriously delivered in the moment: he posted a 28.8, staying relaxed, consistent in the contact, and earning one of only four sub-30 marks in what has been a day of tough scoring across the board.

Originally produced by Sophie, who contested her first Intermediate on the gelding, Be Touchable moved to Izzy’s yard in 2015. Since then, he’s largely been campaigned at CICs — in fact, the last time he was entered into a CCI was Ballindenisk in 2016. He finished third in the CCI3* on that occasion.

An impressive start sees Be Touchable catapulted into the lead at Pau. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Denmark’s Peter Flarup takes second place overnight with his own Frankie (Federico xx x Stald Mejses Dream Girl, by AK’s Rush). The eleven-year-old gelding completed Luhmühlen last year, finishing 27th and jumping clear across the country, and in his sophomore appearance at the four-star level today he posted a seriously competitive 29.5 to hold the lead for much of the afternoon.

Peter Flarup and Frankie. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

“The horse was a little bit happy, and was playing a little bit around, but it seems to justify the result, so I’m happy,” said Peter after his test. Peter has owned Frankie since he was a six-year-old, producing him through the levels himself from his Copenhagen base.

Andreas Dibowski and FRH Butts Avedon, fourth overnight. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Third and fourth places are held overnight by a jolly German double-act. We’d suggest some sort of marvellously fruity pop act, perhaps called Andreas Squared, perhaps involving lederhosen and accordions punctuated by heavy drum and bass, but we fear it would be unprofessional, which we would never, ever be. So, in short, Andreas Ostholt and So Is Et, the 15-year-old Westphalian with whom he was second at Badminton in 2016, sit third at the halfway mark, having posted a 29.7. Interestingly enough, that Badminton result was the last time we saw So Is Et at this level, though he clocked up plenty of experience before then with a top ten finish at the 2014 WEG and sixth at Luhmühlen that year, too.

Andreas the second (or Andreas the fourth, actually) is Andreas Dibowski, who rerouted FRH Butts Avedon here after an early and uncharacteristic tumble at Burghley last month. The fifteen-year-old Hanoverian gelding (Heraldik xx x Karina-Andora, by Kronenkranich xx) is one of the most experienced horses in the field, with ten four-stars under his belt. He was second here in 2014 and should be formidable this weekend.

A common blunder precluded William Fox-Pitt and the nine-year-old Little Fire (Graf Top x Heraldiks Angara, by Heraldik xx) from taking the top place — he forgot the stretchy canter circle that was so maligned at Burghley, dropping down to fifth as a result.

“I knew I was going to forget the bloody thing,” he said gloomily on his way out, but nonetheless, the occasionally tempestuous up-and-comer looked the best we’ve ever seen him (that’s Little Fire, we hasten to add, not William — who also looked very well indeed, but probably graduated from the ‘up-and-comer’ label a wee while ago). They come into this competition off the back of a second place finish in the Tattersalls CCI3* earlier this season.

Kim Severson and Cooley Cross Border. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

The sole U.S. pair to complete dressage on Thursday was Kim Severson with Cooley Cross Border, an 11-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (Diamond Roller X Whos Diaz, by Osilvis) owned by the Cross Syndicate. They scored a 32.8 to sit equal 10th place with Yasmin Ingham and Night Line. Though good enough for the top ten, and certainly enough to keep them in the hunt, it wasn’t quite reflective of their usual sub-30 scores.

“He was just a little bit fragile,” said Kim after her test. “He’s so good, and he tries very, very hard, and he does get worried about things. He just wasn’t as settled as he can be. Some of the things were very, very good, and then there were some things that weren’t great. His trot work was fabulous in the ring, better than it was in the warm-up, but he just got a bit tight in the canter, and it wasn’t quite there. He’s almost there in a lot of ways, and he’s a very good boy.”

Pau CCI4* Top 10 After Dressage: 

Friday dressage begins at 8:45 a.m. local time/2:45 a.m. EST. Set your alarm (if you’re diehard like that) to watch …

9:13 a.m. local time/3:13 a.m. EST: Tim Price Ascona M

9:27 a.m. local time/3:27 a.m. EST: Ryan Wood & Woodstock Bennett

9:48 a.m. local time/3:48 a.m. EST: Hallie Coon & Celien

10:19 a.m. local time/4:19 a.m. EST: Boyd Martin & Steady Eddie 

10:26 a.m. local time/4:26 a.m. EST: Oliver Townend Cillnabradden Evo

11:02 a.m. local time/5:02 a.m. EST: Ros Canter Zenshera

11:09 a.m. local time/5:09 a.m. EST: Phillip Dutton & I’m Sew Ready

12:29 a.m. local time/6:29 a.m. EST: Gemma Tattersall Pamero 4

Much, much more to come. Go Eventing.

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Dancing in the Moonlight: All Horses Pass Pau First Horse Inspection

Four-star debutantes Hallie Coon and Celien. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

There are plenty of slightly odd things about Les 4 Etoiles de Pau, or, to give it its official title, #PartyPau, and one of those is definitely the first horse inspection. It takes place under the shroud of a sleepy sunrise, which only makes its yawning appearance by about the fifteenth horse, and it’s only when the last couple head down the strip that you actually feel like you might be awake, and on this planet, and prepared to attempt to function like a normal human being.

US-based Australian Ryan Wood and Woodstock Bennett. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Like any other major trot-up, it’s become a bit of a fashion show over the years, and so even if the bags under the riders’ eyes aren’t designer, there’s every chance their outfits are.

Great Britain’s Rachel Robinson and MJI Limmerick Bell. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Sixty-one horses presented this morning to a ground jury made up of Christina Klingspor (SWE), Nathalie Carriere (FRA) and Katrin Eichinger-Kniely (AUT), and all of them were accepted into the competition. We’ve got four American riders here this week — Kim Severson rides her Blenheim CCI3* winner Cooley Cross BorderBoyd Martin pilots the New Zealand Thoroughbred Steady EddiePhillip Dutton is entered with I’m Sew Ready, and 23-year-old Hallie Coon makes her four-star debut with the Dutch mare Celien, who she’s produced through the levels herself. We’ll also be cheering on US-based Aussie Ryan Wood and his Woodstock Bennett.

Boyd Martin and Steady Eddie. Photo by Leslie Wylie.

Phillip Dutton and I’m Sew Ready. Photo by Leslie Wylie.

The mostly uneventful morning wasn’t without its dramas — both Waltham Fiddlers Find for Tom Jackson and Corvette 31 for Andreas Ostholt were asked to trot up again, though were then immediately accepted. Burghley winner Tim Price brought forward four-star debutante Ascona M, and she was the only horse sent to the holding box this morning. She, too, was subsequently accepted.

Tim Price and Ascona M pass upon reinspection, but the tension is just enough to put The Fear into Tim, evidently. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

HiHo Silver and Fairfax & Favour were on hand to assist with the judging of the best-dressed awards. The prize for the best-dressed man went to young British rider Will Furlong, who contests his second four-star this week with Collien P 2, while France’s own Clara Loiseau was best-dressed female. She rides Wont Wait.

Best-dressed male Will Furlong and Collien P 2. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Dressage commences this afternoon at 1:30 p.m. local time/7:30 a.m. EST, with Izzy Taylor and Call Me Maggie May the first in the ring. There are some major players to watch out for, including Germany’s Bettina Hoy and Designer 10, who are almost certain to lead after the first phase. They can piaffe, people. We’ve seen it. It’s haunting us. Anyway, you can watch them at 2:50 p.m. local time/8:50 a.m. EST, and we highly recommend doing so — they are enormously impressive in this phase and their score will probably end up flirting with the minimum drinking age.

Bettina Hoy and Designer 10. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Planning a live-streaming session, but don’t have hours to devote to dressage? Here are our picks of the horses and riders you’ll want to make sure you catch today. Check out our comprehensive guide to the event’s competitors for everything you need to know about them:

1.44pm local/7.44am EST: Kim Severson and Cooley Cross Border

2.12pm local/8.12am EST: Andreas Ostholt and So Is Et

2.19pm local/8.19am EST: Gemma Tattersall and Santiago Bay

2.50pm local/8.50am EST: Bettina Hoy and Designer 10

4.10pm local/10.10am EST: Andreas Dibowski and FRH Butts Avedon

5.23pm local/11.23am EST: Izzy Taylor and Be Touchable

Kim Severson and Cooley Cross Border will be American pathfinders. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

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Passport to Pau: Your Comprehensive Guide to France’s Four-Star Field

Jonelle Price and Faerie Dianimo at Pau 2017. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

If you’ve never tuned into France’s premier three-day event, you’re in for a treat this week. Nestled into the foothills of the Pyrenees, a stone’s throw from the Spanish border, the final CCI4* of the Northern Hemisphere’s 2018 season has everything we love about eventing: top equine and human athletes, untoward fun in the sun, and, if we’re honest, a slightly more heaping helping of madness in the middle than most four-stars.

No idea either, pal.

It’s not just because of the day-drinking, though that’s the pastime of choice when you find yourself suddenly thrust into a sun-dappled corner of who-knows-where for a final outing with the eventing family. It’s the general Frenchness of the whole thing — it’s so laidback it’s practically horizontal (though the jumps most certainly are not), it’s set practically in the middle of the town, and it’s basically just a boozy adult summer camp for the chronically and determinedly pony-mad. Shenanigans abound, and what does Team EN love more than shenanigans? Nothing. Maybe coffee.

#PartyPau

After Pau ends, all that’s left on this side of the pond is a mire of gloom and endless winter, so this really is the last hurrah. This year, we’re treated to what might be the best entry list we’ve seen here — it’s full of top riders and horses, and some seriously exciting debutantes, too. No matter where you are in the world, you’ll be able to live-stream the event in full, and we highly recommend doing it properly: pour yourself a glass of red (time of day inconsequential), light up a Gauloise, twirl your moustache, and shrug a lot, we guess. There are fourteen nations represented and some serious contenders for the Pau throne — get yourself comfortable and pick your winner…

AUSTRALIA

Ryan Wood and Woodstock Bennett. Photo by Jenni Autry.

Ryan Wood and Woodstock Bennett

US-based Aussie Ryan is basically an honorary American, or so we like to tell ourselves. He’s been based Stateside since 2008, when an outbreak of equine influenza in Australia prompted him to make good on his dream of relocation and a trip around then bluegrass of Kentucky’s CCI4*.

His journey since then has been a remarkable story of peaks and troughs – he suffered a horrific accident in early 2009 during a prep run at Ocala, and much of his skull is plated back together as a result. But in true Antipodean fashion, he kept grafting and never lost sight of his goal, and in 2016, having racked up promising results at many three-stars and a decade after he last competed at four-star, he finally made it to Kentucky with three horses.

Woodstock Bennett is a first-timer at the four-star level, but the eleven-year-old gelding has an impressive record thus far. He’s never picked up a cross country jumping penalty at any of his 15 international runs, and he won his first CCI3*, which he ran at Bromont in mid-2016. His dressage tends to fluctuate – he can be a high-20s horse or he can be a mid-30s horse, depending on the day, and we’ve not yet seen him really move up into his top gear across the country, but he’s super consistent in this phase and will likely climb. Whether his pole on the final day will prove expensive remains to be seen.

AUSTRIA

Austria’s Katrin Khoddam-Hazrati shakes up the trot-up formula at Burghley. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Katrin Khoddam-Kazrati and Cosma

This will be a second start at four-star for Austria’s Katrin Khoddam-Hazrati and her nine-year-old mare, who caught the attention of the crowds at Burghley with their nod to the motherland at the first horse inspection. Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be their week – they had a few problems on course and ultimately retired after scrambling through the Keeper’s Brushes at fence 20.

Cosma is a young horse for this level, and Katrin, who produced her and owns her, hadn’t competed at four-star before Burghley. They’ve had some mixed results in the past – they retired on course in the CIC3* at Jardy, six weeks before Burghley, and they were eliminated in the first phase at Strzegom CICO3* in June. But prior to that, they’ve notched up a fair few top-ten placings in international competitions, and they delivered a clear round around the fiendishly tricky track at last year’s European Championships, so the potential is certainly there. They won’t be your winners, and this stage of Cosma’s career is all about confidence and education, so we’ll be cheering them on for a steady completion to give them a plan of action for the 2019 season.

BELGIUM

Christian Chabot and Barlison

12-year-old Belgian Warmblood Barlison makes his four-star debut this weekend at his 28th international start, and it’s a long-awaited return to the level for rider Christian, too, who competed here in 2011 aboard Bolero. He notched up a clear round then, but finished well out of the placings due to a disappointing dressage mark.

Barlison shouldn’t have quite the same problem — his dressage isn’t world-beating, but he tends to be a mid-30s scorer. For him, the cross-country will be the main focus: he’s had a seriously chequered season. It started well with 8th place at Vairano CCI3*, but he was eliminated in his next three internationals, which were at CIC2* and CIC1*. He’s since run a CCI1*, finishing second. This move-up is an ambitious one, and Christian will need to take stock of how his horse feels every step of the way, pulling up if necessary.

DENMARK

Peter Flarup and Frankie. Photo by Jenni Autry.

Peter Flarup and Frankie

This will be Frankie’s second four-star — he made his level debut at Luhmühlen last year, delivering a clear round and finishing 27th. He was quite quick there, and his dressage of 31.2 was about where he was at last season, but he knocked four poles on the final day and chalked up a whopping eight time penalties in the showjumping, dropping him down the leaderboard.

This season, though, he’s shown he can go into the 20s, and he’s still usually quite quick, but his showjumping hasn’t improved much. Another clear round on Saturday is totally within their abilities and they should try to use their speed and dexterity there to climb — they’ll need to create a bit of a buffer to protect them from the influence of those poles on their position in the final leaderboard.

FINLAND

Elmo Jankari and Soraya 243

Eternally youthful-looking Elmo is Finnish eventing’s darling (and, okay, he’s only 26, but we guarantee he’ll look just as fresh-faced at 46 — whether he’s stashing a rapidly aging portrait in his attic remains to be seen, but rest assured that EN is on the case). He’s amassed plenty of experience dealing with the pressures of life at the top in his career — after all, he’s already logged a WEG place in 2014, a European championships finish in 2015, and he rode at Rio, too, finishing 31st individually with Duchess Desiree.

Soraya, a ten-year-old Oldenburg mare, is a new old ride for Elmo — he produced her to CCI3* in 2016 before passing the reins to Spain’s Esteban Benitez Valle for the 2017 season. Elmo took her back this year, and they’ve had mixed results in the four internationals they’ve contested since their reunion. They got off to a great start in the CIC2* at Chaumont en Vexin, where they finished eighth, but they then retired on course at CCI3* and CIC3* competitions at Strzegom. Finally, they completed Baborowko’s CIC3*, finishing eleventh. It’s an interesting choice to go four-star now, and their only focus this week should be a clear or, at the least, an educational run. Their high-30s or more dressage will be what it will be, and they might go clear on Sunday, or they might knock up a cricket score in rails. At this slightly ambitious move-up, that shouldn’t matter.

FRANCE

Marie Caroline Barbier and Picasso d’Oreal

Marie and Picasso were fifth in Bramham’s beefy Under-25 CCI3* this year, though their best result at the level came in the same class the year prior, when they finished fourth. This is their first four-star, and they come into it off the back of a season without any cross country jumping penalties. They’ll deliver a mid-30s dressage and, though they’re quick at three-star, they probably won’t run for the time here. A pole or two will fall on the last day, but they should record a result they can be proud of in their move-up event.

Arnaud Boiteau and Quoriano ENE HN. Photo by Jenni Autry.

Arnaud Boiteau and Quoriano ENE HN

Arnaud and his fourteen-year-old gelding have completed four four-stars together, including two runs at Pau – their best result was third here in 2014. They also won Chatsworth CIC3* in 2016 and finished 15th individually at the 2013 Europeans in Mälmo, so they come to the event with plenty of experience and the confidence that this type of track suits the horse down to the ground. They’re quick, quick, quick, but their record isn’t without its wobbles – they’ve had problems in their last two four-star runs, including Pau last year, so Arnaud will be hoping to rebuild his top horse’s confidence, rather than ride for the win, necessarily.

Sebastien Cavaillon and Sarah d’Argouges

Four-star debutantes abound for the home front this week, and Sebastien and his twelve-year-old Selle Français mare are no exception. They’ve been partnered since 2013 and moved up to three-star in 2015, so they’ve gotten to know one another well over the challenge of the level.

And there have been a few – they’ve had a few 20s, have been spun at two horse inspections, and they’ve had a horse fall and a showjumping elimination, too. But they’ve also had their successes – they’ve finished ninth at Saumur and tenth at Haras du Pin. Still, this week will be a big ask for them, and a slow clear would be a fantastic result.

Alix Crouin and Palma Belmaniere

Neither Alix nor her best friend Palmichou have ever completed an international with another partner — a rare thing to see at this level, perhaps, but this sort of innate knowledge of one another can be the little something extra that makes the magic happen at an event of this level, where thinking ahead and reacting in sync becomes so important.

They’ve started an impressive 27 internationals together since their CIC1* debut in 2011, and Alix and her fifteen-year-old Selle Français have gone clear across the country in all but three of them. One of those doesn’t really count, though — that was Saumur CIC2* in 2014, where they withdrew after the dressage.

Their two cross-country blips have come this season: Alix took a tumble at Hartpury CIC3*, and they picked up a 50 for missing a flag and then a further 20 at Jardy CIC3*, too. But they’ve regrouped and had clears at Sandillon CIC2* and Waregem CICO3* since then.

They won’t trouble the leaders, as their dressage will likely be in the mid-to-high 30s, they won’t make the time on cross country, and they’ll probably tip a pole on Sunday, but it’ll be a dream come true for Alix to complete her first four-star on home turf with her old pal.

Arthur Duffort and Toronto d’Aurois. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Arthur Duffort and Toronto d’Aurois

Based in the UK, Arthur has picked up plenty of experience on the world stage since leaving his four-year job riding for Andrew Nicholson and setting up his own business with wife Logan. We haven’t seen him at this level since 2016, though, when he finished 32nd on his four-star debut at Burghley with Herbst Golden Eclipse.

Toronto d’Aurois is an eleven-year-old Selle Français gelding with two years’ worth of three-star experience under his belt. We last saw him in the CCI3* at Blair, where he got one of his worst dressage scores – a 43.6 as opposed to his usual mid-to-high 30s – but jumped clear and just two seconds over the time on Saturday. Interestingly, he then added seven time penalties in his clear showjumping round, though, in his defence, the heavens had opened and the ground, for its part, had turned bottomless by then. Nonetheless, he finished 8th. He’s a quick horse, but not an out-and-out performer in the first phase, while some issues in the past on cross country mean we’ll likely see a conservative run from this pair.

Thibault Fournier and Siniani De Lathus

It’ll be a four-star debut for 23-year-old Thibault and the 12-year-old French-bred Siniani De Lathus. They’ve had an exciting partnership so far; produced to the two-star level by France’s Rafael Mazoyer, Siniani took Thibault to the Young Rider European Championships in 2015, adding a solitary rail to his 31.3 dressage to finish 11th individually. The following spring they made their 3* debut, choosing the tricky track at Chatsworth for their move-up. It’s notoriously tough to make the time here — in fact, only a handful of people have ever managed it — and they didn’t, but their 16 time penalties were very respectable indeed, considering the track, and their PB of 24.8 in the first phase meant that they finished second.

They then hit a bit of a run of bad luck — they had a quiet summer with a solitary one-star run, but when they headed to Boekelo CCIO3* that autumn, they added 20 across the country. They did the same at their next international event, Montelibretti CIC3* in early 2017, and they were eliminated from the Under-25 CCI3* at Bramham that June when Thibault hit the deck. In August they once again added jumping penalties across the country at Haras du Pin CIC3*, but it’s been (mostly) plain sailing ever since — they’ve gone clear around Boekelo, Bramham, Haras du Pin and Lignieres, with an elimination at Aachen along the way. The most notable of their results was second place in Bramham’s CCIU253* this summer over a long, beefy track — they finished just one second over the optimum time, so we know the pair is capable of going fast. With a slightly chequered history, though, that shouldn’t be their focus this weekend — instead, they should aim for a confident, educational clear, which they’re certainly capable of.

Alexis Goury and Trompe l’Oeil d’Emery

22-year-old Alexis Goury makes his four-star debut at Pau, riding the horse with whom he scooped individual bronze at the 2016 Young Rider European Championships. He’s also had two cracks at the Bramham Under-25 CCI3* with the eleven-year-old Selle Français, who he’s produced from a four-year-old. Unfortunately, both of these attempts – in 2017 and in 2018 – saw them add 20 penalties to their otherwise spotless international record, which spans fourteen competitions over three seasons. Still, 12 out of 14 clears at FEI competitions isn’t too shabby, and their third place in the CCIO3* at Boekelo last season is well worth taking note of — just two seconds over the optimum time on cross country stopped them from finishing on their dressage score of 30.2. They’ve won the CIC3* at Montelibretti and have had two quick clears in CIC3* classes this year, so come into the event on great form.

Expect a low-30s dressage and a reasonably quick round — Alexis’ horse is a natural galloper with a high cruising speed. Their showjumping can be a little frustrating — they’ve racked up plenty of clears, but sometimes it all unravels a bit and they send several poles tumbling. A promising first-timer, though, whose confidence will be buoyed by an exuberant and supportive home crowd.

Clara Loiseau and Wont Wait

Though only a couple of years out of Young Riders, Clara has amassed plenty of experience at the three-star level with top horses Ultramaille and Wont Wait. This will be a first four-star for both rider and her fourteen-year-old gelding, who she’s produced through the young horse classes and with whom she contested the Seven-Year-Old World Championships at Le Lion in 2011.

Wont Wait was at his most impressive at Saumur this May, where he finished seventh in the CCI3*, but he’s clocked up a few exciting results: he was fourth in the CCI3* at Haras du Pin last August and fourth in his prep run at Waregem CICO3* last month. However, he’s also got three horse falls on his record, and he’s been eliminated in the dressage (Jardy ERM) and showjumping (Aachen) in the past year, so he’s a bit of a wild card. Dressage — elimination notwithstanding — tends to be a low-to-mid 30s affair, while he’s seriously quick across the country. He’ll likely add a rail on Sunday.

Cedric Lyard and Qatar du Puech Rouget at Badminton. Photo courtesy of Kit Houghton/Mitsubishi Motors.

Cedric Lyard and Qatar du Puech Rouget

Cedric and his fourteen-year-old Anglo Arab were the only pair to finish on their dressage score here last year, a feat that catapulted them up the leaderboard and saw them finish third. What goes up must, unfortunately, come back down, however, and they fell at the Land Rover Discovery Valley at Burghley this year (“well ZAT was a bloody stupid fence to ride like a f&*$ing idiot at,” grumbled Cedric as he clambered back out of the ditch he’d been deposited into).

That’s a little bit indicative of this horse’s entire career, though — he balances brilliant pluckiness with some really disappointing results, but there’s no question that he has talent. He also has form at Pau — of course, there was last year’s brilliant finish, but he completed clear in 2016, too, on his four-star debut. It remains the only course at the level that he’s ever gone clear around. Hopefully he’ll make it a hattrick this year — but unless it’s as tough as it was last year, he likely won’t finish at the top of the leaderboard. He’s never broken into the 20s at a four-star.

François Pons and Siam Taleyrandie

Yet another four-star debutante — François makes the step up to the top with his Bramham CCIU253* partner Siam. That said, Bramham isn’t a venue they’ve had much luck with — they added 20 penalties last year and retired on course this year, but their form elsewhere has been promising. They were third in the CCI3* at Portugal’s Barocca d’Alva this spring, and fifth at Haras du Pin CCI3* in 2016, but their low-30s dressage, smattering of time penalties, and reasonably consistent poles tend to keep them out of the very top placings. They’ll be looking to further their education, rather than aim for a competitive run this week.

GERMANY

Andreas Dibowski and FRH Butts Avedon at Malmö. Photo by Julia Rau.

Andreas Dibowski and FRH Butts Avedon

Dibo and his stalwart fifteen-year-old Hanoverian have a serious amount of experience, though an uncharacteristic fall early on at Burghley may be on their minds. It’s more likely, thought, that the blip will only fuel the German’s determination, and he’ll leave nothing to chance in making sure his partner notches up a clear here this week. The pair have course form on their side, too — they were second here in 2014 and 12th in 2015. Earlier that summer they’d finished 11th at Luhmühlen, and in 2013, they were part of the gold medal-winning German team at the Malmo Europeans.

Though registered Hanoverian, Avedon’s breeding boasts a serious blood percentage — he’s sired by Heraldik, who also sired La Biosthetique Sam FBW and Happy Times, among others. This makes him fast and gritty across the country, and he comes into his own over four-star tracks. His prep run in this month’s Strzegom CIC3* proved successful — he won it easily. These two should be serious threats for the top spot.

A totally irrelevant fun fact: Dibo likes to unwind by indulging in a favorite hobby — he breeds exotic birds. As you do.

Bettina Hoy and Designer 10. Photo by Thomas Ix.

Bettina Hoy and Designer 10

Bettina and her fourteen-year-old Westfalian have amassed an impressive 35 international completions since 2010, but incredibly, despite a very strong record, they’ve never recorded a win at an FEI event. They’ve come spectacularly close: they were eighth at Luhmühlen CCI4* in 2014, fifth at Badminton in 2015, fifth in the German National Championships in 2016, sixth at Burghley the same year, third at Luhmühlen last year, and fourth in the German National Championships this summer. That’s just skimming the surface and we can’t help but think, rather like Classic Moet and Ringwood Sky Boy before him, that Designer 10 is overdue his big moment.

The pair’s dressage is very, very good — they’ll almost certainly lead this phase on a low-20s score, and they should go clear across the country, though they’ve had a couple of blips in the past. They’re pretty fast, too, but their showjumping performance has let them down before — they go clear about as often as they pull multiple fences. Still: one of our picks for a potential win this week.

Andreas Ostholt and Corvette 31

The experienced Andreas Ostholt brings forward a four-star debutante this week in the form of ten-year-old Westfalian mare Corvette. She’s an exciting prospect, for sure — she had her first international win this year in Sopot’s CCI3*, but she’s finished in the top ten in 12 of her international runs. She’ll deliver a score around the 30 mark, but with a debutante it’s anyone’s guess as to how she’ll cope across the country.

But if we had to guess? She’s a confident, gutsy mare with a seriously experienced pilot, and she looks set to deliver a clear round with a smattering of time faults. She can go inside the time, and has done on several occasions, but Andreas won’t run her to the clock. She’s got plenty of years ahead of her for that — this week is about establishing confidence and form at the top level. She can have a solitary rail, but actually seems to showjump at her best at a CCI. A strong shout for one of the top deb placings and a likely top twenty finish.

Andreas Ostholt and So is Et. Photo by Julia Rau.

Andreas Ostholt and So Is Et

Ahh, So Is Et — what a horse this one is, and what assets it brings to the not inconsequential German invasion this week. The fifteen-year-old Westfalian gelding has a laundry list of accomplishments: he won the German National Championship CIC3* at Luhmühlen in 2015, and was second at Badminton — just behind fellow countryman Michael Jung and his indomitable Sam — in 2016. He missed Rio due to a niggling injury, and had a short 2017 season for the same reason, but this year he’s been back with a bang, finishing 2nd in the CCI3* at Strzegom and 10th at the Haras du Pin CICO3*. He doesn’t seem to be running quite as fast as before, but that’s understandable after a period of time off, and Andreas may well be thinking ahead to the twilight years of the horse’s competitive career. A top five finish would be a feather in his cap; a win would be even better. His mid-to-high 20s dressage won’t see him lead the first phase, but he’ll be in the hunt — but he’ll have to pick up the pace and record a characteristic clear in order to climb. This shouldn’t be hard — he hasn’t had a cross country jumping penalty in five years.

Class Hermann Romaine and Cato 60

This will be a sixth four-star for this pair and a second visit to Pau, at which they were sixth in 2015. They’ve had a consistent enough, if unspectacular, season in preparation for the event, though it included a surprise elimination in the dressage at Aachen in the summer.

The fourteen-year-old Holsteiner isn’t really known for his competitiveness in the first phase, and they could post anything from a 30 to a 40 depending on how they feel on the day. They should go clear, though, and with a smattering of time penalties and perhaps a final day pole, but they should be a top twenty finisher.

GREAT BRITAIN

David Britnell and Continuity

David and ‘Brad’ will be enjoying a #ladzontour approach to their four-star debut, which they’ll be planning to tackle with their signature aplomb. David and his longtime partner have grown up together; in fact, barring one start with another horse at CIC1*, Brad has been his only international mount.

They made the move to three-star in the latter half of the 2016 season, and they’ve been flying ever since – their best result is ninth in Barbury’s CIC3* earlier this summer. They stepped up to CCI3* in 2018, notching up clear rounds around Bramham and Blenheim, and in their 19 internationals together, they’ve only ever picked up a cross country jumping penalty once. They won’t trouble the leaders this week – their low-to-mid 30s dressage and two or three rails will preclude that – but they look set to add a clear round at four-star to their record together. If the course is anywhere near as influential as last year, this could mean a huge climb.

Ros Canter and Zenshera. Photo by Jenni Autry.

Ros Canter and Zenshera

The World Champion would be forgiven for taking the bitter end of the season off, perhaps to dash off to a 5* hotel in Portugal or something, but no — the irrepressibly hard-working Ros is heading back to Pau with Zenshera, who performed so well here last year, finishing 7th. This will be his fourth attempt at the level, and rather impressively, he’s never been out of the top ten — he was 9th and Luhmühlen last year and 3rd this year.

The 14-year-old, 15.3hh Guidam gelding is supremely talented, but he was a quirky youngster — Ros found him in Holland while doing a stint of work experience at the Dutch stud her former employer, Judy Bradwell, sourced many of her horses from. The owners of the stud had intended for him to showjump, but he didn’t show much promise in his formative years, and then he was broken to harness basically, as the kids would say, for the sh*ts and giggles.

“I rode him because he was something to ride, and I was gullible enough that they could sell him to me,” laughs Ros, whose 4,000 Euro investment has certainly come good. Zenshera has 25 international starts under his belt, and he’s only picked up cross country faults at one of them — Ros took a tumble in the Nations Cup at Great Meadow in 2016. He delivered a 26.4 dressage at Pau last year, giving Ros the lead on the first day, but a few time penalties and a pole ultimately cost them a shot at the win. A repeat performance of his first phase score is very possible — he posted a 24 in his last international at Millstreet — and he’s been faster and cleaner in every outing since. With course form and Ros on a confidence-boosting high, this could be a real shout for your 2018 Pau winner.

Sian Coleman and Kilroe Hero

Both Sian Coleman (formerly Hawkes) and Kilroe Hero make their four-star debut this week after a change of plan, which had originally seen them aim for Burghley as their move-up. 26-year-old Sian and the Cult Hero-bred eleven-year-old are based in County Cork, Ireland, where she met her husband Patrick on a hunting trip, and the horse is very much a family venture — he’s owned by Patrick’s uncle Maurice.

The pair were fifth at Chatsworth CIC3* this spring, as well as 13th at Tattersalls CCI3* and 14th at Ballindenisk CIC3*, and they’ve gone clear across the country in 20 of their 24 internationals. Their dressage will hover around the 40–42 mark, while they’ll enjoy their favourite phase on Saturday. On Sunday, they’ll probably have two or three rails.

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Getting excited as we prepare for a our last event of 2018 with this little Mare, and a big one at that as we plan to head down to the South of France and represent in our 4th CCI **** this year Les 4 Etoiles de Pau, heading up all four European competitions at this level would be great achievement and one that wouldn’t be possible without my small but dedicated team and of course my wonderful owners and supporters particularly @londoncapitalandfinance @highwealdhorsehydro @baileyshorsefeeds @voltairedesuk @voltairedesign_official #londoncapitalandfinanceplc #teamlcf #LCF #highwealdhorsehydro #baileyshorsefeeds #fedonbalieys #voltairedesign #voltairedesignuk #notdoneyet💪🏼🤞🏼😊

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Tom Crisp and Liberty and Glory

Retained firefighter and experienced four-star rider Tom has had a funny old season — he’s had great clear rounds at both Badminton and Burghley, as well as a plethora of major three-stars, but he’s also had to focus on the impact of a devastating barn fire, which set the top part of his yard ablaze while he was at Luhmühlen, as well as the ongoing work of building his own house from the ground up. We suppose being kept busy keeps him off the streets, at least.

Liberty and Glory, or Lori, was born on the fourth of July, hence her patriotic moniker, and was bred by Tom’s in-laws. She’s out of Tom’s wife Sophie’s former Advanced mare, a full Thoroughbred, and so she’s a good blood horse for this sort of twisty, taxing course, and Tom rates her as a very exciting horse for the future — and one who has a four-star double-clear in her. She’s only eleven now, so there’s plenty of time for that, but this week, at her second four-star, she’ll certainly be interesting to keep an eye on.

She ran her first four-star at Luhmühlen this year, though it didn’t go quite to plan — she just missed the flag in a four-part combination despite making every effort to jump the fence, and then found herself just off the line, so the circle that led to their 20 was a green and technical 20, rather than indicative of any sort of unwillingness to jump the fence. Not an attractive looking mark on their record, sure, but we’ll see this week what effect it’s had — with talented, plucky horses like this, blips on a move-up can be the harbinger of a serious step up in maturity and experience. She won’t trouble the obvious leaders with her mid-to-high 30s dressage, but we’ll be watching her closely on Saturday to see what she’s made of. We suspect it’s rather a lot. They can jump clear on the final day — and notably did at Luhmühlen — but she has a 50% chance of taking a rail as a souvenir.

David Doel and Chap

Thirteen-year-old Chap and his 24-year-old rider head to their four-star debut with plenty of three-star experience behind them, including 10th place in last year’s Bramham CCIU253* and 10th at Barbury this year. David is a practical, forward-thinking sort of rider, and will be planning a trip that gives both himself and his horse a valuable education, so expect a high-30s dressage and a fair bit of time across the country, as they’re still working out how to make the time in a CCI. They’ve had three clear showjumping rounds in a row leading to this event, but are ordinarily 4, 8, or 12-faulters in the final phase.

Danni Dunn and Zocarla on their Badminton debut. Photo courtesy of Kit Houghton/Mitsubishi Motors.

Danni Dunn and Zocarla BLH

Danni and her top horse have grown up together, going from Young Riders to the CIC2* Europeans, and onward to two Badmintons. Unfortunately, neither of those were completions — they both fell in 2017, and Danni hit the deck solo this spring, but Pau may suit the fourteen-year-old Dutch mare better.

The pair have had some exciting results in the past — they were 7th in the under-25 CCI3* at Bramham in 2016 and 11th in the CCI3* at Blenheim, too. Zocarla wasn’t actually intended for the top — she was bought for her owner’s granddaughters to compete, and they did so until they headed to university, and then Danni took over the ride. They’ll be in the mid-30s in the dressage, and will hopefully notch up their first four-star clear thereafter.

Alice Dunsdon and Cool Investment

Surrey-based eventer and Master of Foxhounds Alice debuted her sixteen-year-old gelding at the level this summer, when he headed to Luhmühlen. He racked up 40 cross-country jumping penalties there, and we’ve not actually seen him at an international since, but he’s been consistent enough at three-star. They posted a 40.5 at Luhmühlen, but they can definitely dip below that, though Alice’s focus will be giving the horse a confident, fun run around the track on Saturday. She’s a gutsy, instinctive rider with plenty of experience at the top level, so she’ll be able to give him the support he needs.

William Fox-Pitt and Little Fire. Photo by Prime Photography for Tattersalls.

William Fox-Pitt and Little Fire

It’s nice to have Wills back at the top, and we’re excited to see what nine-year-old Aiden makes of his first four-star. The 17hh German-bred gelding was second in Tattersalls’ CCI3* this year, adding just two seconds to his 27.7 dressage, and he’s been clear in five of his six three-star runs, barring the very first. William won’t run him fast, though, unless he has to — other than that Tatts run, he tends to have well over 20 time penalties. That’s a classic William tactic, though — he prefers to save them for the main event. Aiden’s quite a good showjumper too, though he’s started having the odd rail since moving up to three-star last year, and for a young horse in his first four-star, a rail or two on the final day is perfectly understandable.

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When you drop your reins at the lake @bhorsetrials

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Will Furlong and Collien P 2

Talented young rider Will Furlong was under-25 national champion last year, when he won the CCIU253* at Bramham with this plucky eleven-year-old. He and Tinks then made their Badminton debut this spring, jumping a rather slow clear for 43rd place. Will’s been a serious stalwart of the junior and young rider teams, and won team and individual gold at the Young Rider Europeans in Strzegom with Livingstone in 2015.

He and the occasionally tricky Collien have only had two international runs since Badminton, withdrawing at the second horse inspection at Haras du Pin after a double-clear cross country and suffering elimination for a rider fall at Waregem. It’s not an ideal prep, but Will is a consummate young professional, and he’ll have a plan of action for his top horse. She’s a 30 or so scorer, and can jump a quick clear — but whether this week is her time to do so at this level remains to be seen.

Imogen Gloag and Brendonhill Doublet

Immi and her top horse, the seventeen-year-old Brendonhill Doublet, will be tackling their fourth four-star this week — they’ve jumped around Burghley twice and Badminton once, though they’ve only gone clear at last year’s Burghley. They had a twenty at Badminton this spring, and another in their only international since, Ballindenisk CIC3*, but Immi likely wants to fit in a run here before she thinks about scaling back the horse’s competitive career. They’ve had a fantastic partnership, spanning a Junior European Championship in 2013 and a clear in the Bramham under-25 CCI3* in 2016. They’ll be in the mid-to-high 30s in the first phase, and will work hard to add a second four-star clear to their record.

Flora Harris and Bayano at Barbury’s leg of the 2018 ERM. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Flora Harris and Bayano

Flora’s Dutch-bred superstar tackles his third four-star this week — he was clear at Luhmühlen last year for 21st place and picked up a twenty at Badminton this spring. But that’s the only blip in his last six internationals — otherwise, he’s been top ten every time. The high point of his career came in 2015, when he won Bramham’s CCI3*.

Barney is small, compact, catlike, and seriously, seriously gorgeous, with a beautiful jump. He’s had four years of experience at three-star now, and the time has come for another great result. He delivered a 26.8 at Badminton, though he tends more towards the high 20s, and the Pau course should suit his nippy athleticism. He was slow at Badminton — understandably, with a problem — and added 12.4 at Luhmühlen, so his speed on Saturday will decide whether he climbs the leaderboard, but then he should go clear on Sunday, while we lose all common sense and gaze at him with hearts in our eyes.

Nicola Hill and MGH Bingo Boy

Another pair of debutantes at four-star, Nicky and her ten-year-old gelding come here after a great clear around Blenheim CCI3*. MGH Bingo Boy was sourced from Padraig McCarthy’s Devon sportshorse empire, and Nicky has produced him from the one-star level, taking over the ride from Megan Cummings. They went to the CIC2* Europeans last year, finishing ninth, though they’ve had a couple of blips across the country this season, so we’ll see a steady run from them on Saturday. Their dressage can range from the mid-30s to the mid-40s, and they often have a rail, but it’s all part of the learning curve for a talented young horse like this one.

Sarah Holmes and Lowhill Clover

Sarah runs a livery yard on the Isle of Wight and, with top horse Lowhill Clover, she represented Britain at the 2015 CIC2* Europeans. They made the step up to three-star in 2016, with some mixed form — they’ve gone clear around tough tracks at Blenheim, Bramham, and Blair, but they’ve had a fall and a 20, too. Still, they’re friends of old, and will be here to enjoy their week and a new challenge, rather than to trouble the leaders. Their 2018 season has been a reasonably quiet run with just two international runs, the last of which was at Bramham, and they should post a mid-30s score. They’ll add time on Saturday and pull a couple of rails on Sunday, but everything they learn will serve them and Sarah’s pupils back on the island well.

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Here we go 😁 final event of the season! En route to the south of France 🇫🇷 – Les Etoiles Des Pau with Leo for our first CCI4* ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ Can’t quite believe we have got him to this point and can’t thank everyone enough for contributing towards our partnership. The day I tried him around 3 years ago, I knew he had a huge amount of talent, and have spent the past 3 years trying to direction that talent! 😂 I really am lucky to ride him!! We head to Portsmouth for the over night ferry to Cean and then make our way down through France tomorrow 🇫🇷 Leo is lucky to have Ros Canters ‘Zenshera’ as a travel buddy for the trip 😄 Really looking forward to giving my first 4* a crack, a childhood dream to be competing at the top of the sport I love! Extremely lucky to have such supportive parents/owners/grooms/sponsors who have all helped me get here so, thank you all, and I hope me and Leo can do you all proud! 🇬🇧➡️🇫🇷

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Yasmin Ingham and Night Line

21-year-old Yasmin won the under-21 National Championship at Houghton CCI2* earlier this year, and she’s one of Britain’s most exciting young talents. Other riders have taken notice, too — when she moved up to horses after winning the Pony European Championships in 2013, Mary King gave her her retiring four-star mounts Imperial Cavalier and Fernhill Urco to learn the ropes on. Not a bad start for the Cheshire-based rider, who also finished fourth at the Young Rider Europeans this year with Rehy DJ and, this summer, added Pippa Funnell’s Sandman 7 to her string.

Night Line, or Leo, is a ten-year-old, and Yasmin has done all the hard work of producing him. They’ve done eleven internationals and gone clear in all of them, most notably taking tenth in Bramham’s under-25 CCI3*, so he’s a great horse for her to make the big move up with. They’ll probably produce a high-30s test, though Leo has proven he’s able to go much lower, and they won’t run for time — rather, they’ll run for a seriously educational clear. They’ll probably have a rail, but that won’t matter much to them — this week is about going clear, and we’re looking forward to cheering them on as they do so.

Tom Jackson and Carpa du Buisson Z

Tom’s ten-year-old mare makes her four-star debut this week, after finishing fourth at Bramham’s Under 25 CCI3* earlier in the season. She’s only been lightly campaigned this season, with two full international runs and one withdrawal after showjumping — that was at Waregem CICO3* in September. She had a 20 at Blenheim CCI3* last year, as well as a heaping helping of time, but that Bramham run was impressive — she only added 2.4 time penalties on Saturday. She tends towards a pole, and Tom probably won’t run her quite as competitively as his experienced partner Waltham Fiddlers Find, but she’s his next superstar, so don’t miss her.

Tom Jackson with Waltham Fiddlers Find. Photo by Alex Colquhoun.

Tom Jackson and Waltham Fiddlers Find

Fifteen-year-old Waltham Fiddlers Find has amassed plenty of experience with 25-year-old Tom, and they’ve jumped around Badminton and Pau previously. They were clear here last year, finishing 22nd, but Tom fell in the showjumping at Badminton this spring and was eliminated after jumping a clear on Saturday.

They’ve got their dressage mark down to the high-20s and should deliver that again this week, and after making light work of last year’s tough track, they should sail around on Saturday, though they’ll add around 20 time penalties. On Sunday, they’ll probably pull a rail, but they’ll be aiming for their first top 20 finish in a four-star this week, and for the pair, who have completed two Young Rider Europeans and a Junior Europeans together, this is a more than reasonable goal.

Sharon Polding and FindonFirecracker. Photo courtesy of Robert Polding.

Sharon Polding and Findonfirecracker

Sharon saw one of her dreams come true last season when she and her top horse Findonfirecracker were selected for the CIC2* Europeans in Belgium. For working mum Sharon, who is a global accounts manager at a telecommunications company, it was a huge moment. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite go to plan — they were eliminated across the country when she took a tumble.

Undeterred, they headed to Blenheim CCI3*, going clear for 27th place, and they’ve been clear at every international since. Dizzy doesn’t love the first phase, and will probably score around the 40 mark in this, her first four-star. But she’ll come into her own on Saturday, and we’d love to see a characteristic clear round for this pair. They’ll have a healthy smattering of time penalties, but then they should go clear on Sunday, helping Sharon realise another one of her lifelong dreams — a first four-star in the books.

Patricia Pytches and CES Ballycar Chip

Keen hunting follower Tricia and her twelve-year-old gelding make their four-star debut together this week. Tricia has produced the horse herself after buying him from Vere Phillips as a youngster, and he’s her only horse — together, they’ve tackled a plethora of events, as well as some of the country’s most formidable hedges when following hounds. They were eighth at Millstreet CCI3* this year and haven’t had a cross-country jumping fault since 2016, so they’ll be coming in full of confidence.

They’ll likely score in the high 30s, and they won’t be quick across the country, but they’ll enjoy this new challenge and tackle it with aplomb.

Joanna Rimmer and Isaac Newton

Both horse and rider make their step up to four-star this week, and they do so having gone clear in every international run they’ve had. Their high-30s dressage won’t challenge the leaders, but they’ll be aiming to add to their impressive streak on Saturday, though they’ll add some time across the country. They’ll probably take two rails with them on Sunday, but a first four-star is all about gaining experience and confidence, and a couple of rails won’t diminish their joy at finishing the competition.

Rachel Robinson and MJI Limmerick Bell

Rachel and Cid, who she produced from a foal, made their four-star debut at Luhmühlen this year, and what a week they had, finishing 29th in a flurry of emotion. Rachel’s father had been stationed there on national service, and this year marks the 29th anniversary of his passing — as she rode into the ring on the final day, which happened to be Fathers’ Day, it was clear he was watching out for her.

The story of Rachel and Cid has been an emotional one from the get-go — she bought the horse as a foal and took him to Bramham as a two-year-old for the young event horse showcase. A few riders, including a certain Kiwi silver fox, inquired as to whether the horse was for sale, but Rachel turned them down. Cid didn’t have quite the show they’d hoped for, though — he came second to last, and then, as they were leaving the event, he got his head stuck in the partition and panicked. Rachel thought she was about to lose her beloved youngster, but with quick thinking and some help, he was removed from the lorry. Incredibly, he had no marks on him — but for the permanent facial paralysis he suffered. Even now, he has no feeling in one side of his face.

Hard work, a whole lot of love, and some serious dedication followed as Rachel produced the horse through the levels alongside working as a Chartered Surveyor and running her own business, Asset Building Control. She might not be our winner this week — they’ll post a mid-30s dressage and may have a jumping penalty, as they did at Luhmühlen — but that’s not what they’re here for. This is a labour of love and a whole lot of fun for Rachel and Cid, and Rachel, who admits she cried “all the way to the Dutch border!” on the way home from her first four-star, will be the first to raise a glass and keep the spirit of the place alive as she enjoys her heart horse. And that, my friends, is what this sport is all about, is it not?

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Blenheim 2018 Collection

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Nicky Roncoroni and Watts Burn

Nicky and her thirteen-year-old Irish gelding jumped clear here in 2015 but withdrew at the final horse inspection, and they finally make their return for the horse’s second time at the level. He’s one hell of a cross country horse, and hasn’t had a jumping penalty since 2014, and he’s also a horse who’s happy to travel — he was fourth at Great Meadows last year. This might seem like an odd point to mention, but Pau takes some serious travelling, particularly for Nicky, who has relocated to Ireland and faced a two day journey to get here. A horse who can step off the lorry feeling fresh is a real assett. He’ll do a low-to-mid 30s dressage, and should go clear — last time, he added 14.8 time penalties, but he can go quicker than that. He tends to rub a solitary pole more often than not, but if the fates align, he could do a double clear for Nicky and potentially earn his career best result this week.

Pamero 4 and Gemma Tattersall at Belton. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Gemma Tattersall and Pamero 4

Produced by Laura Collett, Pamero 4 moved to Gemma’s yard in 2017. Laura’s last run on the horse was at his four-star debut here, but he fell on course. He’s had an exciting couple of seasons with Gemma, with eight international runs, six top ten finishes, a second at Barbury’s ERM, and a fantastic Badminton debut, where he finished 22nd after Gemma intentionally ran him slowly for his education. He had a seriously out-of-character 20 at his last international at Aachen, but he’s nonetheless one of the most exciting horses in the field. He’ll be a high-20s horse in the first phase — he earned a 27.4 at Badminton — and Gemma will likely pick up the pace this time around. He’s a reliable showjumper at CICs but has an occasional pole; at Badminton he took two so we may see one or two this weekend if he tires a bit.

Pamero is a funny character — he’s a seriously picky eater and does best living outside most of the time with Sooty, his ancient Shetland pony companion, who keeps him in his happy place and stops him from worrying. Gemma has pulled out all the stops when it comes to managing this tricky horse, and as a result, she knows him almost better than she knows himself, which is a great position to be in coming into a four-star.

Gemma Tattersall and Santiago Bay

The ten-year-old Santiago Bay is the latest in a string of seriously gutsy, cool mares in Gemma’s string, and she’s been vocal in her admiration of the horse, calling her one of the best cross-country horses she’s ever sat on. She cites her natural ability to read a question and her innate feel for a course as her greatest attributes, and it certainly shows in her results — she’s only ever had one cross-country jumping penalty in her international career, and it was her very first one-star. She’s also seriously quick, usually adding no more than six time penalties if she bothers to add them at all. Over the poles, she’s usually quick and clear, but every couple of runs she tips one, just to keep us all on our toes.

A minor injury put her on the sidelines for 2017, but she was back with a bang at Bramham, finishing 8th in the CCI3*. She’s not hugely experienced yet, but this is undoubtedly a superstar for the future — she could go a long way towards earning that title this weekend, and will be one to watch on Saturday.

Be Touchable and Izzy Taylor win Bramham’s CIC3*. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Izzy Taylor and Be Touchable

Be Touchable is the most likely of Izzy’s three rides to break into the upper echelons of the leaderboard — he’s a debutante at the level, but the 16hh twelve-year-old has been seriously impressive at three-star. He’s won four of his last eight internationals, and been second or third in the rest, which takes us back to the middle of the 2016 season. Interestingly, none of those were CCIs. He won Blenheim ERM last season and took the CIC at Bramham this year, though he’s been lightly campaigned, and his last international was at Gatcombe’s British Open Championship this August. He finished second but as British champ.

Owner Sophie Dodds produced the horse to one-star and they contested their first Intermediate together in 2015. After that, she knew she had an awful lot of horse on her hands, and she approached Izzy to see if she’d like to take the ride.

This is a mid-20s horse, but a consummate showman — he may pull out some extra pizazz in the main arena here, and could drop to the low 20s. He’s super fast across the country at CIC3*, so if he doesn’t tire on this longer course he could speed up to the top of the leaderboard. He’s also a serious jumper and has only had two rails in the last two years. A dark horse purely by dint of being a debutante — but don’t take your eyes off him this week.

Izzy Taylor and Call Me Maggie May. Photo by Niamh Flynn/Tattersalls.

Izzy Taylor and Call Me Maggie May

Eleven-year-old Dutch-bred mare Maggie is making her four-star debut this week, coming in off a win at Tattersalls CCI3* earlier in the season. She went to Jardy CIC3* after that but picked up a 50 for missing a flag, and she’s had some spotty form at three-star — in her only other CCI3*, at Boekelo, she had a twenty, and she’s picked them up elsewhere, too. But she can be very quick — she was third at Chatsworth CIC3*, where it’s notoriously tough to make the time, and that Tatts win was an FOD. Izzy is likely testing the waters this week ahead of a serious campaign next year. She’ll get a 30 or so dressage and then it’ll all come down to cross country.

Izzy Taylor and Frog Rock at Pau. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Izzy Taylor and Frog Rock

Frog Rock came here last year for his first four-star with Izzy, but was one of the many to fall victim to the seriously tough early third of the course, and he was retired on course. But it wasn’t actually the sixteen-year-old’s first four-star in his career — he was campaigned until 2016 by Annabel Wigley, who competed him in her native New Zealand and then brought him to Europe. Together, they had four four-star runs, but only completed one — they were 33rd in 2013 with a twenty on cross-country.

He’s an interesting horse for ultra-competitive Izzy, and hasn’t actually run an international since Pau last year. He scored a 33.6 then, which is about what we expect from him again, though Izzy will have been working hard with him through the year. In his nine internationals with Izzy, he’s managed three clears. This, we expect, is a schooling exercise rather than a competitive run, as it were, for the horse.

Oliver Townend (GBR) and Cillnabradden Evo. Photo courtesy of Equestrian Festival Baborówko.

Oliver Townend and Cillnabradden Evo

In a surprise twist, Oliver Townend brings forward his CIC3* specialist Gary for a first trip around a four-star at Pau. Cillnabradden Evo has been in Oliver’s string since late 2015 — he took the horse on after Andrew Nicholson’s major injury at Gatcombe Park. He hasn’t done a CCI since Saumur in 2016, where he finished fifth, but has been a serious campaigner around CICs, contesting five Event Rider Masters legs and coming 1st or 2nd in seven of his last eleven internationals. The twelve-year-old Irish gelding won Baborowko CIC3* earlier this year after finishing second at Wiesbaden ERM, and he was second at Blair’s ERM finale, too.

He’s a serious low-to-mid 20s dressage horse, although he pulled an incredible 19 out of the bag at Gatcombe’s British Open Championships. It’s not been a happy hunting ground for the horse, though, and this was no exception — he retired on course. He was withdrawn before cross country at Barbury’s ERM after pulling an exceptionally uncharacteristic five poles — the horse is an out-and-out showjumper normally and hadn’t had a pole since 2014, but since then he’s had three runs and not a single showjumping clear. He also had a 20 at Arville over a tough course, which was a real surprise.

It’s anyone’s guess how he’ll take to four-star — we’ve seen him at CIC3* for so long that it’s easy to lump him in as a specialist. But Pau isn’t like the other four-stars — it’s twistier and turnier and almost like a CIC3* on steroids, so it might be made for this horse. Expect a very, very competitive first-phase score — almost certainly top ten — and potentially one of the quickest rounds of the day, if Gary rises to the occasion. Sunday will be interesting — will we see ‘old’ Gary out to play? If we do, this one could just run away with the win.

Sarah Way and Dassett Cooley Dun

Guys, we’ve got something really special for you this time. It’s tiny, it’s golden, it’s what your childhood dreams were made of – and Dassett Cooley Dun is ready to go and show Pau who’s boss, in that delightful way that only small and golden things can. Mouse is twelve years old and contesting his first four-star this week, using some impressive three-star form to his advantage in tackling the biggest test of his life.

He’ll probably score in the low 40s, so won’t challenge the leaders, but he’s quick and ordinarily clear at three-star, barring a blip at Blenheim’s CIC3* in 2015, so he’ll be really exciting to watch. Of course, a four-star track is a big ask for a small pony, but Napoleon managed to conquer most of Europe at one point or another, and if we’ve learned anything, it’s that you should never doubt a short man. He usually has a pole or two, but let’s be real — we’re all here to watch the pony go cross country.

Oh, Mouse has a Facebook fan page, too – it’s well worth a follow.

Alex Whewall and Chakiris Star at Pau. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Alex Whewall and Chakiris Star

Louis and Alex made their four-star debut here last year, delivering one of the rare and coveted clear rounds across the country to finish 19th. They were eliminated for a rider fall at Badminton this spring, so former Bridging the Gap scholarship winner Alex will return to Pau hoping to build his confidence at the level over a course he knows is well within his capabilities. They delivered a 29.6 at Badminton and should do roughly the same here, though they can sneak up into the low 30s occasionally, too. A clear with fewer time penalties than last year — 16.4, and then 10 on Sunday — will be the goal, and another top-20 finish is well within their grasp.

Interestingly, Louis was never intended for eventing — he was bought as a four-year-old to do a bit of dressage with owner Lisa Coward. Alex took over in 2014 and they enjoyed a three-year climb to the top. After their elimination at Badminton, they retired at Barbury, but they finished 8th at the CICO3* at Millstreet and went clear at Waregem CICO3* last month, so it looks like their confidence has been restored.

IRELAND

Ireland’s Cathal Daniels and Sammy Davis Junior. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Cathal Daniels and Sammy Davis Junior

At just 21, Cathal might be young, but he’s already notched up some serious experience — he made his four-star debut here in 2016 on Rioghan Rua, finishing twelfth, and he’s completed Badminton, finishing 33rd. He was seventh at Luhmühlen this year in what was probably its toughest iteration yet, and, of course, he was part of Ireland’s silver medal-winning team at the WEG this summer.

Nine-year-old Sammy is a four-star first-timer, but he’s got an impressive form line so far. He finished 13th in the prestigious eight- and nine-year-old CIC3* at Blenheim last year after helping Cathal to fourth place individually at the Young Rider European Championships. He had a wobbly early-season run in Belton’s CIC3* at the start of this season — though the inclement weather early on this year saw many good horses falter there from lack of match practice — and then won a CIC3* at Chatsworth the following month. Cathal hit the deck in the CCI3* at Bramham, but they were second at Mallow’s CIC3* and won Camphire CCI3* in July at their last international run. He’s a high-20s horse at three-star and should deliver something around the 30 mark this week, if the atmosphere doesn’t get to him, and he’s a quick, clean cross-country horse, though young and facing the toughest challenge of his career thus far. He’s prone to a rail on the final day.

Josephy Murphy and Fernhill Frankie

The first of Joseph’s Frankies – ‘Big Frankie’, to wit – this weekend is a four-star debutante, who reroutes to Pau after failing to make it past the first horse inspection at Burghley. Originally produced by fellow Irish rider Louise Bloomer, Frankie made the move up to three-star at the end of 2015, but he’s not hugely experienced at the top levels — he’s managed top ten finishes at Ballindenisk CCI3* and Mallow CIC3*, but he’s only had one full international run this year. Before the Burghley non-starter, he was withdrawn before cross-country at both Tattersalls and Camphire CIC3*. He ran at Bramham CCI3*, finishing 19th after adding two rails to his dressage score of 35.6.

Former amateur jockey Joseph’s a fast rider, but he’s also a reasonable and experienced one, and he won’t push the horse harder than he needs to this week. The goal will almost certainly be to light the four-star fire in Frankie’s belly, whether that’s by letting him gain confidence incrementally around the course or by picking up the pace and getting his blood up. A high-30s dressage, a bit of a question mark across the country simply due to lack of match practice, and a tendency to have a pole will stop them being competitive, but the eleven-year-old is one for the future.

Joseph Murphy and Sportsfield Othello

Also called Franky, the super-experienced Sportsfield Othello is seventeen now, but shows no sign of slowing down — this will be his third four-star of 2018, after finishing 13th at Badminton in the spring and 22nd at Burghley. He then had a little break before a nip around Little Downham’s Advanced class a couple of weeks ago, which he won easily.

His dressage is what lets him down — he’s a clear machine, with just a handful of cross-country jumping penalties on his 51-strong international record, and though he’s less than 50% blood and a trick horse to get fit, his natural cruising speed is fast — but they’re unlikely to score below 35 on the first day. Still, they’re perennial climbers, and last year proved that Pau is no longer a soft option four-star. A fast clear will be rewarded on the leaderboard, and then they’ll just have to try to avoid their customary two rails on Sunday to protect their hard work.

Little Franky, who’s probably feeling a bit emasculated by his rubbish nickname, is an out-and-out athlete, but when he gets four-star fit he can be quite aggressive in his stable, so Joseph has started using an interesting innovation to keep him happy. Franky’s gimp mask — not its official name, obviously — was developed to alter the breeding season for Thoroughbred mares, used blue LEDs to simulate longer daylight hours, and Joseph started using it prior to Burghley to stabilise his top horse. It seems to have worked, though it looks a bit fruity, all things considered.

(Heads up — Joseph will be in Pennsylvania teaching a cross country clinic at Boyd Martin’s Windurra USA on Nov. 5-7. There are still a few slots left! Sign up on Event Clinics.)

JAPAN

Ryuzo Kitajima and Just Chocolate. Photo by Leslie Wylie.

Ryuzo Kitajima and Just Chocolate

The Japanese contingent can no longer be underestimated at a major event — they’ve been putting in some serious work over the last few years to become serious contenders on the world stage, and this week, they bring forward two exciting combinations.

The first of those is Ryuzo and his Rio mount Just Chocolate, a sixteen-year-old gelding who was competed to three-star in his native New Zealand before Ryuzo took the reins in early 2014. They got to know one another at a few one-stars in Japan, and then they relocated to the UK to begin their Olympic campaign. It worked, and they headed off to Rio, but unfortunately withdrew at the second horse inspection.

This is their first non-championship four-star, and it’s unlikely that Ryuzo will aim the horse at a Tokyo 2020 campaign, at which he’d be eighteen. But Tokyo is always the ultimate aim for the Japanese riders, who’ll be hoping to peak at their home Olympics, so don’t expect a mosey around the park from this pair. Their mid-30s dressage will be a bit off the pace to begin with, and they’ll need to work hard on the cross-country course — they’ve had plenty of clear rounds at CIC3*, but their three-day form is peppered with the odd 20. They’re seriously reliable showjumpers, though, so once they’ve finished the tough bit on Saturday, they can breathe a bit easier and boost their placings by a few spots on Sunday.

Toshiyuki Tanaka and Kelecyn Pirate

Toshiyuki’s fourteen-year-old mare was produced in Japan to CIC1* by Keiichirou Nagamatsu, and Toshi took the ride in 2015, relocating the horse to the UK and debuting her at Chatsworth CIC1*, where she made a promising first impression, finishing fourth.

She had a reasonably quiet season, moving up to two-star and completing just two events at the level before levelling up to three-star in 2016. Her best result at the level was at Chatsworth CIC3* last year, where she finished eighth, proving once again that she thrives over that sort of track: technical, tiring, and tough on time. Pau should suit her well, but it’s her first time at the level, so Toshi may not push her for the minute markers, choosing instead to give her an educational run. That said, she’s not that young for a debutante, and the Japanese are always looking ahead to major championships as they continue their impressive climb up the rankings of eventing nations, so consider this pair a dark horse and certainly a top-20 contender.

NEW ZEALAND

Jesse Campbell and Cleveland. Photo by Jenni Autry.

Jesse Campbell and Cleveland

It’s a four-star debut for 17hh hunk Cleveland, though not for Jesse. Cleveland has had some very promising results over his three seasons at three-star, including fifth at both Hartpury CIC3* and Millstreet CCI3* (2016) and fourth at Barbury CIC3* and Camphire CCI3* (2018). They’re getting better and better in the first phase, at which Jesse excels, and they’ll likely score in the high 20s, though they could go mid-20s or lower if the wind blows the right way. Their records indicate that the horse hasn’t been run for the time particularly often but his double-clear cross country at Camphire proves that he’s certainly capable of picking up the pace when needed. They’re likely to knock a rail on Sunday, but Jesse won’t be here to try to win this time — the horse had a disappointing 2017, with cross-country jumping penalties at his three international runs, so this week will be about establishing the horse’s education and confidence as he makes the big step up.

Andrew Daines and Spring Panorama

Charming and irreverent Andy Daines is an interviewer’s dream, and he came over to the UK in the spring to contest his first Badminton. It didn’t go quite to plan — he and ‘Peter Perfect’ had a tumble on course late on the course.

But they’ve had some exciting results in the past, including two tenth-place finishes at Adelaide CCI4*, and Andy’s been based with William Fox-Pitt while he’s been in the UK, which will have offered him plenty of new additions to his training toolkit.

Andy came across Peter while he was working for Tim and Jonelle Price about seven years ago, but the sales horse didn’t initially catch his eye — he had his heart set on a grey instead. But Jonelle insisted that he ride the rangy bay, and the pair clicked immediately. Fellow Kiwi Caroline Powell had also taken a liking to him, though, and it was only when the vetting revealed a minor wind problem that the opportunity arose for Andy to purchase the horse who would become his top-level partner. They’ll be great fun to watch this week, and we’ll be rooting for Andy to add another clear round at a CCI4* to his resume — and also to progress in his search for a British husband, so he can stay in the UK forever.

Caroline Powell and Spice Sensation

Caroline’s 15.3hh mare heads to Pau for the second time — she last competed here in 2016, when she jumped clear to finish 26th. The following year she headed to Burghley, but she didn’t fare quite so well there, notching up twenty penalties and finishing 29th. She’s had mixed results this year — she was retired on course at her early-season CIC3* at Belton, and then eliminated for three refusals at Chatsworth CIC3* the following month. She went clear at Burgham CIC3* in July, finishing 47th after a 38.1 dressage, 15 showjumping penalties and 14.8 cross country time penalties. She’s since had three good national runs, which will have built up her confidence, and her diminutive stature, paired with Caroline’s experience and determination, and that bit of course form from 2016 should serve them in good enough stead. If they do have problems, they’ll likely be of the 20 penalties rather than the Big E variety.

Tim Price and Ascona M. Photo by Libby Law.

Tim Price and Ascona M

The patriarchal side of eventing’s First Family takes to the four-star stage one last time in 2018, this time riding debutante Ascona M. (Can we call Tim the Godfather? Big Daddy Price? We’ll work on this.) The ten-year-old mare was formerly piloted by Jonelle (the Godmother sounds way less cool, somehow – we’ll stick with her unofficial title of Khaleesi of the Great Grass Arena), but Tim took the ride in 2017 while she was busy brewing up baby Otis. Some serious negotiation obviously ensued because Jonelle, who had been very firm about the fact that her horses would all go back to her, relented and let Tim keep the ride on this talented up-and-comer, known at home as Ava.

Together, they’ve clocked up some pretty exciting results – they were third in last year’s Nations Cup at Tattersalls, which was only the horse’s second three-star, and they won on her CCI3* debut at Haras du Pin later that season. They wrapped their season with second place at Blenheim’s ERM leg – incidentally, all three podium finishers are entered for Pau – and this season, they’ve been 10th at Barbury’s ERM, third in the CCI3* at Camphire, and, after a short break, they’ve clocked up (admittedly slightly mystifying) steady clears in a one-star at Lignieres and two Open Intermediate runs. Some horses thrive on these slow, confidence-boosting runs before a major event – and if this season has proven anything, it’s that Tim and Jonelle really do know their horses.

Ava is a solid 20s scorer, and her marks have been creeping downward this year. On her day, she’ll lay down a score around the 27 mark, which will put her in a positive place early on. Then? Well, she’s never had a cross country jumping penalty in her 14-strong international career, in which she boasts a 100% completion rate, but Pau is a tricky, twisty track, and if this year’s course is anything like last year’s, it’s every man, woman, and horse for themselves out there. She’s often run slowly, but has proven she can make the time, usually finishing in the top three if she does. Her showjumping isn’t hugely reliable, and she’ll probably have a pole or two, but at this point in the season we’re only really saying that because every time we do, the Prices prove us spectacularly wrong.

SPAIN

Gonzalo Blasco Botin and Sij Veux d’Autize

This twelve-year-old gelding was Gonzalo’s WEG mount, but he was withdrawn before cross country. He’s had a bit of a chequered record, all things considered — he made his four-star debut here last year and was eliminated for accumulated refusals across the country. He’s had a couple of eliminations elsewhere, sometimes for cross-country problems and once at a second horse inspection, but actually, when he goes clear he’s super fast, so he could be a dark horse climber, though not into the upper echelons of the leaderboard. His dressage will likely be mid-to-high 30s, and he hasn’t had a clear showjumping round since 2015 — he’ll usually have a smattering of poles, but he’s had as many as seven before.

USA

Hallie Coon and Celien finish best of the Americans at Houghton CICO3* Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Hallie Coon and Celien

It’s a four-star debut for 23-year-old Hallie and the Dutch mare, known at home as Cece, that she bought sight unseen from a grainy video clip seven years ago. Hallie and Cece journeyed over to the UK this spring on the Karen Stives Grant, helping a three-woman Team USA to silver at Houghton Hall’s Nations Cup, despite an impressive thunderstorm breaking just as she left the start box. They were best of the Americans there too, finishing in 15TH place after adding nothing to their dressage score of 34.7.

Then, they went to Bramham’s under-25 CCI3*, where they jumped a stonking clear around a seriously beefy cross country course and looked in fantastic shape going into the final day. Then, Cece did The Horse Thing and brewed up her first ever abscess overnight. Their competition ended there.

Hallie was not to be deterred. Sure, the grant was meant to culminate in a run at Bramham, but why shouldn’t she try to go one better? She did some qualification calculating, made a few calls, and moved herself first to Richard Sheane’s Cooley enterprise in Ireland, from which she contested the Millstreet Nations Cup, and latterly to Liz Halliday-Sharp’s Sussex base.

She and Cece finished ninth in their prep run at Little Downham Advanced, an end-of-season national event designed to prepare horses and riders for their autumn three-days, and built to maximum dimensions at several crucial junctures. Cece’s dressage has improved since last season, but it’s unlikely to put them at the head of the pack after the first phase — they’ll sit comfortably in the middle on a low-30s mark, which, with the pressure off, is exactly where a first-timer on a reliable cross-country horse wants to be. Cece has only had one cross country jumping fault in the last year and a half — that was at Millstreet, where she encountered her very first Irish Bank and had a momentary brain fart. They can be quick, as they proved at Houghton, but speed won’t be top priority as they navigate their way around Michelet’s twisty track. On the final day, they’re likely to topple a rail — but they’ve got every chance of adding a confident clear cross country round to their record here, catapulting them into the big leagues and an exciting few years to come.

Phillip Dutton and I’m Sew Ready. Photo by Leslie Threlkeld.

Phillip Dutton and I’m Sew Ready

John and Kristine Norton’s fourteen-year-old Dutch-bred gelding has been a bit of a star for Phillip, with a 10th place finish in his four-star debut at Kentucky last year and 13th this spring. He won his prep run for Pau at the inaugural Stable View CIC3* last month, and he’s been in the top ten in 18 of his 29 international competitions. He’s starting to gain some team experience, too: he was third individually as part of the winning US team at the Great Meadows Nations Cup in 2017, and was reserve for the WEG this year.

‘Jackson’ averages around the 30 mark in the first phase, but his personal best of 26.4 at the Fork in April proved that he’s capable of dipping below that and being seriously competitive between the boards. He’s a quick and pretty reliable cross-country horse, and he usually only has one rail — if that — on the final day, so he’s likely to deliver a great result for the US contingent this week.

Boyd Martin and Steady Eddie at Burghley 2017. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

Boyd Martin and Steady Eddie

Boyd’s fifteen-year-old gelding has had four trips around four-star competitions so far, and his best result came at Burghley in 2017, when he finished 10th, adding just two time penalties to his 32 dressage. Bred in New Zealand but sourced from the Australian outback, the off-the-track Thoroughbred was meant to head to Burghley again last month, but Boyd’s WEG preparations and complications with his newborn son, Leo, made the trip impossible. Instead, they come to Pau — probably the four-star course most diametrically opposed to Burghley’s long, galloping avenues and enormous, bold timber fences.

But Boyd’s no idiot when it comes to cross country riding — he knows his horses, and he’s gutsy and forward-thinking, so he’ll likely give Eddie a quick and positive ride around Michelet’s twisty track. Eddie is tough as nails and has gumption to spare, having started his life as a seriously well-used racehorse, and William Fox-Pitt even borrowed the gelding to ride at the Wellington Eventing Showcase. He’s had a couple of 20s at CCIs recently — both Bromont CCI3* and Kentucky didn’t go the horse’s way, but he was fourth at Aiken’s CIC3* last month, which should serve as a confidence-boosting prep.

Kim Severson and Cooley Cross Border. Photo by Libby Law Photography.

Kim Severson and Cooley Cross Border

‘Crossy’ is a serious talent — after all, he took victory in Blenheim’s CCI3* last year, and that’s certainly one of the toughest competitions of the level in the world. But it was a bit of a mission to get him to that point — the Irish Sport Horse gelding isn’t the easiest to get fit, and at his four-star debut at Kentucky in 2017 he was retired on course after he simply ran out of go. Kim rerouted to Tattersalls CCI3* in Ireland the following month, where she had the same result, and then moved the horse to Richard Sheane’s Cooley enterprise. There, Richard, who sourced the horse as a youngster, helped her to revolutionize the eleven-year-old’s fitness regime, and Kim committed to a long summer of flying back and forth to compete the horse. The results were immediate and remarkable: they were third in a CIC2* at Mallow a month later, and then fifth in the CIC3* at Camphire and second at Millstreet CIC3* before that Blenheim victory.

Their 2018 campaign didn’t start particularly well — they were eliminated for a horse fall across the country at Carolina CIC3* after delivering an incredible 20.8 dressage, but they were second at the Tryon test event a couple of weeks later. A second attempt at Kentucky proved disappointing, with 20 penalties across the country, but their final international run before Pau, at Bromont CIC3* in August, resulted in a fifth-place finish. These two are overdue a good clear round at the top level, and it could be that Pau, which is a very different track to Kentucky, is the course that suits the horse.

ZIMBABWE

Millie Kruger and Biarritz II show off a bit of patriotism at Blenheim. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Camilla Kruger and Biarritz II

A clear round at Rio put the then relatively inexperienced Biarritz on the map. Oh, and the fact that he and rider Millie are Zimbabwe’s first Olympic equestrian athletes helps, too. 12-year-old ‘Sam’ has since added another four-star to his record — that was Luhmühlen last year, but unfortunately Millie opted to retire on course. This season, he jumped slow clears at Chatsworth ERM and Bramham CCI3*, but clocked up twenty penalties last month at Blenheim CCI3*. His record is a bit spotty — he’s notched up clears around some seriously tough tracks, but every couple of international runs he has an issue in the definitive phase. Still, he got that out of the way at Blenheim, and it’ll be interesting to see how he takes to the unique twistiness of Pau — perhaps it’ll suit him and we’ll see his best performance yet. Millie has been working hard on his first phase performance, so a sub-30 score is well within their capabilities — but once they get through Saturday, they’ll need to pick up the pace. They have a habit of picking up time penalties in the showjumping.

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Le Lion Show Jumping: The Young, The Restless, and the History-Making

“He’s just tried really, really hard, and I always said to the owner that he’s as good as Zidante, who was third when he was six, so he’s gone even better,” said a tearful Kitty King after securing the Six-Year-Old World Championship with Cristal Fontaine (Chef Rouge x Nous Avons Gagne, by Griot de Mara). Three phenomenal performances across the phases saw them finish on their dressage score of 25.4, moving from third and clinching the coveted title for the Selle Français gelding, owned by Alex Wakeley.

Kitty King records an emotional win in the six-year-old World Championship with the French-bred Cristal Fontaine. Photo by EquusPix.

“I’m just chuffed to bits with him. Millie [Dumas] and Liz [Halliday-Sharp] are on really good jumpers, and I know what their English form is like, so I was just delighted at the thought of finishing third on our dressage score. I wasn’t even watching! I’m just so pleased for my team at home, and my sponsors, and my owners, especially.”

Kitty King and Cristal Fontane enjoy their victory lap. Photo by EquusPix.

It was to be a British one-two as Piggy French and Emerald Jonny (Waldo Van Dungen x Z Royalty Van De Heernis, by Rubels), owned by Piggy’s partner Tom March, finished in second on their dressage score of 25.8.

“I’m so thrilled with him; he’s a great little horse, a fun horse, and he loves galloping and jumping,” said Piggy. “It’s the first time he’s showjumped after the cross country, so you never know whether they’ll be a bit tired or go flat, but he tried really hard. I’m very pleased; it’s very exciting! He’s quite a show-off, as a character, so I think he rises to it — he loves people watching him.”

Unfortunately it wasn’t to be for US representative Liz Halliday-Sharp and her precociously talented Cooley Moonshine. Billy just tipped a rail and, despite enjoying a three-mark lead after a remarkable 22.4 dressage and a double-clear cross-country trip, he wasn’t quite buffered against the advances of his closest competitors. They dropped two places to finish third, and the best of our North American representatives this week.

“Of course I’m devastated not to win, and he’s such a brilliant horse,” said Liz. “At the end of the day, the ground’s very different in there than it is [in the warm-up]; he’s such a careful jumper, and I think he just had a young horse mistake. I could feel him trying to figure the ground out early on, he was like, ‘oh, this isn’t quite what I thought,’ and he just didn’t quite get himself back quick enough like he normally would. After that, he was trying so hard — he just didn’t want to get near anything.”

Liz Halliday-Sharp and Cooley Moonshine finish third and best of the North American contingent. Photo by EquusPix.

“I’m still absolutely thrilled with him. He’s just a baby — I’m proud to be on the podium and so proud of what he’s achieved this week. He’s come out as fresh as anything today; he didn’t notice the crowds, and he just went out and did his job. He had a green moment, but I couldn’t ask for anything more from him — he’s going to be a superstar.”

Liz plans to aim for a return trip to the Loire with Billy in 2019: “He’s really grown as a horse here, and he’s the right sort of horse for Le Lion, so hopefully we can come back and have a real fight for the seven-year-old champs next year.”

Rebecca Howard and Trebor for Canada. Photo by EquusPix.

A rail and three time penalties precluded an FOD for Canada’s Rebecca Howard on the first of her two horses, Irish-bred Trebor (Mighty Magic x Trevilder, by Fleetwater Opposition). They finished in 18th place on a score of 35.3, while second ride Cooley Convinced (Diarado x BLM Clover Diamond, by Clover Echo), also owned by Kelly McCarthy-Maine, finished 29th on a score of 56.4, pulling five rails and adding five time penalties.

Mexico’s Pedro Gutierrez enjoyed a fantastic week with his own California Mail (Quite Easy x Varnalisa Mail, by Kalaska de Semilly), adding just two rails to their dressage score of 39.4 to finish on 47.4 and in 24th place. Pedro’s completion — and, indeed, entry — of the event is a little bit of eventing history; he and his mare are the first competitors to represent Mexico at the Young Horse World Championships. Pedro sees this as a positive step for the profile of the sport in his home country, and we can’t help but agree.

Pedro Gutierrez and California Mail tackle the final phase. Photo by EquusPix.

“I have seen through the years that almost every upper-level top horse has done Le Lion d’Angers,” he explained. His own mount Unanume du Loir, too, had completed the competition, finishing 24th with French rider Jean Marc Favereau in 2015, and thus a seed was sown: Pedro would produce a talented youngster with the goal of competing in the prestigious event.

“I put a plan together to compete there and learn inside-out how things worked. I bought two two-year-olds from their breeder, Bernard le Courtois from Haras de Brullemail, and kept them in France in training at Ecurie Lepertusa.”

Pedro Gutierrez and California Mail. Photo by EquusPix.

The horses went on to do the age classes as four-, five-, and six-year-olds with Nicolas Pertusa in the saddle, and Pedro started to make the journey over to France in the summer to compete them both under the tutelage of Samantha Leper. They earned their qualifying results for Le Lion at Haras du Pin CIC1*, at which California Mail finished 29th, and Pedro decided that she would be his ride for the championships.

“I did Waregem CIC1* to improve our bonding under stressful competition conditions,” he said. “I believe the French eventing Classic cycle is the best tool to develop young horses in competition, and being able to compete at Le Lion is the ultimate test for that system. It’s the first time a Mexican has competed there, and hopefully in the future we’ll be able to bring more Mexican-owned young horses. This has been an outstanding year for Mexican eventing, after winning team gold and individual gold and silver medals in the Central American and Caribbean Games in Colombia, as well as having Daniela Moguel riding Cecelia in Tryon as the first Mexican to compete at the World Equestrian Games, finishing in 42nd. Now we can add my result at Le Lion.”

“The competition is extremely well organised, in a perfect venue for the sport, with challenging but fair courses to test the horses under challenging conditions. Using the longest distances with the minimum jumping efforts in the cross country gives the horses the chance to learn to gallop and ‘cool down’ their brains after jump complexes. At Le Lion, you truly learn if you have a true potential championship horse.”

Pedro Gutierrez and California Mail serve up a double-clear and a little bit of Le Lion history, too. Photo by EquusPix.

Emerald Jonny, Cooley Moonshine, and Universal Cooley also helped the Irish Sport Horse studbook to another win in the breeding prize, finishing on a collective score of 79.5 and edging the Studbook Français du Cheval Selle Français into second place. Third went to the Koninklijk Warmbloed Paardenstamboek Nederland (KWPN), the Dutch warmblood studbook.

Our friends at the Eventing Podcast have been crunching the numbers and looking at the influence of the Young Horse World Championships, which historically has a reasonably uninfluential cross-country. If you’d like to delve further into what they discovered, check our their new pod, The Z Line: An Alternative Scoring System for the Sport of Eventing.

The top ten six-year-olds of 2018.

The seven-year-old class was enormously closely contested and, after the surprise elimination of leaders Michael Jung and Choclat in yesterday’s competition, the door was wide open.

Three horses ended their competition early: French riders Arnaud Boiteau and Amaury Choplain withdrew their mounts Bogosse du Levant and Beaune d’Epte, as did Germany’s Anna Siemer with Capoliveri. This left a hugely competitive field of 56 primed and ready to tackle a tough course in an even tougher atmosphere.

Ingrid Klimke’s Asha P takes the seven-year-old title. Photo by EquusPix.

Last year, the showjumping was enormously influential in this class, and today’s competition proved that the course was as testing as ever. Only thirteen combinations would produce a clear round, allowing for no mistakes at the top of the leaderboard. The pressure was most certainly on.

Germany’s Ingrid Klimke is no stranger to pressure — after all, she’s our reigning European Champion and the reserve World Champion, and after a pole cost her the latter title in Tryon, she wasn’t likely to let it happen again today. Her exceptional Brandenburg mare Asha P (Askari 173 x Hera, by Heraldik) looked cut from the same cloth, delivering a quick and catlike clear to secure the title of Seven-Year-Old World Champion.

“She’s never been in a stadium with so many people, but she was totally with me and jumped bold and beautiful — it was so much fun,” said Ingrid. “It’s an atmosphere that’s really the top of the world. The older I get, the more I really love bringing up young horses, and I’ve had this one since she was five, so I’m so proud — she learned so much here this weekend and I can really look forward for next year.”

Ingrid Klimke and Asha P. Photo by EquusPix.

Young British talent Tom Jackson had spent the week inching his way up the leaderboard, and he ultimately finished second in this class on his dressage score of 27.8. Riding Patricia Davenport, Milly Simmie, and Sarah Webb’s Capels Hollow Drift (Shannondale Sarco x Lucky Crest, by Lucky Gift), he climbed from an initial 7th after dressage.

“I’m delighted with the horse; he’s been tremendous all year, and what a way to cap off the year for him,” said Tom of the Georgie Strang-produced youngster on whom he took the ride this season.

“She produced him beautifully, and I’ve been able to get on him and just enjoy all the work that she’s done. I’m really excited about his future now.”

Home hero Astier Nicolas, who won this class last year with Alertamalib’or, delivered the best result for the host country, finishing third with the Selle Français stallion Babylon de Gamma (Milord Carthago x Sunshine Des Ka, by Happy Vergoignan HN). They finished on their dressage score of 29.4 to climb from 11th after dressage and fifth after cross country, to the delight of the jam-packed stadium.

Nicola Wilson and JL Dublin. Photo by EquusPix.

Belgium’s Karin Donckers and the Belgian stallion Leipheimer Van’t Verahof (Vigo d’Arsouilles x Southern Queen, by South Gale) had been tied with Astier after the first phase, slipping just behind him in the rankings for being a touch further from the optimum time in yesterday’s cross country. Today, they produced a double-clear to finish on the same score, 29.4, and take fourth place.

Nicola Wilson‘s JL Dublin (Diarado x Zarinna, by Cantano) had looked another strong shout for a British victory, and the pair went into the ring today in second position. But it wasn’t to be: a single rail tumbled and they dropped to fifth, finishing on a score of 29.6.

Liz Halliday-Sharp and Cooley Quicksilver. Photo by EquusPix.

French four-star winner Maxime Livio and Billy Elmy (Qif Elmy x Kenza de Cartigny, by Dandy de Surcy) enjoyed the fruits of their labours throughout the week, moving from 20th after the first phase to a final sixth due to their FOD of 30.7. In seventh, Liz Halliday-Sharp enjoyed yet another top-ten finish, this time riding six-year-old graduate Cooley Quicksilver (Womanizer x Kylemore Crystal, by Creggan Diamond) for the United States. They, too, finished on their dressage score of 31.1, moving from an initial 24th place.

Doug Payne and Quantum Leap. Photo by EquusPix.

Doug Payne and Quantum Leap finished in 29th place after climbing a whopping thirty places through the course of the week. Their two rails precluded them from a top twenty placing and they finished on 44.5, having added nothing in yesterday’s cross country test.

The top ten at the conclusion of the seven-year-old championship.

That’s it for (equine) Toddlers & Tiaras 2018 — EN, and many of this week’s competitors, head to the south of France next for the northern hemisphere’s final CCI4* of the year. We’ll see you in Pau!

Le Lion d’Angers links: Website, CCIYH* Entries, CCIYH** EntriesCCIYH* Live Scores, CCIYH** Live Scores, EN’s Coverage, Live Stream

Le Lion Cross Country Day: USA! USA! USA!

One for the big tracks: Liz Halliday-Sharp and Cooley Moonshine lead going into the final phase at the six-year-old World Championships. Photo by EquusPix.

US representative Liz Halliday-Sharp remains atop the six-year-old leaderboard at Le Lion with Cooley Moonshine after a jam-packed day of cross country action. They added nothing to their impressive dressage score of 22.4, coming in 13 seconds below the optimum time of 8:56 to edge out the encroaching competition.

“He’s an unbelievable horse — he’s so talented and he finds this all so easy, which is kind of scary,” laughed Liz. “He came out today like a fire-breathing dragon; he was very strong, actually, and he is a strong horse, but he was definitely pulling my arms out, wanting to get on with the job. I had a couple fences where maybe I’d have liked to have been a little bit more attractive, but he wants to do it so much and he’s so brave. He was pulling me through the finish, so for his first long format, that’s exciting for the future — I maybe just need a few more brakes so we can agree on things a bit more!”

The child prodigy in action: Liz Halliday-Sharp and Cooley Moonshine. Photo by EquusPix.

In a top ten that remained virtually unchanged British riders took three of the top five spots, with Millie Dumas and Universal Cooley maintaining their hold on second place.

“I’m delighted with her today; she gave me a fantastic ride,” said a delighted Millie. “She was a little bit green and spooky to start with, but by the time I got halfway round, she was really super, really brave, and finished full of running. To start with she was a bit wobbly, looking at the crowds instead of the fences, so I had to give her a little reminder — after that she was great. She’ll have learned a lot, for sure.”

Millie Dumas and Universal Cooley. Photo by EquusPix.

Kitty King and the stunning grey Selle Français Cristal Fontaine also held onto their post-dressage placing, staying in third overnight.

Kitty King and Cristal Fontaine. Photo by EquusPix.

“He gave me a fantastic ride — we had great fun and the ground was brilliant, and they’re beautiful jumps to jump,” said Kitty. “He was a little bit surprised by all the crowds to start with, so he was sort of cantering along with his ears really pricked and his eyes really wide. He was a bit shocked, but then he settled and got used to everyone and gave me a really nice, grown-up ride and finished really well. I was delighted with the way he jumped off the house with the big drop [near the end of the course], because you never quite know how a baby will cope with that, but he jumped off really bravely. Fingers crossed he can be as good tomorrow!”

Rebecca Howard and Trebor, owned by Canadian eventer Kelly McCarthy-Maine, make their move towards the top ten. Photo by EquusPix.

A fast clear moved Rebecca Howard and Trebor one place up to 12th overnight, while second ride Cooley Convinced moved up two places after her double clear. Mexico’s very first representative at Le Lion, Pedro Gutierrez‘s California Mail looked capable and confident throughout her round, adding nothing to her dressage score and moving up to 32nd place from 39th.

Pedro Gutierrez and California Mail serve up a double-clear and a little bit of Le Lion history, too. Photo by EquusPix.

The second US representatives, Tiana Coudray and Happenstance, were one of two combinations who failed to complete the course — they took a tumble at fence 12 and walked home.

39 out of 41 starters completed the six-year-old CCI1* course, with five of the 39 finishers picking up cross country jumping penalties. Twenty-seven pairs produced double-clears.

The top ten in the six-year-old World Championships after the cross country phase.

Germany’s Ingrid Klimke moved up a place into the lead in the seven-year-old class after delivering a confident clear round with the Brandenburg mare Asha P, coming home ten seconds under the optimum time of 9:14.

“I’m very happy, because Asha did such a wonderful job,” said Ingrid after her round. “She was fast, she was bold — the one hesitation was jumping down the house. She was a little bit frightened at first, but then she did it, and we took the straight line so she showed all her quality.”

Ingrid Klimke’s Asha P steps into the lead after a bold round. Photo by EquusPix.

Ingrid, who considers the exciting young mare one of her future superstars, was delighted to further her education at the French venue: “It was pure fun and she learned so much, because the course is fantastic. You have so many different combinations where you learn so much about them and they can gain a lot of mileage.

“She wasn’t taking any interest of the crowd, but it was nice that you sometimes heard someone calling ‘Ingrid!’ and they were clapping, so you thought, ‘here we are! Nearly at a big championship!’ so it should encourage her to become a star one day. I think she’s my future top horse.”

Ingrid Klimke and Asha P. Photo by EquusPix.

Of course, a clear round within the time on its own was never going to be enough to allow Ingrid and Asha to lead going into the final phase — overnight leaders Michael Jung and Choclat would have to make a mistake in order for that to happen. To everyone’s surprise, they did just that. The maestro of modern eventing and his talented youngster began the course brilliantly, with the gelding easily finding his optimal cruising speed and making economical use of his naturally sweeping stride. But then, at fence eight — an innocuous brush fence named the Burghley Fence — the horse appeared to second-guess his stride and he never quite got out of his own way. He caught a front leg on the fence and the pair were pitched over the top. Both got up immediately and walked away.

They weren’t the only high-profile non-completion: Le Lion resident Tom Carlile and the Selle Français mare Birmane were also victims of the Big E, further blotting Tom’s impressive record of FODs at this venue. Theirs was a rider, rather than horse, fall, and it came at fence 21, just two fences from home. Again, this happened at one of the less obviously challenging fences on course – having jumped the enormous drop and angled hedges at 19 and 20, the corner at 21 must seem rather like a speedbump on the way home. But this is eventing, and predictable it ain’t, so when Birmane twisted in the air and knocked the flag with her knee, Thomas was sent tumbling. Like Michael, he was up immediately and looked no worse for wear, while Birmane made a beeline for her gathered fans and rather charmingly evaded capture for a while. The seemingly straightforward corner went on to be responsible for three falls throughout the day.

Nicola Wilson and JL Dublin. Photo by EquusPix.

Nicola Wilson and JL Dublin moved up into second place overnight, adding nothing to their dressage score and coming in twenty seconds under the optimum time.

“I couldn’t have been prouder of him,” enthused Nicola. “From the first fence to the last fence he just gave me the most superb ride, and I think I was just there to make sure we got the numbers in the right order, to be honest! I was amazed, because this is the biggest occasion that he’s ever seen, and he just stayed focused the whole time. He was just an absolute pleasure to ride — and what a beautiful, beautiful course to ride around, with the crowd cheering you on the whole time. The support out there, even for foreign riders, was much appreciated.”

Nicola Wilson and JL Dublin. Photo by EquusPix.

The British contingent made an impressive impact on the top of the leaderboard: Tom Jackson, who heads to Pau next week with two horses, piloted Capels Hollow Drift to a double-clear and overnight third, while Sarah Bullimore and Corouet, a son of her four-star mare Lily Corinne and graduate of the six-year-old class here last year, moved into fourth. Behind them, French eventing’s answer to Noah Centineo, Astier Nicolas, sits in fifth with Babylon de Gamma. This is probably still enough to make the French cry. We appreciate that.

Liz Halliday-Sharp puts the pedal to the metal on her second ride of the day to sit just outside the top ten. Photo by EquusPix.

Liz Halliday-Sharp and Cooley Quicksilver climbed twelve places to sit twelfth overnight after adding nothing to their dressage score, while Doug Payne and Quantum Leap, too, delivered a sterling double-clear to climb from 59th to 31st going into the final phase.

Doug Payne and Quantum Leap make an enormous jump, both down this colossal drop and up the leaderboard. Photo by EquusPix.

Ten of the 69 starters failed to complete, while 18 of the 59 finishers picked up cross country jumping penalties. The most influential part of the course was fence 19AB and 20, the colossal drop to two angled hedges, where we saw twelve faulters, including four 50s for missed flags. Ireland’s Michael Ryan picked up 50s on both of his horses, collecting them at 19B, the first hedge, on Briarhill Marco and 20, the second, on Barnahown Corn Hill.

Laura Collett‘s British Young Horse Reserve Champion Calmaro was another faulter on course, picking up a green runout and 20 penalties at the narrow final element of 10ABC, while Izzy Taylor and 2017 six-year-old World Champion Monkeying Around ran into problems at the end of the course. The horse appeared to gain in strength after jumping through the drop and hedges, flipping his head on the way to the corner at 21, giving him no opportunity to see the fence and resulting in a 20 penalty blot on their record.

“I was a bit disappointed to have 20 penalties, but he’s inexperienced and with everything — the slight undulations in the ground, and the crowds — his brain couldn’t quite keep up with his legs,” said Laura of her ride on Calmaro. “It wasn’t a naughty 20, it was just a green, baby mistake, but he’s a very exciting horse for the future. It’s the first cross country penalty he’s had; obviously now’s not really the best time to have it, but it’s all a learning curve at this age and we have to keep looking ahead to the future.”

Of her problem on course with the obviously talented Monkeying Around, Izzy said: “Of course it’s hugely disappointing — he won here as a six-year-old and I came back hoping to either win again or come very close. But they’re all still young horses here, and he very much remembered the excitement and the atmosphere of the place from last year, and it made him a bit nervous. He was looking about at all the crowds and he just got distracted — now we’ve got to go home and do some homework. He’s still a very good horse and he’ll come out of it a good horse.”

The final horse inspection will take place tomorrow morning at 8.30am local time, with the six-year-olds trotting up first. We’ll be bringing you all the news and some beautiful photos from our friends at EquusPix — stay tuned, and in the meantime, GO LIZ AND BILLY and Go Eventing!

The top ten going into the final phase in the seven-year-old World Championship.

Le Lion d’Angers links: Website, CCIYH* Entries, CCIYH** EntriesCCIYH* Live Scores, CCIYH** Live Scores, EN’s Coverage, Live Stream

Friday Video from World Equestrian Brands: THAT Le Lion Test!

 

We’re halfway through the World Championships for Small and Reckless Ones (um, six- and seven-year-olds) at Le Lion d’Angers, and we’re almost embarrassingly gleeful to see our very own Liz Halliday-Sharp atop the six-year-old leaderboard with the divine Cooley Moonshine. They posted a serious personal best of 22.4 to take the lead yesterday, and not only has no one passed them today, they’ve even managed to reign supreme with the best dressage score of the whole competition. Yes, that’s right, it was 2.6 whole marks better than the God of Germany and All Nations.

So what made the test so special (besides a 10 for the cession á la jambe gauche, obviously)? Check it out for yourself, and let me just gently remind you once again that this is a six-year-old. Six! Every six-year-old I’ve ever sat on has been as into eating mud as I was at the same age. We can’t all be child prodigies.

Le Lion: One Step Closer to an American World Champion, Plus Course Preview

Michael Jung and the wunderkind Choclat storm into the lead at Le Lion. Photo by EquusPix.

Welcome to episode two of (Equine) Toddlers and Tiaras, the smash hit show in which the eventing world’s most precociously talented youngsters endure long hours with the Glam Squad, some serious dance routines, and snack-based bribery on their quest to become the Ultimate Supreme Best Prancing Toddler. Or something like that, anyway.

You want the fun facts? We got the fun facts.

Need an episode one recap? When we last saw you, we were halfway through the dressage, and found ourselves in a very fortuitous position indeed — US representative Liz Halliday-Sharp lead the six-year-old class with Cooley Moonshine on a remarkable score of 22.4, while Ingrid Klimke and Asha P held the seven-year-old lead on 25.3. With some seriously exciting entrants in the ring today, we were left on one heck of a cliffhanger.

Nah, who are we kidding? Nobody was ever going to usurp Liz and Billy, who stay firmly atop the six-year-old leaderboard as we look ahead to tomorrow’s cross country. We had a little look at their test sheet, and were delighted to spot that they also earned themselves a coveted 10 for their, um, cession á la jambe gauche, which sounds delicious.

Liz Halliday-Sharp and Cooley Moonshine deliver their best. Photo by EquusPix.

British rider Millie Dumas remains in second place aboard Universal Cooley, giving the Cooley brand a jolly good show thus far, while Kitty King moved into third place aboard Cristal Fontaine (Chef Rouge x Nous Avons Gagne, by Griot de Mara), who relied on more than just his passing resemblance to Kitty’s superstar Vendredi Biats to earn his score of 25.4. Behind him sits Piggy French‘s Emerald Jonny and Chris Burton‘s Coup de Coeur Dudevin (Top Gun Sexily x Tiebreak Combehory, by Leprince des Bois) in equal fourth on 25.8.

Cooley Convinced sits just outside the top twenty with rider Rebecca Howard. Photo by EquusPix.

Canada’s Rebecca Howard performed her second test of the class today, posting a 31.4 with Cooley Convinced (Diarado x BLM Clover Diamond, by Clover Echo) to sit in 21st place going into tomorrow’s cross country. ‘Dora’ joins stablemate Trebor, who scored a 28.3 to kick yesterday’s competition off, and lies 13th overnight.

Tiana Coudray and Happenstance. Photo by EquusPix.

Tiana Coudray and Happenstance (Quality Time x unknown by Germus R) also performed this morning, delivering a 35.6 to sit 34th at this early stage. The first combination to represent Mexico at Le Lion also made their way into the main arena – Pedro Gutierrez and California Mail (Quite Easy x Varnalisa Mail, by Kalaska de Semilly) scored 39.4 and hold 39th place.

The top ten in the six-year-olds’ championship after dressage.

The new leader of the seven-year-old class shunted yesterday’s leaders Ingrid Klimke and Asha P into second by just 0.3 of a penalty, and really, it was always going to happen, wasn’t it? After all, new leader  — and last in the ring — Choclat (Contendro I x Etienne, by Espri), ridden by Michael Jung, gave us one of the lowest-ever finishing scores in an international event last season, when he won Strzegom’s CCI1* on a final score of 15.2.

Every time I have to type that I die a little inside, so have this restorative GIF and let’s keep one another close, my fellow 30s-scoring peasantfolk.

He’s never quite reached those dizzying heights since, though he hasn’t really had to in order to be a very reliable first-phase performer and, nearly ten points over that Strzegom score with today’s 25, he proved that. (Though, we hasten to add, he didn’t get any 10s, with jambe or otherwise.) The secret? Total consistency through the test, which is just what got Michael’s recently retired legend La Biosthetique Sam FBW his great scores throughout the years, too. Interestingly, none of the three judges — Gerd KuestEric Lieby, and Robert Stevenson — had the talented Hanoverian in first place. Instead, Gerd Kuest scored Ingrid and Asha P the highest, Eric Lieby’s pick was Nicola Wilson‘s JL Dublin, in third, and Robert Stevenson favoured Jesse Campbell and the Jonty Evans-produced Gambesie, who lie 6th on 27.6.

Michael Jung and the wunderkind Choclat storm into the lead at Le Lion. Photo by EquusPix.

Last year’s six-year-old World Champion Monkeying Around (Bertoli W x Donnee, by Donnerhall) has all the right breeding to excel in this phase, and he didn’t disappoint today. He scored a 26.1 with rider Izzy Taylor, moving him into equal fourth place overnight to tie with Laura Collett and Calmaro.

Britain’s Tom Jackson piloted the Irish Sport Horse mare Capels Hollow Drift (Shannondale Sarco St Ghyvan x Lucky Crest, by Lucky Gift) to a score of 27.8 and 7th place, while Le Lion resident Tom Carlile proved that Selle Français Birmane, third in last year’s six-year-old championship, is the real deal, posting a 28.1 and taking 8th overnight.

Cooley Quicksilver makes a return trip to Le Lion. Photo by EquusPix.

Liz Halliday-Sharp returned to the arena today, this time riding Cooley Quicksilver (Womanizer x Kylemore Crystal, by Creggan Diamond), with whom she completed last year’s six-year-old championship. The rangy, extravagant-moving gelding didn’t quite live up to the standards set by his stablemate the day prior, but posted a nevertheless respectable score of 31.1, which sees them occupy 24th place ahead of tomorrow’s cross country.

Doug Payne and Quantum Leap make strides on their quest to improve the young horse’s education. Photo by EquusPix.

Fellow countryman Doug Payne dipped lower in the incredibly tightly-bunched standings, delivering a 36.5 with Quantum Leap (Quite Capitol x Report to Sloopy, by Corporate Report) to sit in 59th place overnight.

The top ten seven-year-olds after dressage.

So what’s next?

The action-packed cross country phase kicks off tomorrow morning at 10.00am local time/4.00am EST, with the six-year-old CCI1* first and the seven-year-old CCI2* commenced at 12.45pm local time/6.45am EST. You’ll be able to watch all of the action unfold via the free livestream.

Le Lion’s cross country is always breathtaking viewing, not just because of the sheer quality of the young horses in the classes — above and beyond that, it’s one of the most stunningly built courses the sport has to offer, with jumps including an enormous violin in the woods, dragons, giant snails, a sprawling chessboard, and so, so much more, all nestled within the glorious grounds of a quintessentially French manor house. To get a sneak of what’s to come, check out this teaser video:

French eventing fans are some of the best in the world, too — despite the fact that the competition is ‘only’ a CCI1* and CCI2*, they flock to every available inch of roping around the course, absolutely breathless with delight to be able to enjoy a day of world-class equestrianism in the autumn sunshine. That’s one of the most educational parts of the whole competition — can these talented youngsters cope with the unflinching adoration and celebratory whoops of a buzzing, vibrant crowd?

Our North American contingent (and CCI2* leader Michael Jung) will ride at the following times:

  • Rebecca Howard and Trebor: 10.00am local time/4.00am EST
  • Liz Halliday-Sharp and Cooley Moonshine: 10.45am local time/4.45am EST
  • Pedro Gutierrez and California Mail: 11.06am local time/5.06am EST
  • Tiana Coudray and Happenstance: 11.15am local time/5.15am EST
  • Rebecca Howard and Cooley Convinced: 12.00pm local time/6.00am EST
  • Liz Halliday-Sharp and Cooley Quicksilver: 3.19pm local time/9.19am EST
  • Doug Payne and Quantum Leap: 3.33pm local time/9.33am EST
  • Michael Jung and Choclat: 4.43pm local time/10.43am EST

Crack on, small but talented ones.

We’ll be back in action tomorrow with all the news from cross-country day — in the meantime, Go Eventing! (And go pageant babies, we guess.)

Le Lion d’Angers links: Website, CCIYH* Entries, CCIYH** EntriesCCIYH* Live Scores, CCIYH** Live Scores, EN’s Coverage, Cross Country Live Stream

Liz Halliday-Sharp Takes Decisive Le Lion Lead

Liz Halliday-Sharp and Cooley Moonshine leave nothing on the table at Le Lion d’Angers. Photo by EquusPix.

Both the six- and seven-year-old World Championships got well underway today at central France’s Le Lion d’Angers, and US representative Liz Halliday-Sharp, who splits her time between East Sussex in the UK and Ocala, left nothing to chance with her six-year-old entry Cooley Moonshine.

We always expected a nice test out of Billy, who Liz has been quietly confident about since she took on the Richard Sheane sourced youngster, but in the moment, he delivered a remarkable personal best. His international average is 27.7, but despite the inescapable atmosphere of Le Lion – or, perhaps, because of it – he dug extra deep and produced a 22.4, taking not only the lead in the CCIYH*, but also boasting the best score of the day across both classes.

“He was very professional in there today,” says Liz. “He had a little mistake coming out of the walk, but that’s just because he always wants to get on with the job, so he wanted to canter. But he’s a funny thing – he’s always so brave and keen, and I don’t think he even noticed the atmosphere.”

Cooley Moonshine delivers his best performance yet for Liz Halliday-Sharp. Photo by EquusPix.

The 16.2hh son of Cobra began his eventing career last year, winning on his British Eventing debut in Firle’s BE100 (Training level) class. This year, he’s enjoyed an astonishing season: he won his first event of the year, obviously found he rather liked the fuss and extra polo mints, and went on to win his next four competitions, including his first one-star at Brightling Park. He broke his win streak – barely – by finished second in his next CIC1*, this time back at Firle, but he was back on form with a win at his third at last month’s South of England CIC1*. He was fifth in the British Young Horse Championships CIC1* at Osberton earlier this month, and his trip to Le Lion sees him tackle his very first CCI competition.

But for all his talent, he hasn’t necessarily been the easiest horse to figure out.

“I bought him originally as a sales horse, and when I got him home I thought, ‘this one’s special.’ But he was very strong and quite hard to manage cross country, and there was a stage where we thought, ‘oh god, are we going to be able to crack this?'”

Your EN correspondent’s face when Liz’s score was posted. Also possibly Billy’s face when he gets to go cross country.

With some ingenuity – and the addition of a hackabit to his jumping wardrobe – Liz and her team figured out how to work with Billy, and he came back out for his 2018 season stronger, more mature, and ready to chase the results. The dressage took, perhaps, slightly longer – he is, explains Liz, a naturally a bit tricky in his mouth, and historically struggled to accept the contact. A last-minute change of bit yesterday seems to have finally ticked that box and the horse, who is getting stronger and more mature in his body day by day, easily outpaced his competition in the ring today, making positive headway on his long-anticipated trip to France.

“Not every horse is a Le Lion horse – it’s a huge atmosphere in every phase, but I’ve thought since last year that it would be right for him. He’s so brave, and I never thought he’d care about it. It’s nice to have gotten that right. We’re so excited about him, and really proud of him,” says a delighted Liz, who makes a second trip down the centreline tomorrow in the seven-year-old class with Cooley Quicksilver.

Millie Dumas and Universal Cooley (VDL Arkansas x Dysart Lilly, by Maltstriker) posted a very competitive 23.3 to slip into second place at the halfway point of the six-year-olds’ dressage, while fellow Brit Piggy French took third overnight on 25.8 with Emerald Jonny (Waldo Van Dungen x Z Royalty Van De Heernis, by Rubels), owned by her partner Tom March. This means that the top three in the class overnight are Irish Sport Horses – a great start for the studbook, which won the breeding award here last year.

Michael Jung and Wild Wave take fourth overnight. Photo by EquusPix.

There was an unsurprising German invasion on the leaderboard in the form of fourth-placed Michael Jung, riding his own Wild Wave (Water Dance XX x Uquina), who scored a 26.0, closely followed by Vanessa Bölting and Ready To Go W (Rock Forever x Weingold GD, by Weinberg) on a 27.1 and Sandra Auffarth and Gentleman FRH (Grey Top x Franziska, by Fabriano), who posted a 27.6.

Rebecca Howard and Trebor sit in the top ten after the first day of dressage. Photo by EquusPix.

Canada’s Rebecca Howard started the day’s proceedings with Kelly McCarthy-Maine‘s Trebor (Mighty Magic x Trevilder, by Fleetwater Opposition), but despite a slightly unfavourable draw, they delivered a good score of 28.3 to sit in eighth place after the first day of dressage. Rebecca took the ride on the six-year-old this year, taking the reins from Dutch venter Andrew Heffernan, and though his scores have fluctuated, he’s proven to be very capable in this phase, dipping as low as 22.3 in a Novice (Preliminary) run at Aston-le-Walls in August.

Rebecca Howard and Trebor, the first of her two rides at Le Lion. Photo by EquusPix.

In an enormous surprise to absolutely no one, Ingrid Klimke leads the seven-year-old class overnight on Asha P (Askari 173 x Hera, by Heraldik XX) after delivering a 25.3 with the Brandenburg mare. So far they’ve won three out of nine internationals together – a CIC1* at Kreuth, Jardy’s CCI1*, and Luhmühlen CIC2* earlier this summer. They were also second at Renswoude CIC2* and fourth at Strzegom CIC2*, and so it’s easy to see why Ingrid rates the well-travelled youngster – a full sister to 2012 vice Bundeschampionat DSP Araldik – as an exciting up-and-comer in her string.

Nicola Wilson and JL Dublin (Diarado x Zarinna, by Cantano) moved into second place on a score of 25.6, while Laura Collett‘s reserve British seven-year-old champion Calmaro sits comfortably in third on 26.1. New Zealand’s Jesse Campbell holds fourth place overnight on the talented Dutch gelding Gambesie (Zambesi x Verrona, by Harcos), who was formerly piloted by Jonty Evans.

We’ve got five more North American combinations on the main stage tomorrow – keep it locked onto EN for all your equine Toddlers & Tiaras news. Ciao for now!

Le Lion d’Angers links: Website, CCIYH* Entries, CCIYH** EntriesCCIYH* Live Scores, CCIYH** Live Scores, EN’s Coverage, Cross Country Live Stream

Le Lion First Horse Inspection: All Pass, Seven North American Combinations to Compete

Liz Halliday-Sharp and Cooley Quicksilver at Le Lion in 2017. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

It’s a busy week for North American riders: not only is Fair Hill taking over our airwaves and our (almost) undivided attention, we’ve also got some strong representation at the World Championships for Young Horses at Le Lion d’Anger. Comprising a CCI1* for six-year-olds and a CCI2* for seven-year-olds, the Loire valley competition is enormously prestigious, with its graduates going on to success at the upper echelons of the sport.

The competition got off to a flying start today with the first horse inspection, which saw 110 horses brought before the ground jury of Jutta Koivula (FIN), Alain James (FRA), and Anne Marie Taylor (GBR) for the CCI1* and Eric Lieby (FRA), Gerd Kuest (GER), and Robert Stevenson (USA) for the CCI2*.

Rebecca Howard with Cooley Convinced and Trebor. Photo by Kelly McCarthy-Maine.

All those presented were passed, and will take to the atmospheric dressage arena over the next two days. Our pathfinder is Canada’s Rebecca Howard, who heads up the six-year-old class on Trebor (Mighty Magic X Trevilder, by Fleetwater Opposition) and closes it on season debutante Cooley Convinced (Diarado X BLM Clover Diamond, by Clover Echo), both owned by fellow Canadian and eventer Kelly McCarthy-Maine.

Rebecca Howard and Trebor, pathfinders in the CCI1*. Photo by Kelly McCarthy Maine.

Trebor, known as ‘Minty’ at home, won the Burghley Young Event Horse final as a four-year-old, and was purchased by Rebecca in late 2017 from his producer, Andrew Heffernan, who competes for the Netherlands and rides Gideon in the seven-year-old class this week.

Joining Rebecca in the six-year-old class are UK-based American Tiana Coudray and Happenstance (Quality Time X Mermus R), who produced an impressive top-ten finish in the CCIYH1* at Tattersalls earlier this year, and Liz Halliday-Sharp, who brings forward the impressive Cooley Moonshine (Cobra X Kilpatrick Duchess, by Kings Master). The latest in an enviable string of young talent sourced from Richard Sheane’s Cooley enterprise, Cooley Moonshine has already won two CIC1* classes this year, at Brightling Park and the South of England Horse Trials.

Pedro Gutierrez started his week by making a little bit of history – he and his own California Mail (Quite Easy X Varnalisa Mail, by Kalaska de Semilly) are Mexico’s first-ever representatives at this competition.

There’s stiff competition in the seven-year-old championship, with 69 total entries and a formidable line-up. The U.S. is ably represented once again by Liz Halliday-Sharp, who will pilot Cooley Quicksilver (Womanizer X Kylemore Crystal, by Creggan Diamond), a graduate of last year’s six-year-old competition. The Irish Sport Horse, owned by the Monster Syndicate, started his season off with an impressive win in the CCI2* in Ocala.

Second in that class was the US’ other horse in this class. Doug Payne and Quantum Leap (Quite Capitol X Report to Sloopy, by Corporate Report) made their way over to France on the Holekamp/Turner Grant, awarded to the winner of the USEA Young Event Horse five-year-old championship.

Elsewhere in the class, Laura Collett and her British Young Horse Championships runner-up Calmaro add considerable strength to a formidable British campaign headed up by last year’s six-year-old championship winner, Monkeying Around, ridden by Izzy Taylor.

Izzy Taylor and Monkeying Around clinch the 2017
six-year-old World Championship at Le Lion d’Angers. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

France’s Tom Carlile enjoys the home advantage of being based at Le Lion d’Angers, and he has a remarkable record here, too — he had clocked up eight consecutive FODs at the event, a record which was broken last year when he collected a surprise 20 aboard Atos Barbotiere in the seven-year-old class. This year, he rides the talented Birmane, who finished third in the six-year-old class in 2017.

Perhaps the most accomplished entrant in the CCI2* is Choclat, ridden by Michael Jung. In his second CCI1* last year, he produced one of the lowest-ever finishing scores at an international event — an astonishing 15.2. Not too shabby, when your score is smaller than your horse’s height. Since then, he’s never quite managed to match that incredible effort, but he’s racked up plenty of experience and a plethora of good results, both with Michi and with Italian eventer Pietro Grandis. He’ll be exciting to watch this weekend.

If you’re an FEItv subscriber, you’ll be able to follow along with the action live — here are the dressage times for our North American contingent:

THURSDAY

  • Rebecca Howard (CAN) and Trebor: 9.00am local time/3.00am EST
  • Liz Halliday-Sharp (USA) and Cooley Moonshine: 11.05am local time/5.05am EST

FRIDAY

  • Pedro Gutierrez (MEX) and California Mail: 9.07am local time/3.07am EST
  • Tiana Coudray (USA) and Happenstance: 9.28am local time/3.28am EST
  • Rebecca Howard (CAN) and Cooley Convinced: 11.33am local time/5.33am EST
  • Liz Halliday-Sharp (USA) and Cooley Quicksilver: 2.13pm local time/8.13am EST
  • Doug Payne (USA) and Quantum Leap: 2.41pm local time/8.41pm EST

Le Lion d’Angers links: Website, CCIYH* Entries, CCIYH** EntriesCCIYH* Live Scores, CCIYH** Live Scores, EN’s Coverage, Cross Country Live Stream

Friday Video and UK Notes from World Equestrian Brands: A Horse of a Different Colour

The equestrian community exemplified. Photo by Leslie Wylie.

One of the best things about working in the horse industry is the people in it. Okay, okay, hear me out here — I know we’re all absolutely bonkers, and we drive one another mad, and we all need an astonishing amount of gin to tolerate each other sometimes, but we’re all here for the same reason. We just, well, bloody love ponies. And that deep-seated love is the driving force behind the life choices that see us all merrily spending our time in the freezing cold, the pouring rain, and the odd relentless heatwave, all because our charges need us.

When it comes to those who have chosen a career in the equestrian industry, or some derivative of it, I always find it fascinating to learn why they chose the route they did, and the path they took to get there. For example, I met someone the other day whose eleven-year-old sister has decided that she wants to go into equine dentistry when she grows up. Unbelievably specific, not at all glamorous, but so necessary — I definitely was not a similarly sensible eleven-year-old. Either way, I love talking to grooms, riders, massage therapists, photographers, whatever equally, because the driving force is always the same.

My best friend, Freya, is a brilliant example of a seriously left-field show of passion, and it all started in a delightfully normal way — after university, where we met, she sacked off her plans to become a French teacher and moved in with me, spending a year indulging her lifelong love for horses by working on a couple of seriously busy producing and hunting yards. But she wasn’t sure that being a career groom was the right path for her, and so she took herself off (to a sailboat in Greece, natch) to figure out what, exactly, the right path was.

When she figured it out, she surprised everyone around her — she was going to become a zookeeper. Anyway, to cut a long and marvellous story short, she made it happen for herself, despite a wildly unsuitable degree and no previous experience wrestling lions, or whatever zookeepers do. She took everything she’d learned throughout her horsey life and transferred it over to exotic hoof stock, and now, she’s an absolutely brilliant and astute keeper of rhinos, giraffes, various exciting deer species with increasingly hilarious and spindly legs, and much more.

Pictured: the best ears we’ve ever seen. Photo by Freya Bellew.

What has this got to do with anything? Well, today, folks, you get a brief but brilliant Friday video, courtesy of Zookeeper Freya’s exceptional career choices. Say a big hello to the as-yet-unnamed brand new Grevy’s zebra foal born last night at Marwell Zoo — suggestions for names are welcomed and will be passed along, so get commenting!

UK Weekend Preview:

Friday Video: A Horse of a Different Colour

Welcome to Hampshire’s Marwell Zoo, where keepers were greeted this morning by something better than a cup of coffee in the mess room – instead, they met the long-awaited foal of Grevy’s zebra Imogen for the first time.

A matchy-matchy aficionado’s dream. Photo by Freya Bellew.

Okay, so it may never event (though we’d love to see a stripey take on Badminton’s BE90 Championship), but lil’ knock-knees here is all you need to see you into a very merry weekend. Even better, its birth is the latest in a series of coups for Marwell’s team, who work tirelessly on the conservation of the endangered Grevy’s zebra in northern Kenya, and who manage the European studbook for this fascinating species, too. You can follow their work — and all their updates on this gorgeous bubba — on their Facebook page.

The End of an Era: Badminton Horse Trials Loses Title Sponsorship

2018 Badminton winners Jonelle Price and Classic Moet make light work of the iconic Mitsubishi L200s at the lake. Photo by Kit Houghton/Mitsubishi Motors.

The 2019 iteration of Badminton Horse Trials will be its last in partnership with longtime title sponsors Mitsubishi Motors, who will have supported the Gloucestershire fixture for a record-breaking 28 years. This year’s competition boasted an unparalleled spectator footfall of 185,000, the summit of what has been a year-on-year climb in ticket sales.

“We have had an outstanding collaboration with the Badminton Horse Trials, and it has played an important part in raising the profile of our brand and our vehicles over the years,” says Rob Lindley, Managing Director at Mitsubishi Motors. The brand was awarded the Animal Health Trust’s Eventing Award in 2011 in recognition of its contribution not just to Badminton, but to the sport at large, too.

“It is always sad when a very successful partnership comes to an end, and especially when, over the years, event and sponsor have developed a genuine friendship,” says Badminton’s Event Director Hugh Thomas. “However, when one door closes, another one opens, and it will be exciting to see where that leads.”

Pippa Funnell takes her second consecutive Badminton title — and the Rolex Grand Slam of Eventing — in 2003. Photo by Kit Houghton/Mitsubishi Motors.

The long-time partnership has enjoyed a number of highlights, including Michael Jung‘s Rolex Grand Slam win in its 25th anniversary year, consecutive wins in 2002 and 2003 and the first ever Grand Slam for Pippa Funnell, and Mark Todd‘s 1996 victory with Bertie Blunt, a year after riding most of the iconic course with one stirrup.

The news of this dissolution comes just over a year after Kentucky’s CCI4* announced that it had lost its title sponsor, Rolex. Shortly thereafter, the competition was adopted and rechristened by current title sponsors Land Rover, who also fly their flag at Burghley Horse Trials.

Mary King and King William were the first winners of Badminton under its Mitsubishi Motors title sponsorship in 1992. Photo by Kit Houghton/Mitsubishi Motors.

2019 will also see Badminton celebrate its 70th anniversary. The feature event was first held in 1949, offering British riders the chance to train for major championships. It was inspired by the 1948 Olympics, which hosted Britain’s first-ever three-day event, held at Tweseldown Racecourse in Hampshire. Now, it not only hosts one of the world’s foremost CCI4* competitions, it’s also the home of the Mitsubishi Motors Cup, colloquially known as ‘Badminton grassroots,’ which presents the country’s toughest challenge for BE90 (Novice) and BE100 (Training level) competitors.

The conclusion of Mitsubishi’s partnership with Badminton will mean that the grassroots championship also loses its title sponsorship but, says Amanda Gibson, Mitsubishi’s PR Manager, “it has grown enormously in stature and popularity in recent years, so we hope to see it continue and flourish.”

“Badminton 2019 will be as prestigious as ever, and we wish the event the greatest success for the future,” says Lindley. The Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials will take place from May 1–5, 2019, with the Mitsubishi Motors Cup preceding the CCI4* competition.