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Friday Video from SmartPak: What’s Love Got To Do With It?

Ahh, Valentine’s Day – that most contentious of ‘holidays’. Once again, it’s come and gone, leaving pink and red devastation and more than a little bit of romantic ennui in its wake. (But hey, also discount chocolates, so there’s that.) Is it just me, or does it feel like Valentine’s Day makes sort of makes you feel, well, bad (not to mention broke) even if you’re coupled up? Like, whether you acknowledge it or not, you’ve probably not done the right thing, and also, did you get engaged? DID YOU? If you didn’t, you didn’t do enough, and if you did, someone is quietly judging you for doing it on the most obvious day of the year. Snore.

My take this year has been the same as any other year, romantically attached or otherwise: I bought a box of choccies, played truffle roulette, lost and got the coffee one, and then sacked the whole sorry endeavour off and went to snuggle my horse. And you know what? That’s MORE than good enough for me. So to celebrate the joyous passing of this arguably pointless day, here’s some gratuitous videos of horses in love. The best bit? Hallmark hasn’t seen a penny out of them.

Heart eyes. Heart eyes everywhere.

Locked (Down) and Loaded: Equine Influenza Outbreak Hits UK

Photo by Leslie Wylie.

More than 150 racing stables have been placed on lockdown after a bout of equine influenza hit a yard in Cheshire, in the north-west of England. Three horses tested positive for the virus at Donald McCain‘s base on Wednesday, 6th February; because several of their stablemates had contested races at Ayr, Ludlow, and Wolverhampton racecourses earlier in the week, the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) opted to cancel all race meetings on Thursday 7th in order to contain the spread. Since then, three further horses at McCain’s yard have tested positive, as have horses in Somerset and Suffolk. Each of the cases has been confirmed as Florida clade 1 virus, an uncommon strain last seen in the UK in 2009. FC1 is most commonly found in North America, and the source of the outbreak, which began in isolated cases at the tail end of 2018, is unknown.

The initial one-day cancellation of race meetings was extended to Wednesday the 13th at the earliest as racing yards have gone into pseudo-quarantine to monitor their equine residents and test for the virus. This represents the biggest shutdown to the sport since 2001’s foot-and-mouth outbreak.

Since Wednesday, approximately 2,000 nasal swab samples have been sent to the Animal Health Trust for testing. The results of these tests will begin to come through on Monday the 11th, giving the BHA a better idea of the scope of the outbreak and how best to tackle it.

So what does this mean for eventing, with the start of the season just three weeks away? Currently, not much. With a handful of exceptions, schooling facilities and training shows remain open, following the advice put forth by the British Equestrian Federation (BEF). Many of these venues have released statements of their own, requiring horses to have been vaccinated within the last six months, and confirming that passport spot-checks will be carried out on-site.

Equine influenza, while not normally fatal, is a highly contagious airborne virus, which affects the upper respiratory tract and can be harmful to the very young, old, or infirm, and particularly foals, in whom it can lead to pneumonia. While racehorses and competition horses are vaccinated annually, the flu virus is antigenic, meaning that it mutates constantly, which can effectively safeguard it against the vaccine. Although vigilant vaccination has been proven to minimise the risk of influenza – or diminish the symptoms in an affected horse – the vaccine’s efficacy has also been impacted by the large number of unvaccinated horses in Great Britain: only 40% of British horses are up-to-date with their flu jab. A study by the AHT has found that if just 70% of Britain’s horses were vaccinated, every horse would be safe from a flu outbreak.

The BEF have advised horse owners and yard managers to exercise vigilance against the flu outbreak. This starts with making sure your horse is adequately protected: if its flu vaccination is more than six months old, you should consider scheduling a booster jab, which will contain the latest strain of the virus. It’s recommended – and in some cases, required – to give your horse a seven-day clearing period after a jab before heading out to a competition, although British Eventing permits you to compete the next day. You should also be on the lookout for symptoms of the flu, and if your horse or another in the same yard begins to show any, isolate the horse, contact your vet immediately and cease all movement of horses in and out of the yard.

Symptoms of equine influenza include:

  • A high temperature – typically over 38.5˚C/101.3˚F
  • A sudden cough
  • Nasal discharge
  • Loss of appetite
  • Enlarged glands, typically underneath the jaw
  • Swollen, sore, or weepy eyes
  • Lethargy
  • Swelling in the lower legs

Clinical signs of the flu normally appear within one to three days after exposure to the virus, and usually last a week or so. Any longer indicates a more serious secondary bacterial infection. Generally, the virus is transmitted by airborne droplets, released when an infected horse coughs. In many ways, equine influenza is much like human flu – but it can travel much further, and an infected horse needs to be isolated at a distance of at least 100m/328ft from other horses. The virus itself can’t be treated with antibiotics; instead, rest, appropriate feed, adequate hydration, and a clean environment are necessary to help the horse recover. It’s absolutely necessary to involve your vet if you think your horse might have the flu, though – they’ll be able to diagnose any secondary infections or complications and advise appropriate action as needed.

If you travel between yards – for example, if you’re a freelance groom or trainer – it’s sensible to adopt some basic biosecurity practices. Use the yard’s own equipment rather than bringing your own from job to job, change your outer layer of clothing between yards, and use disinfectants to ensure your hands and boots are free of contaminants.

The BHA’s efficient and comprehensive lockdown means that it’s unlikely we’ll see a true influenza crisis, but stay vigilant, make sure your horse is up-to-date on vaccinations, and if in doubt, raincheck on any outings scheduled for the next few days.

The Animal Health Trust offers free nasopharyngeal swab and blood tests as part of its equine influenza surveillance board, sponsored by the Horserace Betting Levy Board. To make use of the scheme, contact your vet – they’ll need to be registered with the scheme, which they can do online at equiflunet.org.uk. For up-to-the-minute updates on further outbreaks, follow @equiflunet on Twitter. 

#FlashbackFriday Video from SmartPak: Three Cheers for Chipmunk

In one of the biggest pieces of eventing news so far this year, it was revealed earlier this week that Chipmunk FRH, the prodigal talent at the forefront of Julia Krajewski‘s string, had been sold to fellow German team member Michael Jung. Like many high-profile horse transfers, this inspired a variety of visceral emotions — how exciting to see what the Maestro might do with some an impressive horse; how desperately sad to see Julia, herself an excellent competitor and the producer of the horse, lose one of her best friends.

But this is one of the tricky parts of the sport. It’s an unrealistic idealisation to imagine a world in which eventers might one day own their own horses; it’s not a sport with high profit margins, as we all know, and the support of owners is crucial to a team’s success. Unfortunately, the downside is that sometimes, for a number of reasons, owners may find themselves unable to continue in their role, and much-loved horses must change hands.

Find yourself someone who looks at you the way Julia Krajewski looks at Chipmunk FRH. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Instead of cursing the system, I’m taking a few minutes today to look at the positives instead — and those positives aren’t hard to find in the case of Julia and Chipmunk. It’s hard to pinpoint the highest points of their impressive career together, but I’ve settled on two: THAT dressage test at the World Equestrian Games, which earned them a jaw-dropping score of 19.9, and their brilliant cross country round at Aachen, which Julia names as her standout competition.

The take-away? You’re allowed to be sad for Julia, while also feeling a twinge of excitement over what might happen when the world’s most decorated event rider takes the reins on his first-ever made horse. But we mustn’t, down the line, forget the years of hard work, partnership, and sheer love for the horse that went into creating the formidable athlete that the ineffably goofy Chipmunk most certainly is. The credit — and a share of the glory — will always go to Julia.

Go Chipmunk, and go eventing.

Friday Video from SmartPak: The Most Important Job in Australia

Kangaroos decide to have their own race

Are ‘Roo’ serious? A mob of Kangaroos deciding to have their own race at Hanging Rock is about the most Aussie thing we saw all day. 🇦🇺

Posted by Racing.com on Saturday, January 26, 2019

Hello from Ocala, where I’m determinedly chasing the sunshine (having abandoned my poor horse to England’s sudden barrage of snow). It’s a funny old place, this — gloriously, unapologetically horsey, but also inexplicably covered in billboards for vasectomies and warring lawyers (who have presumably not had vasectomies, and are, instead, fuelled by testosterone and gas station tacos). Anyway, spending my days basking in the sunshine and trying to dodge the insect-infested Spanish moss has inspired me to try to find a new career, one that takes me somewhere warm and keeps me there, please, for the love of god.

Enter ‘roo-shooing.’ As you’ll see in the above video, where Northern Hemisphere eventing has loose dogs, errant spouses, and spectators in absurdly clean purple breeches, Australia’s equestrian pursuits are stymied by a different sort of pest. Bloody ROOS, my friends. But, being a resourceful bunch, they’ve figured out a solution to the problem, and it’s not actually got anything to do with swarms of astonishingly poisonous snakes nor, um, drop bears. Instead, they send heroic small children and ponies out to do battle against the armies of roos, and it sounds HILARIOUS.

Miri and Tex Lang are the wee sproglets of an eventing dad (obviously) and Hanging Rock and Kyneton racecourse’s chief roo-shooers, after an infestation of the animals led to the unfortunate cancellation of the course’s Australia Day meeting. They also might be my new heroes.

“FOILED AGAIN.”

“The last time I was doing it, like a few minutes ago, I cracked the whip and it scared most of them away, but two of them were left, and I just didn’t bother,” says Tex of his roo-shooing technique. I mean, same, buddy. Honestly, if you watch one thing today, make it this video. I LOVE this kid.

Anyway, if you need me, I’ll be stocking up on some curiously enormous American snacks ahead of my long trip to the ‘roos. #rooshooingsunnyfl

#FlashbackFriday Video from SmartPak: The Heyday of Hickstead

Forgive me for what might seem like a digression from your regularly-scheduled eventing chat, but I couldn’t resist the innumerable charms of this remarkably British video showcasing the heyday of showjumping.

The Hickstead Derby is arguably the most iconic showjumping course in the world, and in the 1960s, it was in its infancy, gaining in immense popularity after Hickstead owner Douglas Bunn sought to create his own version of the course he’d so admired in Hamburg. Mixing the best elements of top-level showjumping and cross-country prowess, it’s fast, it’s furious, and no matter which decade you watch it in, it’s always brilliant fun. These days, horses are chosen and developed as Derby specialists, but back in the ‘golden era’ of the sport, horses would tackle the Derby alongside running the gamut of showjumping classes. Follow along as Bunn chooses his next superstar and prepares him for the competition, and then spend the rest of the weekend speaking the Queen’s English, darling. Pip pip, cheerio!

Friday Video from SmartPak: Can’t Catch This

7 ways to catch a horse… plus a bonus, how it all started…

And here it is, all 7 ways to catch a horse, to better help you choose a method that may work for you (we'd be surprised 🤔) … plus a bonus one, how it all started.

Posted by Brookby Heights International on Thursday, January 17, 2019

Just in case your horse is the lone sadomasochist who delights in whizzing away from you across the field (presumably to spend an extra hour or two clenching his bumcheeks against misplaced gusts of wind), the fabulous folks of Brookby Heights International in New Zealand have treated us to this very educational video. (You may remember the Brookby crew — and remarkably bombproof denizens Pumba and Kevin — from their brilliant sales ads, which quite rightly earned owner Karen Teague the unofficial title of Sales Ad Queen.) Can’t catch the quick-heeled little bugger? There’s every chance you just haven’t stumbled upon the right method yet. Don’t worry: there’s seven to choose from.

(An EN disclaimer: maybe leave this one to the pros, eh?)

The Healing Power of Art: Jonty Evans Back on Board Top Horse

There’s no cure for the Monday blues, right? Wrong-o, friends — there most certainly is, and it comes in the form of jolly good news. Today, that news — and that bit of sunshine on a dreary Monday — comes to us from Jonty Evans, whose rehabilitation after a traumatic brain injury sustained at Tattersalls on June 3, 2018 is one we’ve all been following closely.

The boy’s done good: Jonty Evans and Cooley Rorkes Drift at Badminton. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

After spending six weeks in a coma in Dublin’s Beaumont Hospital and undertaking a lengthy period of rehabilitation, most recently under the careful guidance of the Injured Jockeys’ Fund‘s Oaksey House centre, Jonty has defied perhaps all the odds. Beginning with stints on Hartpury College’s mechanical horse, the popular rider — arguably The People’s Eventer — has since progressed onto the real thing. Today, he shared one of his most poignant pieces of news yet — he’s back on board Cooley Rorkes Drift, or ‘Art’, the horse he crowdfunded in excess of £500,000 to secure, and from whom he fell at Tattersalls.

The best view in the world? Photo courtesy of Jonty Evans.

“It’s not possible to put into words what it’s like to be on him again,” says Jonty. “It feels like I was meant to be there, and I’m so grateful for the support I’ve had.”

Art, who is jointly owned by Jonty, Jane and Fred Moss, and Elisabeth Murdoch, was kept in work in the initial stages of Jonty’s rehabilitation by fellow venter Andrew Downes. More recently, he moved back to Jonty’s Gloucestershire base and has been ridden by head girl Jane Felton.

Jonty’s continued rehabilitation has been made possible in large part as a result of the support of the David Foster Injured Riders’ Fund and the IJF‘s Oaksey House. If you’d like to contribute to either of these fantastic organisations’ efforts, visit their websites for more information. 

#FlashbackFriday Video from SmartPak: The Oddest of Olympics

know I’m not the only person who’s prone to falling down a seriously nerdy online rabbit hole. It usually happens when I’m researching a topic in earnest, and I stumble upon an article that conveniently links back to a million-and-one other articles. Before I know it, I’ve gone from writing a magazine feature about the importance of faecal egg counts to reading all about how Tom Cruise has a tooth that perfectly bisects his face. Wondering how I got from one to the next? Yeah, me too, pal. Me too.

Anyway, I was in the middle of one of these internet deep-dives the other day when I fell down an even more interesting — and relevant — well of information. I know what you’re thinking — more interesting than Tom Cruise or anything containing the word ‘faecal’? But somehow, despite the odds, it was more interesting than both of those things.

The subject matter of my (wholly incidental) choosing was the 1936 Berlin Olympics, colloquially referred to as the ‘Nazi Games’. They were most memorable, perhaps, for Jesse Owens’ historic athletics victories, which disproved the legitimacy of Adolf Hitler’s idea of Aryan genetic supremacy, and also helped to break new ground for people of colour in the US, where segregation and overt racism was still running rampant. And believe me — there are hundreds of articles and thinkpieces that are just begging to be written about what Owens accomplished. But I was on a deep dive, and there was no stopping for contemplation.

That is, until I discovered my new favourite piece of useless Olympics trivia.

I mean, we’ve all had our whoopsies, right? But one has to wonder who was responsible for stringing the cross-country course, frankly.

It might not seem particularly surprising that the German riders claimed every single gold medal across the three equestrian disciplines that year — after all, they’ve long been one of the strongest countries in the world where horse sports are concerned. But of course, that Olympics was a bit different to the rest, not least because the cross-country course harboured a few traps. There were holes in the water jumps, unseen dips in the middle of combinations, and all sorts of other tricks that turned rider after rider over — but rather curiously, not a single German rider had a problem through any of these dubious questions. Almost, some speculated, as though they’d been given an advance warning — or a secret schooling session.

It wasn’t all bad news — the equestrian competitions in 1936 clocked up some impressive and enthusiastic audiences.

 

Oh, and this happened to one of the French competitors:

The aforementioned could, perhaps, be attributed to a curious change of rules: teetotal Hitler banned the athletes from drinking any alcohol, but the Italian, French, Belgian and Dutch teams protested so vociferously that he had to lift the ban for them, and athletes from these four nations were served alcohol with every. Single. Meal.

There was also further speculation, when one of Japan’s early equestrian heroes took an uncharacteristic fall mid-course. How much of it was strategic? The truth is, perhaps, lost to history.

 

Check out this brilliant footage from the eventing at the ’36 Games — it was rough and ready, certainly, and sure, some of the riding leaves much to be desired, but each and every competitor was a military man on a military horse, and it’s remarkable to see how much of that training and skill has held up over the years. Fortunately, an enormous amount has changed since then, too — we’ve made huge advances in the sport’s safety, courses are designed and built with much stricter regulations, and the sporting world is, well, generally a bit nicer and less politicised of a place to hang out.

Strike Smartly Passes Away after Colic Complications

Tom McEwen and Strike Smartly lead going into the final phase of the Blair CCI3*. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Britain’s Tom McEwen today announced the sad passing of 12-year-old Strike Smartly, his 2017 Chatsworth CCI4*-S (CIC3*) and Camphire CCI4*-L (CCI3*) winner.

Known as Paddy, the Irish Sport Horse (Ghareeb x Ramble Way, by Diamond Lad) was bred by Patrick Fenton and campaigned as a four-year-old by Australia’s Paul Tapner, who piloted Paddy’s full brother Kilronan at CCI5*-L (CCI4*). He was then ridden by fellow British rider Daisy Berkeley, who produced him to the CCI4*-S (CIC3*) level. Paddy would jump clear at Blenheim’s prestigious eight- and nine-year-old class for 16th place in 2016, and that winter, he would make the move to Tom McEwen‘s yard.

In 2017, Paddy would record his two international wins and finish his year by jumping clear around Boekelo’s formidable cross-country course, and in 2018, he would make the big step up to CCI5*-L at Badminton. There, he made a hugely exciting impression, posting a 25.9 with three 10s in the first phase and delivering a steady clear that hinted at his enormous potential for the future. That autumn, the striking 16.3hh gelding lead Blair Castle’s CCI4*-L until the final phase, where a solitary rail moved him into a creditable second place.

Strike Smartly in action. Photo: Tom McEwen Eventing.

In an emotional Facebook statement, McEwen’s team announced today that the rising star had succumbed to complications due to colic.

“It was a pre-existing condition that caused complications over the weekend,” explains the statement. “We are sure that he would have had a huge future in this amazing sport of eventing. He will leave a deep hole in Team McEwen. However, he will be even more acutely missed by his owner Penny Barker, who rode him regularly and followed his successes with a passion. He was one in a million, who would give his heart to everything he did, asking for nothing in return except his food!”

Tom McEwen and Strike Smartly. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

“Tom feels privileged to have been allowed to ride such an amazing horse, and the team were honoured to have looked after Paddy who was the most genuine, kind and honest person we think we will ever have or meet. We are all heart broken.”

All of us at EN send our deepest condolences to Team McEwen and all those who knew, loved, or admired Paddy.

Friday Video from World Equestrian Brands: A Poignant Plea to Drivers

If you’re based in the States, you may be lucky enough to avoid riding on the roads entirely. But if you’re a UK-based rider, it’s likely that roadwork is unavoidable, as privately-owned parcels of land tend to be much smaller and access to bridlepaths is dwindling constantly. Those who ride out regularly know all too well how risky it can be: despite high-visibility clothing, frequent warning signs, and a number of campaigns, many motorists continue to drive too fast, too close, and too recklessly around horses. The results? Often frightening, and occasionally tragic.

Manchester-based student Holly Woollock was fed up of seeing the grim statistics playing out, and so she decided to take action. She created this tearjerker of a video as part of her coursework, showing the heartbreaking reality that far too many riders have had to face. A fair warning: it’ll make you have a bit of a cry — but it might also persuade your non-horsey friends to slow down when driving through the countryside. And that, frankly, is a big win for riders everywhere.

Friday Video from World Equestrian Brands: From Brixton to the Backstretch

It’s a funny few days, this, isn’t it? The period of time between Christmas and New Year’s Eve — the Chrimbo Limbo, if you’re that way inclined, or the Festive Gooch, if you’re willing to sacrifice the family-friendly (???) leanings of your mothership website — is a sort of No Man’s Land. Days of the week become suddenly meaningless; you no longer find drinking before noon problematic; you can’t remember the last time you saw a vegetable. Of course, for those of you who work with horses, it’s a bit of a different story — insofar as we’re aware, Santa didn’t deliver any elves to do the mucking out for us this year. Maybe next time, big guy.

Anyway, if you need a bit of feel-good inspiration to get you back into the swing of things before 2018 puts itself to bed, check out today’s Friday video. This one comes to us not from the eventing world, but from the racing one. The British Horseracing Authority has teamed up with the excellent Ebony Horse Club, a charity based amidst the skyscrapers of the south London neighbourhood of Brixton. With its small but mighty team of eight horses, the Ebony Horse Club provides heavily subsidised riding lessons and stable management insight to over 100 disadvantaged children each week, and many of the programme’s graduates have gone on to ride as adults and even pursue careers in the industry. In the first part of a new series, three members of the Club are invited to Ascot to enjoy a day of top-class racing, and even more importantly, a look behind the scenes at what life is really like in this fast-paced world. Check it out, and give the Ebony Horse Club’s Facebook page a like to catch the next instalment. And go eat some vegetables, please.

Friday Video from World Equestrian Brands: Get Elfed Up

Have you ever felt so truly, deeply haunted by something that everything you see reminds you of it? That’s sort of how I feel about this charming video of Ireland’s Joseph Murphy, which has now tainted everything Christmassy for me forevermore. I’m not sure if it’s the snake hips or the unceasing, sinister eye contact, but it’s left me quaking in my Ariats, and it’ll do the same thing for you. Still got presents to wrap and restorative brandy to drink? Press play, get in the Christmas spirit, and make mine a double, please.

Go Christmas. Or go, Christmas. Undecided.

Friday Video from World Equestrian Brands: Can You Handle the Cup of Tea Challenge?


Lord knows we all love a challenge, but with ice buckets no longer an appealing option and Keke, frankly, a little bit played out, we’ve been stuck in a bit of a rut, quite frankly.

Enter Jake Tarrant, who can be found lurking the interwebz under the guise of Little Bentley Eventing. British eventer Jake is currently busy making a bit of a name for himself on these shores, as he stars in the current season of Horse & Country TV’s Omega Equine All Star Academy. Yes, Americans, we’re so utterly horse-bonkers over here that we not only have an entire channel dedicated to ponies doing various forms of prancing, we have an equestrian reality show, too. Move aside, Kardashians, for this one is legendary coach Pammy Hutton‘s domain.

Anyway, for those of you who aren’t in the know, Pammy’s dishy and delightful dressage rider son Charlie showed off a rather impressive bit of sitting trot on a recent episode, demonstrating that he could, in fact, hold a cup of tea while cruising around the arena. His hips most certainly do not lie, pals. Now, Jake is determined to see us all embarrass ourselves trying to emulate him, and he’s kickstarted the Cup of Tea Challenge. The premise is simple, if not easy: can you ride while holding a cup of tea, without covering yourself with it? Pass us something stronger, please.

Have you given it a go? Post your video on Facebook with the hashtag #LBECupOfTeaChallenge — we promise not to laugh! (We categorically do not.)

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

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“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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