Each passing day of the Pau CCI4* is like one of those Etch A Sketch toys that you erase by turning it up upside down and shaking it. Like, go ahead, spend the better part of your day creating a perfect lineographic Eiffel Tower, we’re just going to disappear it tomorrow and draw something else in its place.
Who was leading dressage on Thursday? I barely remember. Only two of yesterday’s top 10 riders are still in the top 10 after today’s competition — overnight leader Izzy Taylor of Great Britain with Be Touchable, who’ve been relegated to 7th, and formerly 2nd placed Dutchman Peter Flarup with Frankie, who now sit 10th.
Our top positioned American pair, Hallie Coon and Celien, did their part to pull the tablecloth out from yesterday’s scoreboard; the mare conveniently chose her first four-star to crack the 20s for her first time ever (29.1) at an FEI event, propelling them into 8th. Phillip Dutton and I’m Sew Ready sit 18th on a 31.0, Kim Severson and Cooley Cross Border are now 28th on a 32.8, Boyd Martin and Steady Eddie are 33rd on a 33.9, and U.S. based Aussie Ryan Wood and Woodstock Bennett are 36th on a 34.1. More on this lot further down the page.
First, let’s unveil our fresh new set of leaders. The Pau dressage leaderboard has been sketched and re-sketched, and while it’s certain to get shaken into a dim resemblance of itself again tomorrow, we’ll take a moment to recap Friday’s plot twists.
Great Britain’s Oliver Townend and Cillnabradden Evo, a 12-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (S Creevagh Ferro x Willow Garden, by King Henry) owned by Sally-Anne Egginton, swooped in with a score of 22.7 to take the lead. It’s the second most frightening dressage score they’ve posted all year, bested only by a 19.0 in the CIC3* at Gatcombe Park in August.
“He’s very good; he’s become very professional over the past year in this department,” Oliver says. “It felt like I was in control of pretty much every stride in there, and then it was my job just to press the right buttons in the right places. He was beautiful to ride and he gave me his complete brain and body.”
This is the horse’s four-star debut. Over the past few months Oliver and ‘Gary’ have tended to end their weekends on either a win or an R, but likewise Pau is a go-big-or-go-home sort of course so it may well suit them.
“I’ve worked on him a lot in the different departments, and this week’s just a find-out mission. I’m here on holiday with Gary, who’s done an awful lot for us. We’ve worked on an awful lot of different things in terms of stamina, and so it’s really just a find-out mission on whether we can do this bit or not, but I’m happy enough so far.”
Of Pierre Michelet’s cross country course, Oliver describes it as “very, very serious. It’s a long way, very skinny, and a lot of questions from beginning to end. It’s a proper four-star.”
In second is reigning world champion Ros Canter of Great Britain and Zenshera, her own 14-year-old Dutch gelding (Guidam x Telvera, by Matterhorn), on a score of 24.1.
“I’m delighted with him,” Ros says of his test. “In the last two years he’s really become very consistent in the dressage. He’s often gotten a bit tense in this phase, but he’s really settled and grown up. I’m very proud of him.”
Ros says she was particularly over the moon with his flying changes. “I get them very well in three-star tests now when there are only two, but this is the first time I’ve gotten every single one when there are four. He really waited for me today, which is good. His walk is always his weakest, and always will be, and he wanted to have a little bit of a jog by the end of the walk today, but he held it together OK.”
Pau marks Zenshera’s fourth four-star — they placed 7th here in 2017, and were 9th at Luhmühlen last year and 3rd there this summer. Ros points out that there are a lot of boxes to tick tomorrow: “There are really big bits, and there are really technical bits, and some bits are big and technical. Every single fence is jumpable; it’s just a long way around with a lot of intensity, and keeping rider and horse on the ball all the time — I think that’s the real test.”
Today saw a case of same place, different horse for Andreas Ostholt. The German was 3rd yesterday on So Is Et, but that horse has since been jostled out of the top 10 and replaced by Andreas’ second ride Corvette 31. The 10-year-old Westphalian mare (Chacco-Blue x Love Me Picture XX x Mytens XX), owned by Rudolf Westmeyer, scored a 25.0. Might they flip-flop once again tomorrow? So Is Et has two top-10 four-star finishes on his record, while Pau marks Corvette 31’s debut at the level.
Fourth-placed Tim Price and Ascona M were among the earliest tests of the day and were quick to turn the leaderboard on its head with their score of 25.3.
“It’s a bit early for me, really, this time of day!” Tim says. “She’s actually been really hot in the mornings here because of the racehorses, but each day she’s gotten a little better, and today I was able to just come in and ignore them, and she did as well, thankfully. She was really good; she’s an edgy mare, and people have seen her do some amazing stuff and some not-so-amazing stuff — she’s outrageously good or just plain outrageous!”
For her debut four-star, Ascona M opted for the former. “It’s a new level of test for her, and for her it’s always just been about allowing her to go the way she goes naturally,” Tim says. “There’s nothing fake about it. If she has a big mistake it’s costly, so I just try to get her in a place where she can go about her business and then hopefully it’s a good score.”
The only glitch in their test came at the walk, and Tim calls it a “genuine mistake. I went for it a bit in the first part, which is the extended walk, and gave her a little tap, and she reacted with a trot step, but she came straight back into a nice extended walk.”
Ascona M, a 10-year-old mare (Cassaro x Naomi, by Carpaccio), owned by Suzanne Houchin, Lucy and Ben Sangster, and Sir Peter Vela, is a hand-me-down from wife Jonelle, who had Tim riding the horse while she was pregnant.
On how he managed to keep the ride: “She literally shook Jonelle off her back! There was Cekatinka, who was literally just an outright gift from Jonelle, my beloved — but this horse was a troublesome mare, and her and Jonelle simply didn’t see eye-to-eye. That’s just a mark of Jonelle’s professionalism, that she has a very talented mare and it would be very easy to sit there and work away, but she saw an opportunity to give her to me.”
Rounding out the top five on a score of 25.5 is Frenchman Thibault Fournier with Siniani de Lathus, a 12-year-old Selle Français gelding (Fadigo Du Hill SF x Galice) owned by Marie-Caroline Barbier. “The horse was really relaxed,” Thibault says. “It was only my second test with a simple snaffle, so I have a few more things to change, some things that can be better, but I’m happy about this test.”
Now, circling back to our side of the pond: We’re terribly proud of top placed U.S. pair Hallie Coon and Celien, for whom a four-star debut at Pau is the grand of finale of a summer spent abroad on a 2018 Karen Stives Eventing Endowment Fund Grant. Hallie and the 11-year-old Dutch mare (Tenerife Vol x R Quicksilver, by Hamlet), owned by Helen Coon and the rider, threw down a personal best score of 29.1 which saw them into 8th place.
“I don’t usually try something new at a four-star, but I took a risk and it paid off!” Hallie says. “I got her a bit fired up and active in the hind end and pushing — I’m always a bit scared of it, because she can get a bit hot in the arena, so I decided to take a risk. I was sick of being mediocre, and I thought I’d either be really wonderful or really terrible! So we took a risk and obviously it paid off.”
The story of Hallie and Celien is a neat one, and you’ll want to check back by this afternoon for a full feature on this pair.
“I bought her off a video as a coming 6-year-old, jumping around as a blur in the rain, and had to have her,” Hallie says. “She’s extraordinary; she went from nothing to Advanced in about a year, because no challenge was great enough, and she just had to have it thrown at her or she’d get bored. So now she’s been at three-star level for a while now and she’s really experienced there, so here we are!”
Phillip Dutton and I’m Sew Ready, a 14-year-old Dutch gelding (Lupicor x Jarda, by Elcaro) owned by Kristine and John Norton, sit 18th on a 31.0. ‘Jackson’ averages around the 30 mark in the first phase but has shown himself to be quite capable of dipping midway into the 20s.
“Obviously I’d like to do better, but he really tried hard and it’s close to as good as we could have done, I think,” Phillip says. “He’s a talented horse; he’s a little bit laid-back and quiet and not that into working all the time, so I’ve got to try to encourage him to get a bit motivated all the time, but he’s a cool horse and he’s really well-balanced. He’s a good jumper and I’m really lucky to have him.”
Jackson has a competitive record and four-star experience, including a 10th place result in his four-star debut at Kentucky last year and a 13th this spring. But Pau cross country is a different ballpark from the bluegrass.
“It’s obviously a lot different to what we’re used to,” Phillip says. “It’s not super big or anything like that, but there are a lot of tricky lines and you need the horse to be thinking forward but still listening to the rider and expecting what’s coming up in front of them.”
Boyd Martin and Steady Eddie, a 15-year-old New Zealand Thoroughbred gelding (Jetball x Tudnella) owned by Pierre Colin, Denise Lahey, and George and Gretchen Wintersteen, delivered a score of 33.9, good for 33rd place.
Boyd says the horse has been working well all week and called the test “typical Steady Eddie.”
“He’s a real Thoroughbred,” he says. “He got in there and managed the trot really well, but as soon as I struck into canter he was thinking about going to the racecourse next door, so I just had to hang in there and do my best to get through the canter work. That saying, it’s not a bad score, and I think the judges were quite kind to me.”
Certainly, though, Pau is no dressage show. Tomorrow will be a good day to have a bit of four-star mileage in one’s pocket, even better a top 10 finish at Burghley, where the pair added just two time cross country time penalties to a dressage score of 32.0 last year.
“It’s an unbelievably difficult cross country course and come tomorrow I think the dressage will be long forgotten,” Boyd says.
U.S.-based Aussie 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, are 36th on a 34.1.
“It was our best score at a three-star let alone a four-star, so it was great,” Ryan says. “All around he was very obedient, he got the changes, he was pooping in the extended and broke to canter, which was his only mistake, but you can’t blame him for that.”
Indeed you cannot. Since man domesticated horses in 3000 BC, we have trained them to perform all manner of nonsense trickery, yet pooping on command remains elusive.
Pau is Bennett’s first four-star and, as many riders have pointed out, Pierre Michelet’s course is the deep end of the swimming pool — sink or swim. Ryan’s take: “I think it looks like the most difficult course I’ve ever seen. It will be interesting.”
Fortunately Bennett, with whom Ryan was named as reserve for the 2018 Australian World Equestrian Games squad, is an old cross country soul with nary a single FEI cross country jumping penalty on his record. “He’s a good, honest horse, and he’s had a good preparation.”
Here’s to safe, happy cross country rounds for all tomorrow. Until the Etch A Sketch is shaken again ….
Pau Dressage Top 10: