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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.”
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.
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 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.”
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!
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, 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.
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.
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, 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.
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.
“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: