A Party in the Pyrenees: Your 2023 Pau CCI5* Form Guide

And so we arrive at the end of all things — or, at least, the end of the 2023 line-up of five-stars. Our final hurrah at Les Etoiles de Pau sees us in the not-quite-so-sunny south of France, where 55 horses and riders from ten nations will tackle this most technical of Pierre Michelet tracks in the shadow of the Pyrenees — and to help ease you into this week’s competition, which begins tomorrow with the first horse inspection, we’ve got all the intel you need on each and every single one of them, thanks to our British trio of writers.

So, without further adieu, let’s get down to business and meet the partnerships who’ll be vying for a great result to cap their year off. Allons-y!

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Lea Siegl and DSP Fighting Line. Photo by Shannon Brinkman Photography.

Lea Siegl and DSP Fighting Line

Sixteen-year-old German Sport Horse gelding (Stalypso x Pia, by Laretto Diavolo). Owned by Marianne Mühlböck. Groomed by Julia Öhner.

Lea Siegl may be young, but she sure is mighty. With an Olympics, World Championships and two CCI5* starts under her belt — and a string of seven horses competing internationally — it would be naive to underestimate her chances here this week. She comes to Pau with DSP Fighting Line, her Tokyo and Pratoni ride, for a second crack at 5* with the gelding. They’re rerouting from Luhmuhlen, where they retired out on cross country; they hadn’t picked up any penalties but Lea knows the horse best — truly, she’s brought him right through the levels — and decided to save him for another day. So here they are at Pau. 

We cannot have a form guide about this rider without mentioning Tokyo. She went there as the youngest competitor in the field at just 22, and although that garnered a lot of attention, Lea told Horse and Hound at the time that it didn’t phase her in the least. Despite her young age, she wasn’t there to make up the numbers; she finished 15th individually with ‘Fighty’, adding just 2.4 cross country time and a pole in the show jumping to her dressage of 32.6. What a feeling it must have been to compete at the Olympics with her Junior and Young Rider horse, and to do so in such fine style. They were called up to represent Austria again when the World Championships in Pratoni came around, where they finished 25th. 

Although this is Lea’s third official 5* start, she’s still looking for a completion, after retiring at Luhmuhlen this year with Fighty and withdrawing Cupido P at the second horse inspection there last year on her debut at the level. She comes here with Fighty in great form though, with a win in the 4*-S Nations Cup at Montelibretti this season – where they very nearly finished on their PB dressage score of 24.5, adding just 0.4 cross country time – and a third place finish in the 4*-S Nations Cup at Arville in August, again almost finishing on their dressage, but not quite – they added just 0.8 time penalties to their first-phase of 28.9 there. They can clearly put down sub-30 results in the dressage at 4*, but at their only 5* run it was a 39.9 for them. But eventing isn’t a dressage competition and Lea says herself, the horse is very fast and a good jumper. She’s not wrong. There are no cross country penalties on Fighty’s record since 2020, and you have to go back another two seasons to find any others. They’re speedy, too. Any time penalties the do have are generally single figures, and often just a decimal place. They carry their cross country jumping accuracy into the show jumping, almost. It’s probably about a 50/50 between one pole or none, but they’ve been clear in their two international runs this season, so let’s hope for more of the same as they aim to put not only a 5* completion on their record, but a competitive one. 


Julien Despontin and Honeyblue

Ten-year-old Belgian Sport Horse gelding (Rosenprinz D x Annie, by Dutch Capitol). Owned and bred by Didier Hergot. 

This is a first five-star for sweet Honeyblue, but not for Julian, who last rode at the level in 2016, when he piloted Waldano 36 to nineteenth place at Luhmühlen. He’s also been to Pau before, with the same horse, finishing 14th in 2014, and so he’ll be delighted to return to have another crack at the whole shebang with this exciting young horse.

This is a relatively new partnership: Julien took the reins in early 2021, after the horse had been produced to CCI2*-S by fellow Belgian competitor Julia Schmitz. He’s taken his time to really get the measure of the gelding, and that’s been paying dividends this year; their first-phase scores are dropping from the high-30s to the low-30s, they’re getting more reliable and quicker across the country, though they’ve not yet made the time at four-star, and their showjumping… well, that bit’s still a work in progress, but they’ve had some smart clears.

Pau will be Honeyblue’s first long-format event since 2021, when he finished fifth in his CCI4*-L debut at Strzegom, and so this’ll be largely an educational and fact-finding mission for Julien, who’s here to give his horse experience and exposure as Belgium heads into a very exciting 2024. They’d be outliers for a shot at the team in Paris next year, but if they can deliver the goods this week and record a smart finish, they could rocket themselves into contention.


Luc Chateau and Troubadour Camphoux. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Luc Chateau and Troubadour Camphoux

Sixteen-year-old Selle Français gelding (Idem de B’Neville x Gold In Blue, by Veganum). Owned by E.A.R.L. Haras des Chateaux and Laure Sudreau.

France’s Luc Chateau comes forward with Troubadour Camphoux for a second go at their home-soil CCI5*. The gelding was originally produced by Spain’s Alexis Gomez before being brought up the levels by fellow French rider Didier Dhennin, with Luc taking the reins in early 2018. He made his top-level debut at Pau in 2020, and came away with a top-20 finish; the following season he placed fourth at Luhmuhlen, where he finished on his dressage of 39.8. 

It’s not likely that we’ll see this combination at the business-end of proceedings after the dressage – at 4* they’re generally mid- to high-30s; at 5* it’s securely at the higher end of the scale. But at Le Pin au Haras in 2021, ‘Troubadour’ showed that he’s got it in him to be closer to the 30-mark, putting down a career best of 32.5 in the 4*-S there. Whilst he may seem average in the dressage ring, he’s far from it out on the cross country. In 25 FEI runs, he’s had cross country jumping penalties on just three occasions, and a missed flag once. He’s pretty speedy too, generally adding just a few time penalties, if any. This is certainly a combination that should be a leaderboard climber on Saturday. And the climb probably won’t stop there as his careful jumping style continues over the colored poles – their clear round rate is truly enviable; in seventeen FEI runs as a combination they have rolled just a single pole. So it’ll be ‘allez’ all the way for this home crowd pair as they race their way – hopefully – to another excellent 5* finish.

Based in Cour-Cheverny, Luc and his wife Caroline run Haras des Chateaux, a riding club and school from which they also run their breeding program. The stallion at the center of the enterprise, Propriano de l’Ebat, who Luc competed until 2018, has done them proud this year with a foal out of Michael Jung’s famous Kentucky-winning mare, fischerRocana.

Florian Ganneval and Blue Bird de Beaufour. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Florian Ganneval and Blue Bird de Beaufour

Twelve-year-old Selle Français gelding (Diamant de Semilly x Macy Van Leut, by Elanville). Owned by the rider. Bred by Eric Levallois.

There’s a few heroes in this field for the amateur rider, and full-time farrier Florian — say that three times fast — is one of them. This is his fourth five-star start with Blue Bird de Beaufor and his third Pau; they finished just outside the top ten on their debut in 2021, having picked up 11 penalties for activating a safety device, and were eliminated last year after being pulled up on course when the horse began to tire. They completed Luhmühlen this year with a steady clear, and did the same in the CCI4*-S at Lignieres that they used for prep last month.

Florian, who spent part of 2022 in the UK, refers to Blue Bird de Beaufour as a “good student” who aims to please in his work. On the flat, he works to keep the horse engaged and in front of the leg, naming him as a bit on a lazy side in this phase. While this pair has squeaked into the 20s in the past, at the 3* level, they’re more likely to earn a low-to-mid-30s mark at this level to start off their competition. Luhmühlen proved to them that they can deliver the goods on Saturday, so a steady clear will be their aim. Showjumping is something of a bogey phase for them; they’ve never had a clear round in an FEI competition, and Pau’s showjumping is notoriously tough, so if they can repeat the one-rail round they had in 2021, they’ll be delighted.

Camille Lejeune and Dame Decoeur Tardonne. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Camille Lejeune and Dame Decoeur Tardonne

Ten-year-old Selle Français mare (Lando x Soade Tardonne, by Contender). Owned by Sarah Gospodnetic and the rider. Bred by Gilbert Galliot. 

We last saw charismatic Frenchman Camille at a five-star in 2019, when he brought his seasoned former top-level horse Tahina des Isles to Badminton, though they retired on course after some issues, despite having previously jumped classy clears there, at Burghley, and at Pau. Now, his post-pandemic return to the top sees him partnered with a much less experienced partner — but one who’s been seriously impressive since we first saw her at Le Lion d’Angers as a seven-year-old, when she finished fifth in the world.

That was in 2020, and in 2021 and early 2022, she got an education at four-star, which saw some blips added to her record — the same thing we saw when she first stepped up to three-star, and so she’s evidently a horse who learns a lot from mistakes, which isn’t a bad thing to have at all. Since establishing herself at four-star, she’s been on a serious streak of great results, first picking up two consecutive top-ten finishes when moving, briefly, back down to three-star to consolidate, then immediately nabbing herself three consecutive top tens at four-star when stepping back up. One of those, a second-place finish in the Nations Cup at Jardy in July, saw her add just 0.4 time to her first-phase score, proving that she’s got all the makings of a very, very good competitor. She had a slightly steadier run — though still a clear one — in last month’s CCI4*-S at Lignieres, and now, she’ll make a step up to the top that could be very exciting indeed — or, it could be another foundational learning experience that helps her come out in 2024 as a seriously smart five-star horse.

Expect, in any case, to see her start the week in the 30s — low-to-mid, rather than high — and end it, quite probably, on a clear, though she did have two uncharacteristic rails at Lignieres. She’s naturally very speedy, and Camille will need to decide whether it’ll do her more favours to run her at her naturally high cruising speed or intentionally slow her down to give her more thinking time, and that decision-making process is, to us, anyway, as interesting as anything else.

Maxime Livio and Carouzo Bois Marotin at Kentucky. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Maxime Livio and Carouzo Bois Marotin

Eleven-year-old Selle Français gelding (Kannan GFE – Orchidee de Mai, by Flipper d’Elle). Bred by Ophelie Mouflet. Owned by S.C. Soixante Seize Et Compagnie, Gilles Saiagh, and Celine Fronteau. Groom: Mathilde Montginoux.

This will be a third CCI5* for the supremely talented and gusty Carouzo Bois Marotin, who stepped up to the level last fall at Pau, finishing seventh after rocketing up the leaderboard nearly 30 places following cross country. They then crossed the pond to Kentucky this spring and finished sixth, this time adding nothing to their dressage score.

Dressage would be the phase the French Olympian is hoping to crack with this excellent two-phase performer, and he remarked at that Pau debut that he knew the gelding was well-capable of a sub-30 score at this level – but so far, he’s been on a 35-point-something at both appearances. On cross country, you wouldn’t want to bet against Maxime on the clock — and having the experience at Pau and Kentucky, where he felt the gelding still pulling on the bridle as he came through the finish, he’ll know he can really test the mettle and go for a competitive finish again. This is another chance to prove the horse’s worth before Paris, and if they can whittle away at that dressage score, they should be well worthy of consideration — so expect to see them working towards a top-five finish this week.

Cedric Lyard and Unum De’Or. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Cedric Lyard and Unum De’or

Fifteen-year-old Anglo-Arabian gelding (Yarlands Summer Song – Fee du Logis, by Prince Ig’Or). Owned and bred by Marie-Christine Duroy-de Lauriere and the rider.

Still owned by breeder Marie-Christine Duroy-de Lauriere, Unum de’Or is a veritable member of the Lyard family, having been produced for the majority of his eventing career by the French Olympian.

This Anglo-Arab gelding made the step up to the 5* level in 2021, with Cedric opting for Pau as the horse’s debut. It was a successful first trip – the pair finished ninth overall. While an early 2022 trip to Badminton would eventually end up in retirement on cross country, the pair rebounded nicely to contest Burghley later in the year. Unum de’Or made good on that bet, finishing inside the top 20. He would have finished higher, would it not have been for a couple of unfortunate poles down on the final day of competition.

This summer, they added another new 5* venue to their CV with a start in Germany at Luhmühlen. They began the week with a 35 – basically their average at the level — and then ran clear and quick-ish, adding just 7.2 time penalties on Saturday. Sunday’s showjumping saw them knock two rails, as they had at Burghley, but this time, it was with good reason: as they picked up the canter in the ring, a spectator opened an umbrella (no, it wasn’t raining…) just feet from the horse’s nose as he was cantering towards the rail, and he was so panicked that he spent tens of long seconds rearing and spinning on the spot while Cedric struggled to calm him. He then regrouped to jump around the tough course, but was visibly unsettled and lacking in focus. This week’s course will be no less tough, but hopefully, the crowd at the ringside will be a bit more conscious of horses’ flight reactions.

Gaspard Maksud and Kan-Do 2. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Gaspard Maksud and Kan-Do 2

Nine-year-old British-bred gelding (breeding unrecorded). Owned by the rider. 

Just to make everything really confusing this week, there are two horses in this field called ‘Kan-Do’ – though quite helpfully, this one, a five-star debutant piloted by British-based Frenchman Gaspard, has helpfully been dubbed the sequel. This is an exciting, though green, horse, and this week’s trip will be more about garnering valuable experience over a bigger, tougher course — both for the gelding and for Gaspard himself, who was sixth at last year’s World Championships but hasn’t yet contested a five-star.

Kan-Do ran in the CCI4*-L at Blenheim last month, which was his four-long debut, and he picked up 20 penalties on course, so will be looking to consolidate the experience he gained there and finish the season on a positive, educational note. He’s a high-30s horse, not super-fast, yet, and is prone to a couple of rails, but this week isn’t about being competitive — it’s about laying foundations for the future.

Gaspard Maskud and Zaragoza. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Gaspard Maksud and Zaragoza

Ten-year-old British-Bred mare (Cevin Z x Saracen’s Pride, by Saracen Hill). Owned by Martin Thurlow and Jane Young. Bred by Jane Young. 

Debutant Zaragoza, or Zoe, might be tackling her first five-star this week, but she’s nevertheless one of the most exciting horses in this field, having finished best of the French at last year’s World Championships in a final sixth place. That championship debut for both horse and rider came just months after Gaspard’s first appearance on the French team, which came at CHIO Aachen with this excellent mare. They were very competitive in the dressage and looked great for 95% of the cross-country, but an exuberant leap into the water in sight of the finish line saw them end their weekend early. They learned a lot from that and came back strong at Haras du Pin, finishing fourth in a seriously hot field of over 110 entries, before heading to Pratoni and showing everyone what they’re made of. This year, they’ve had three FEI runs: in incredibly tough conditions in Chatsworth’s Nations Cup, they finished fifth; in Aston le Walls CCI4*, they were second, and then, at the European Championships a couple of months ago, they finished eighth individually and team bronze medallists, once again in seriously tough conditions. This week might be a bit damp at Pau, but the sandy going means that no matter what, there’ll be great ground to run on — not that Zoe needs it, evidently. Look for them to start the week in the high-20s — though they did move into the 30s at the Europeans — and impress across the country on their level debut. Showjumping will likely see them tip a pole, but this should be a great debut and another strong effort in the books ahead of a bid for a spot at Paris next year.

Gaspard has been based in the UK for a decade, and first came over to work for Andrew Nicholson before going on to Sam Griffiths’s place. Now, he has his own spot in Surrey, near Pippa Funnell, but eventing wasn’t his first sporting dream — he was initially keen on playing rugby, but “I didn’t really have the size and when the other players started to think I was the ball, it was time for me to change sports!”

Arthur Marx and Church’Ile. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Arthur Marx and Church’ile

Eleven-year-old Selle Français gelding (Grafenstolz – Ile d’Ohe, by Apache d’Adriers). Owned by Philippe Marx. Bred by Phillippe Marx.

It’ll be a third five-star for both Church’ile and 30-year-old Arthur, who’ll have lots of trot up photos taken of him this week for EN’s social media, if you pick up what we’re putting down. They completed their debut at Pau last year in 23rd place despite an educational 20 penalties across the country, and this spring, they headed to Badminton, though had a rider fall in those extraordinarily tough conditions. That 20 here last year was actually their first whoopsy in an international since 2019, but it kicked off a bit of a string of them, with the Badminton fall followed up by a 20 and a missed flag at Aachen. Now, though, they’re back on better form, with a clear inside the time at Arville’s CCIO4*-S in August.  They won’t lead the first phase, with their typical mid-to-high 30s dressage, but if the third time can be the charm where the clear is concerned at five-star, they’re generally achingly good at staying on that come cross-country day: in 22 FEI runs, they’ve made the time thirteen times. Allez, allez! Showjumping can be a bit of a bugbear for them, though, and their two rails down at Pau was a good day in the office for them — we’ve seen them take as many as six before, although they’re usually averaging more like three.

Church’ile is actually a Marx family homebred: Philippe, Arthur’s father, rode both his dam and grand-dam. He’s also one of a number of Grafenstolz offspring in this field, which makes him a half brother to the likes of Ros Canter’s Lordships Graffalo, among others. Not a shabby family reunion, this.


Helen Bates and Carpe Diem

13 year old Hanoverian gelding (Contendro – Elfi by Escudo I) Owned by Christine and Helen Bates. Groomed by Lydia Swan.

Helen Bates will be living her dream this weekend at Pau when she and Carpe Diem make their 5* debut. “It means the world to even be here, we’ve been dreaming about it for so long,” she said in the days before the event, referring to Carpe Diem – ‘Diego’ – as her “horse of a lifetime.” Helen and Diego are accompanied on their French adventure by Holly Woodhead’s former groom, Lydia Swan, who has taken a holiday from her ‘normal’ non-horsey job to make the trip. Helen has had Diego since he was a 4 year old, though they had a less than rosy start to their relationship. He tried to dump her not once, but twice, when she first sat on him, but she still found something she liked and bought him anyway — a decision that’s paid dividends since.

They soon put their differences aside, as a scroll through their results demonstrates. He has finished in the top 25 in all but 2 of his starts this season, pulling off a double jumping clear every time. Last season, he had just one rail down – hist first since 2017 – and made the step up to CCI4*-L in fine style, finishing in the top 20 at Millstreet off the back of yet another double clear. His step up to CCI3*-L was even more impressive back in 2021 when he finished 2nd in Lignières with a double clear. So the jumping phases this weekend should be a piece of cake to Diego, though the dressage may be a different story– “he loves the jumping phases, but he finds flying changes tricky,” Lydia admits.

Still, his recent marks have shown an improvement from last season, and are now averaging at the lower end of the 30s. Indeed, he even broke that much coveted barrier into the 20s on his last outing at Oasby — though that was at Intermediate, where there aren’t any changes required — proving that he’s got a lot the right stuff for the first phase. That combined with his usual prowess in the jumping phases should mean that not only will Helen be realising her dream of starting at a 5*, but also finishing it, and in fine style too. We love a fairy-tale ending, so here’s hoping that Helen and Diego get theirs this week!

Alex Bragg and Ardeo Premier. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Alex Bragg and Ardeo Premier

Ten year old Irish Sports Horse gelding (Hold Up Premier – Playgirl by Cruising) Owned by Debbie and Neil Nuttall. Groomed by Sarah Whatley.

Alex has had the ride on Ardeo Premier – or Eddie, as he’s known at home – since he was a fresh faced four-year-old. However, their competition career didn’t get off to the best start – Alex fell off between fence 3 and 4 in his first event as a five-year-old, after a child jumped out of tree next to the track. Still, they soon put this early blip behind them and have a roster of solid results together, right the way through the levels. As Alex says, “he’s an unassuming character, who doesn’t really stand out, but he has always quietly ticked along and kept performing, pulling in some consistent result.” This includes a top 10 placing in his first CCI2*-L, 4th in the Seven-Year-Old World Championships in Lion d’Angers with a double clear inside the time, and a top 20 placing in the 8/9 year old CCI4*-S at Blenheim.

He stepped up to CCI4*L  last year in similar style, pulling off yet another top 20 result at Millstreet with another double clear. Consistent is Eddie’s middle name, it would seem, and he’s fast too, rarely picking up more than a few time faults — and his show jumping record is equally impressive. Rarely does he have more than one down, something which will certainly stand him in good stead on the final day at Pau. This will be the first 5* for Eddie, but given his previous form, it shouldn’t be too much of a problem for this impressive young horse. Still only 10, he was named as direct reserve for the Nations Cup team in Jardy last year and came home in 12th place.

Owned by long term supporters of Team Bragg, Debbie and Neil Nuttall, he is as fond of a nap as he is of cross country: “He can often be found snoozing after his lunchtime feed, head buried in the banks of his bed, fast asleep,” Alex says. Hopefully dreaming of his future successes! He won’t be at the top of the leader board after dressage – his scores tend to average mid to high 30s, though they are ever improving and indeed, he has broken the 20 barrier on the odd occasion, too. Given his speedy turn of foot and propensity for a double clear, we could see him climb the leaderboard after the jumping phases to add yet another solid result to his record. Perhaps this unassuming chap could be the next big thing — Eddie just doesn’t know it yet. 

Phil Brown and Harry Robinson. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Phil Brown and Harry Robinson

Fifteen-year-old British Sport Horse gelding (Laytender x Jodie, by Ontario). Bred by W.E. Robinson. Owned by Orbit Electrical Services Ltd.

This is a reroute from a sophomore Burghley for Phil and Harry, who have recently relocated home to Yorkshire after spending years based so close to Burghley that Phil could see the house from his arena. Talk about motivation on those tough days! They made their debut there last year, delivering a steady clear for 27th place and enjoying the week perhaps more than anyone else, but this year, they retired after picking up 40 penalties on course — perhaps a knock-on effect from a tough final prep run at Hartpury CCI4*-S, where they picked up 20 penalties. Now, they’ll both make their Pau debut instead, which is about as different a track to Burghley as you could possibly find.

Phil very nearly made his five-star debut years prior to 2022 with another horse, but an injury put paid to those plans. He’d never have guessed that his biggest career moves would have come with the splashy-faced and charmingly-named Harry Robinson, a horse who was sold earlier in his career but ultimately found his way back to Phil because he wasn’t very easy to get on with. In hindsight, it looks a bit like fate that the pair found each other again, and lovely Phil’s army of supporters are certainly backing that bit of kismet all the way to the finish line. He now rides Harry for family friends Nigel and Susie Bushby, and you’ll no doubt hear their voices among the cheers of the enthusiastic French crowd.

They won’t be fighting for the win here – they’ll start in the high-30s, though delivered a high-40s score in their final FEI run at Hartpury CCI4*-S this month and a 41.1 at Burghley. But a steady clear run is totally within their wheelhouse, and Phil, who’s an admirably horse-first rider, will only be worrying about cutting down on the clock if he feels his ‘not very blood’ horse is capable of doing so comfortably.

Ros Canter and Izilot DHI. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Ros Canter and Izilot DHI

Ten-year-old KWPN gelding (Zavall VDL x Un, by Cavalier). Owned by Alex Moody and the rider.

Talented Isaac, who makes his five-star debut this week, is an odd soul — he’s incredibly spooky, and so Badminton winner Ros has taken a horse-first, analytical approach to keeping him happy and on-side.

“It’s certainly not about drilling him with hours and hours of work,” she told us at Blenheim last month, where Isaac won the CCI4*-L. “It’s just gradually getting him in the right place. Some days I just get off him and he goes back in the field, and when he comes back in we do another 15 minutes. He came in on Tuesday, and the weather was bad and it was much colder, and his eye was much sharper. When we were tacking up, he was on edge. When I rode him, he was on edge. And so I decided I’d come here on Wednesday via cross-country schooling, because out in a field, he tends to be more settled and I can just give him a pop and play with him. You maybe wouldn’t do that with most horses on the day the competition starts, but it wasn’t a cross-country school to train him, it was a cross-country school just to let him relax, to jump, to settle his mind so he stops spooking at silly things. So it’s just all about understanding him, and everybody on the floor, as well, has quite a job to do with him. If he’s in a bit of a sharp, feral mood, there’s no point getting frustrated. You’ve just got to give him all the time in the world. And if it takes two hours, it takes two hours. It can’t be, ‘we’ve only got 20 minutes, so that’s all we’ve got’ with him.”

That win came after she made an effort to school him near the spooky zebra wings in the warm-up — but Isaac being Isaac, he still pretended he’d never seen them in his life when he spotted them in the showjumping arena, but Ros ably rode him through his lookiness. It was a big step forward for the horse, who’d led Bramham’s CCI4*-L after the dressage earlier in the summer, but then had a run-out just three fences into the course when he took offence to a jump that looked like a colourful line of ice-cream cones. Ros reckons those moments will still come —  “this time of year is much easier for me, once he’s run a bit, the sun’s been on his back, and he’s been out in the field all the time — things like that. I think the spring will be difficult again next year, when he could easily go out to his first Open Intermediate and run out of something because there’s a wooden duck or something in the wrong place. That’s Isaac for you, and I’m not sure that’s going to change anytime soon. But I’m starting to get the hang of how to build him up for a big one where I really need his brain in the right place. I don’t think that’s something that I can have every week of his life.”

Pau is a pretty looky, spooky, atmospheric track, which might not seem, at first glance, like it would suit a horse like Isaac — but we reckon that’s exactly why Ros has chosen it. She knows he’s at his most rideable later in the year; she knows, too, that his confidence will have been boosted by Blenheim. Now, she’ll want to give him more exposure to scenes outside his comfort zone, as she did at spooky Boekelo in late 2022, where he ultimately finished sixth. This tactic is so interesting to watch unfold, and the time and diligence she’s put into unpacking this oddball horse is well worth it, because on his day, he’s one of the great talents in the sport right now: he’s already got eight wins out of fourteen FEI starts, he’s a low-20s scorer that has gone as low as 18 at four-star, and he’s only ever had one rail in an FEI event, and that was his very first international. He should lead the dressage, and he could well win this whole thing — he just needs to not bat an eyelid at ten million screaming French people, the occasional water rat sighting, or the random brightly-coloured fences that can pop up here and there on the Pau course. Simples.

Ros Canter and Pencos Crown Jewel. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Ros Canter and Pencos Crown Jewel

Fourteen-year-old British-bred mare (Jumbo x Cornish Queen, by Rock King). Bred by Pennie Wallace. Owned by Kate James and Annie Makin. 

Another exciting horse from Ros Canter’s yard, Pencos Crown Jewel – better known as “Jasmine” – is actually a half-sister to Ros’ other mount, Lordship’s Graffalo. The two horses share a dam, Cornish Queen, who is a daughter of CCI5* mare Cornish Faer. Top-level talent certainly runs in this family of horses.

This year’s Badminton will be Jasmine’s third start at the 5* level, and her first go at this venue. She finished fifth at Bicton in 2021 in her first start at the level, and eleventh at Burghley last fall after an uncharacteristic three rails dropped her down the leaderboard in the last phase. They were ninth at Badminton this year in tough conditions — and with two down on Sunday — but reroute here after a shock elimination late on course at Burghley, where Ros got popped out of the tack at the Dairy Mound while running on a 26.9 dressage score. If they can begin their week on that kind of score again, they’ll put themselves in a very, very good position for the mare’s first Pau, which is much more technical course than some of the bold, galloping ones she’s excelled over.

Heading into the second phase, we know that Jasmine is a tenacious mare with an efficient gallop – just the type to potentially make a big move up the leaderboard after cross country. She did just that at Bramham last year, which pushed her up to an eventual second place finish in the world’s toughest CCI4*-L. This is a very, very good horse who often remains in the shadows of her big-winning stablemates, but it’s easy to imagine her lining up for her own major victory before too long.

Kirsty Chabert and Classic VI. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Kirsty Chabert and Classic VI

Fourteen-year-old Anglo European Sport Horse mare (Calvaro F.C – Indian Summer). Bred by Peter Charles/Pembers Hill. Owned by Carole Somers, John Johnston, and Kate Ward. Groomed by Sarah Jane Tetlow.

Last season didn’t get off to a particularly good start for these two; their Badminton debut ended agonizingly close to the cross country finish, with an elimination after accumulative run outs at the double of corners, three quarters of the way round. This was frustratingly reminiscent of Aachen 2021, where they led after dressage only to drop out of the placings after a late run out.

Determined as ever, Kirsty sought help from Dickie Waygood and Christopher Bartle, spending an intensive three days cross country schooling with the latter at his base in North Yorkshire. It paid off: the pair notched up a win in the CCI-4*S at Millstreet just a month later. They then headed to Luhmühlen 5* just a few weeks later, notching up an impressive second place and earning them a spot on the World Championships long list for Great Britain.

Kirsty, who hails from strong equestrian stock – her father rode around Badminton and her mother competed in Grand Prix dressage – has made no secret of the fact that “Betty” is one quirky mare. Bred by Peter Charles, she rarely does any work with her in the arena. Instead, she spends her time hacking around the New Forest, with as little pressure as possible, in order to keep her happy and sane.

They started off their 2023 season with similarly good form, finishing 4th in the CCI4*-S at Thoresby in March, before heading to Kentucky, no doubt hoping for a repeat performance of their 5* run at Luhmühlen last season. Alas, this wasn’t the case, and after a promising start, they picked up 20 jumping penalties on cross country day. They still finished in a credible position – 21st place – largely thanks to a clear on the final day, as is typical of Betty. They soon put their disappointment of Kentucky behind them too, coming  2nd in the CCI4*-S at Millstreet, before winning the CCI4*-S at Lisgarven, finishing on their dressage score of 26.

As that result demonstrates, Kirsty has worked hard to bring that first phase score down even further this season, and this, combined with Betty’s usual attacking form in the jumping phases means that there is no reason why they can’t end their season back on top form. Admittedly, they did pick up 15 penalties in their last run before their trip to France – in the CCI4*-L at Blenheim last month – but as they have shown in the past, they are more than capable of putting such hiccups firmly behind them, so there is no reason why we shouldn’t see them pull off a similarly impressive result to Luhmühlen last year, finishing their season in the same fine style with which it began.

Kirsty Chabert and Opposition Heraldik Girl. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Kirsty Chabert and Opposition Heraldik Girl

Ten year old mare (Fleetwater Opposition – Heraldik Girl W by Heraldik XX) Owned by Caroline Caines, John Johnston and Kate Montserrate. Groomed by Sarah Jane Tetlow.

The second of Kirsty’s rides here in Pau, Opposition Heraldik Girl, or ‘Rocket’’  has yet to tackle a 5* – unlike her stablemate and travel buddy – Classic IV. At just ten years old, she will be one of the youngest horses in the field this week, too, but she has already notched up several impressive results, so it’s no surprise that Kirsty thinks she is ready to make the step up. Carefully produced by Kirsty throughout the levels, it’s hard to believe that Rocket is just 15.2hh, having jumped clear around several huge, tough tracks thus far, including Blair Castle in 2021, where she was 7th in the CCI2*-L.

She has excelled in the jumping phases since her early days in the sport, jumping double clear throughout her first season, and to this day, it is rare that she has more than one down on the final day, so Kirsty will no doubt be hoping that this is a trend that continues in her 5* career, too. Her cross country record is not impeccable, but any faults are still few and far between, and such is Kirsty’s talent that she is usually able to smooth out any problems quickly, before asking Rocket to move up another level.

The tiny Fleetwater Opposition mare made the step up to 4* just last year, but did so in fine style, with 7th in the CCI4*-S at Mallow. Unusually for her, though, the wheels came off shortly afterwards and her following two runs at Ballendensik and Boekelo were not as successful, with an elimination at the former and a further 20 penalties at the latter. Still, as is typical of Kirsty with all her horses, she has spent the off season righting any wrongs, and this season has been a different story altogether: they have finished in the top 20 in all of their starts thus far. This includes Bramham in the CCI4*-S, and again at Mallow in the CCI4*-L, where they finished 5th.

Their dressage score has shown remarkable improvement too, even since the start of the season, when it had been hovering around the high 30s. Now though, it tends more and more to the lower end of the 30’s, and Kirsty will be hoping to maintain that this weekend. If Rocket can propel herself around the jumping phases in her usual style (and leave the blips of last season firmly in the past), then this weekend in France could see Kirsty add another strong 5* campaigner to her team – another string to the bow of one of the sport’s most hardworking and talented individuals, and one who is certainly deserving of a very good run on both of her horses this week in Pau.

Pippa Funnell and Billy Walk On. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Pippa Funnell and Billy Walk On

Fourteen-year-old AES gelding. Owned by Barbara and Nicholas Walkinshaw. Groomed by Emily Gibson and Lily Wilson.

Pippa Funnell MBE – multiple Olympic, European and World medalist, first (and only in the long format) winner of the Rolex Grand Slam of Eventing, Wesko Equestrian Foundation mentor, patron for World Horse Welfare, children’s author, and video game star – comes to Pau double-handed. The first of her rides, leggy and elegant Billy Walk On, is a product of Pippa and her husband’s Billy Stud. He’s got a bit of a mixed bag of CCI5* results behind him as he comes forward for his seventh top-level start, with three Badminton non-completions on his record. But don’t let that fool you – he came eighth at Burghley last season, where he added just cross country time to his excellent first phase score of 26.2, and he was runner-up at the pop-up 5* at Bicton in 2021, adding just 4.3 time penalties on the Saturday to his very impressive 23.9 dressage. In 40 FEI starts, the pair have had 24 top-10 results; for the first two seasons of his international career he never finished outside the top ten, including coming second in the 2016 Seven-Year-Old World Championships. 

This is for sure a horse who shines between the white boards, with 5* scores in the mid-20s and nary a hoof in the 30s since stepping up to 3* in 2018; he could well be in the mix as he sets out on cross country. Barring Badmintons, across his career the gelding has only had cross country jumping penalties on five occasions; in his last 14 FEI starts, there are only Badminton faults on his record, except a 20 at Blenheim a last month, which he followed up with a second place in the 4*-S at Little Downham a fortnight later, where he added just four cross country time penalties and a show jump to his first phase score of 26.7. That pole on the final day was the first time he’d added penalties in the show jumping ring since 2021; he’s very much more often clear than not. It’s the cross country time which has been most inconsistent for the horse, but his run at Bicton proved that he can keep the 5* time faults to a minimum on his day. 

This will be Billy Walk On’s first trip to France since his superb result in the Young Horse Championships at Le Lion d’Angers. Pippa credits the horse with having a very good memory when she reflects on his aversion to the water at Badminton – will that memory stand him in good stead as he takes on France’s 5*? Only time will tell!

Pippa Funnell and MCS Maverick. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Pippa Funnell and MCS Maverick (GBR)

Ten-year-old British Sport Horse gelding. Owned by Sarah Ross. Groomed by Emily Gibson and Lily Wilson.

From experienced CCI5* mount Billy Walk On, to top-level first-timer MCS Maverick, Pippa’s second ride at Pau is a relatively new partnership for her, having been produced through the levels by British eventer and Billy Stud stable jockey Helen Wilson with Pippa taking over the reins at the beginning of this season. They showed their mettle at 4*-L when they won at Bramham in June – a class Pippa’s won four times across four decades – adding just 1.2 cross country time to their dressage score of 29.3, and followed up that success in their latest run in the 4*-S at Little Downham, where they finished fourth on a three-phase score of 39.7.

We’re likely looking at a dressage score in the low- to mid-30s for the gelding’s first time at 5*, but he hasn’t had a a cross country jumping penalty with Pippa, and has rolled just a single pole on the final day in their five FEI outings together this season. They’re yet to make the time on cross country day, but they showed they can get mighty close in the long-format at Bramham and have kept the penalties to single figures in their last two runs at 4*-S. 

This is for sure an interesting one to watch as ‘Eric’ tackles his first 5*. Pippa describes the gelding as “very, very hot” and spends a considerable amount of time settling him at events. Will he be a hot prospect at Pau (in the best possible way)? We can’t wait to find out!

Bella Innes Ker and Highway

Eleven-year-old KWPN gelding (Baltic VDL x Voltara x Voltaire Pref) Owned by Milly Soames, Benjamin Chan and Roxburghe Eventing. Groomed by Izzy McKeeman

Pau will mark a 5* debut for both horse and rider, although it seems hard to believe that Bella has yet to tick that box, such has been her consistency within the sport. At just 29, she has already achieved an incredible amount, including becoming the youngest ever winner of Blenheim CCI4*-L in 2018 with Carolyn, the fantastic little mare with whom she also achieved many Junior and Young Rider successes, too, including European team gold in 2012 as a Junior, and 2015 as a Young Rider.

Originally from deepest, darkest Scotland – ‘home’ is the beautiful Floors Castle in the Scottish Borders – Bella relocated to William Fox-Pitt’s yard in Dorset in 2018 to hone her skills, before setting up on her own in 2022. Since then, she has collected an enviable string of horses, including her partner in France, eleven-year-old Highway. Bella has ridden him from the very beginning of his eventing career, and together they have built up a solid record across all the levels, including several decent 4* completions and a Nations Cup team appearance. This came at the end of last season at Boekelo, and although they picked up a green 20 on the cross country, they seem to have come out all the better for it this season. Although Bella has only had him out four times this year– no thanks to the spate of cancellations that marred the beginning of the British Eventing season – he has jumped clear cross country on each occasion, and added a top 20 finish in the CCI4*-S at Little Downham last month in his final run before the big one at Pau.

Indeed, Highway’s record shows more clear cross country rounds than anything else, proving he has the courage to tackle a 5*, and Bella’s own experience – which extends much further than most riders her age – means that together they are more than ready to make the step up to the top level. They may not hit the big time on their first attempt – Highway is unfortunately prone to tapping a pole or two in the final phase – but Pau should see them pull off a solid result and set them up well for big things next season. A pair worth watching, even just to admire the strength of their partnership and their unwavering belief in one another.

Tom Jackson and Farndon. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Tom Jackson and Farndon

Thirteen-year-old KWPN gelding (Hemmingway x Silvanda, by Marlon). Owned by Anne and Lain Slater. Bred by S and N Burton.

Farndon made his five-star debut at Luhmühlen this year, after two solid seasons at the Advanced and 4* level under his belt that included top ten finishes at Bicton CCI4*-S this year, and Burgham CCI4*-S last year. Previously campaigned by Marcus Roberts and Francis Whittington, Tom first took the reins and began competing this son of Hemmingway in 2021, stepping right into competition at the 4* level. Tom has been notably pleased with the gelding’s work on the flat as he’s come on this season; the pair has begun to achieve mid- or high-20s marks more consistently, compared to scoring more steadily in the low- or mid-30s in previous seasons, and though they did still earn a 34.9 at Luhmühlen, they added nothing to it through the weekend and finished sixth. Since then, we’ve seen him win his Pau prep at Little Downham CCI4*-S — his first international victory, and one in which he added just 1.6 time penalties to his very good first-phase score of 25.4. Little Downham’s course is intentionally set to act as a prep for twisty, technical Pau, and Tom, who’s been in the spotlight lately for his string of excellent five-star results with Capels Hollow Drift, is an exceptionally talented, gritty competitor. We should see this pair fighting for another placing this week – and if they can pull a mid-20s score out of the bag? Well, they could be a not-so-dark horse contender to walk away with the whole thing.

Piggy March and Coolparks Sarco. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Piggy March and Coolparks Sarco

Eleven-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (Shannondale Sarco St Ghyvan x Coolpark Lady Diamond, by Coolcorron Cool Diamond). Bred by Michael Burke. Owned by Jo and James Lambert. 

The former Nicola Wilson ride Coolparks Sarco, or Jeremy, makes his five-star debut this week with Nicola’s great friend, Badminton and Burghley winner Piggy, who took the reins after Nicola’s fall at Badminton last year. Their first major competition together was Bramham CCI4*-L, and there wasn’t a dry eye in the house when they threw down an excellent 23.3 in the first phase. They did end up picking up a 20 on cross-country, which was symptomatic more of a new partnership and relative inexperience on the horse’s part than anything more sinister, and since then, they’ve really learned about one another. Their next FEI event was the CCI4*-L at Millstreet a year later; they won that handily, and then won their next outing, the CCI4*-S at Burgham. They ran a steady clear around Hartpury’s CCI4*-S in August, then were much faster to finish third in the Little Downham CCI4*-S a few weeks ago, which traditionally serves as a Pau feeder. Now, they’ll be an exciting combination to watch as they make the next step in the talented gelding’s career, in which we should see them put a respectable mid-to-high 20s score on the board, a swift, confident round across the country — notwithstanding any of the green mistakes that can pop up in a move-up run — and then, they look pretty likely to jump clear on Sunday. There’s plenty of question marks to keep in mind when a horse tackles its first five-star, but on paper, it’s not hard to see these two being contenders for a top ten finish.

Tom McEwen and JL Dublin. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Tom McEwen and JL Dublin

Twelve-year-old Holsteiner gelding (Diarado x Zarinna, by Cantano). Bred by Volker Göttsche-Götze. Owned by Mr. and Mrs. J. Lambert and Mrs. D. Johnston. Groomed by Adam Short.

If you had to put your money somewhere safe this week, we’d say you’d be wisest to go with this pair, who come forward for their second five-star start as a partnership after finishing second at Kentucky this spring.

This is the gelding’s third 5* start – his first was at Badminton last year with the wonderful Nicola Wilson, which sadly ended in disaster after Dubs had an uncharacteristic fall, leaving Nicola with life-changing injuries and ultimately resulting in her retirement from the sport. Together, Nicola and “Dubs” had amassed an incredible roster of results, not least of which a fifth place in the Seven-Year-Old World Championships in Le Lion D’Angers in 2018, a win in the notoriously tough Bicton CCI4*-L in 2021 (on only his second start at the level), a victory at Hartpury’s CCI4*-S, and most impressively of all, becoming European Champion later that same year in Avenches – as a ten year old.

Now, in the interest of being totally fair in our analysis, we do have to talk about the topsy turvy season that Tom, who won here in 2019, is having as a rider. This is all part of the sport — who can forget, after all, Tim Price’s 2016 — but this year has definitely been a downer for Tom, who heads straight off to his stag do after Pau finishes, and so will be supported on site this week by a raucous group of his bachelor party buddies, lord help us all. Yes, Tom’s year began spectacularly with that Kentucky result; yes, it’ll end spectacularly with, like, probably a keg stand and a face tattoo, but what of the in-between bits? After a very good top-five finish at Badminton with Toledo de Kerser, there was an Aachen trip with JL Dublin in which he was vying for the lead by the time he left the start box, but picked up a shock 20 penalties late in the course — something that happens to many Aachen leaders, actually, but an enormous surprise with this hugely reliable horse, nonetheless. They rallied from that and were still chosen for the European Championships, though as individuals, not as team members, and then came to grief there with a rider fall at the influential final water, which is also where Michi Jung and fischerChipmunk ended their day. They’ve since had a good, regrouping round in the CCI4*-S at Little Downham, and now they’ll return with renewed vigour, especially because Tom himself had such a rubbish time at Burghley that he’ll be hot in pursuit of redemption and a happy final chapter for the year.

Their dressage scores tend towards the bottom end of the 20s, their showjumping record is nearly pristine, and we know that they’re exceptional across the country, even if this year has been a downer. Don’t take your eyes off them this week.

(Fun fact: The JL prefix to his name stands for the first initials of his owners’ – Jo and Jamie Lambert and Deirdre Johnston – surnames. You learn something new every day.)

Harry Meade and Red Kite. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Harry Meade and Red Kite

Twelve-year-old Westphalian gelding. Owned by Giles Fallan, Kate Fallan, Harry Meade and Alexandra Robinson. Groomed by Jessica Errington and Molly Parkin.

Harry comes to Pau with CCI5* first-timer Red Kite after the lovely chestnut gelding didn’t make the cut when Harry had to choose just three to start from his four Burghley entries. The horse, and Harry, proved they’re game for any going when they took second in the 4*-S at a particularly wet edition of Thoresby Park in the spring, but Harry’s a believer in taking his event horses hunting and point-to-pointing as part of their education, so they get a feel for different conditions and ground. There were only two rounds quicker than Red Kite’s at Thoresby on the day, where they added just 11.2 cross country time penalties to their solid sub-30 dressage score of 27.3. 

In the first phase, Red Kite is proving to be a high-20s to low-30s kind of guy; as Harry says, “He’s got loads of ability, but he’s quite spunky – if he was a pupil in a class, you’d say that if he stopped mucking about, he could be a scholar! He’s got lots of capability.” Will he see the dressage ring at Pau as a place to show off or knuckle down? Only time will tell! 

Although Harry acknowledges that the gelding isn’t naturally predisposed to cross country, Harry’s traditional style of producing horses has stood Red Kite in good stead as he’s progressed through the FEI levels. In his 19 runs, he’s completed on all but two occasions, and, apart from those two falls (one horse, one rider), he’s had cross country jumping penalties only once, back in 2018, and a frangible pin in the 4*-L at Millstreet in 2021. He does tend to add time, although he was double clear ‘round the tough Bramham track in the 4*-L in June. Show jumping is the most patchy of the three phases for Red Kite – he can certainly jump clear over the colored poles, as he’s proven twice this season, but in his other 2023 run he rolled two; his final run of the season last year saw him have four down. There’s no denying that this is an exciting prospect in Harry’s string, but it’s a case of waiting for everything to fall into sync. We’ve seen it come together twice this season, will he show up for his first 5* as the scholar Harry knows he can be? 

Selina Milnes and Gelmer. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Selina Milnes and Gelmer

Twelve-year-old KWPN gelding (Carosso VDL – Rhytm by Ahorn). Owned by Mr and Mrs William Rucker. Groomed by Sarah Towler.

Based in North Somerset, Selina Milnes is no stranger to 5*, and she already has some excellent form here in Pau; she was 8th in 2021 with Iron IV, the horse she has had many of her recent top results on. This’ll be the first run at the level for Gelmer – Tommy to his friends — and despite his relative inexperience, his previous results are impressive enough, so there’s no reason why Selina shouldn’t have another successful run here this week.

Ridden by Selina throughout his entire eventing career, Tommy certainly excels in the jumping phase: he has yet to have any cross country jumping faults at internationals, and he rarely has more than two poles on the final day either. Selina, who trains with Ian Woodhead and Dickie Waygood, has been chipping away at his dressage too, and if recent scores are anything to go by, we can expect to see a mark in the mid to low 30s heading into cross country.

Tommy finished 8th in his first CCI4*-S at Millstreet with a double clear and showed similar form at Blenheim last year in his first run at CCI4*-L, rolling a couple of poles on the final day to finish comfortably within the top 25. Such understated excellence is typical of this horse, he just keeps on pulling it out of the bag at every level, and this season has been no different. He finished in the top 25 at Hartpury in August with another double clear and added a 10th place in the OI at Oasby last month, his last run before Pau. Such consistency is necessary in a top-level campaigner, so this could well be the start of a very successful 5* career, and although he and Selina seem to have flown under the radar a little thus far, his knack for jumping clear around most of the tracks he is presented with may well see their name up in lights very soon. As is the case with many of this week’s 5* first timers, his dressage may see them a little off the pace but it will all still be to play for ahead of the cross country, so a skip up the leader board — despite his inexperience — wouldn’t be all that surprising.

Wills Oakden and A Class Cooley. Photo by Athalens.

Wills Oakden and A Class Cooley

Eleven year old Irish Sports Horse gelding, (Heritage Fortunus x New Years Clover). Owned by Bridget Mazdon and Frances Hay Smith. Groomed by Sarah Murray.

Wills Oakden has had quite a spectacular year; he finished in the top 20 at Badminton with Oughterard Cooley and went on to finish with two in the top 10 at Burghley in September. Add to that a win in the CCI4*-L at Blair with A Class Cooley, the horse he brings forward this weekend, and it’s safe to say that his form has never been better.  The latest FEI World Rankings prove just that – he sits in 8th place, behind several legends of the sport, including Ros Canter, Oliver Townend, Boyd Martin and Tim Price. Such success is long overdue for this incredibly talented rider, who cut his teeth at the legendary Ian Stark’s yard, before setting up on his own in Perthshire, where he has remained ever since. His quiet horsemanship has seen him impress on various occasions over his eventing career; he won team gold as a Young Rider, before riding as an individual on the Senior team at Blair in 2015. Since then, he has had numerous Nations Cup appearances and is slowly but surely building an incredible team of horses.

Pau marks the first run at 5* for ‘Felix,’ and as is typical of Wills’ thoughtful and considered approach to the development of all of his horses, he’s not necessarily coming here to be competitive. Rather, he’s setting out on a fact-finding mission ahead of next year, so the main aim of this weekend is to pull off a solid first run at the level, before hopefully heading to Badminton in the spring. Recent form shows that Felix is more than ready to make this step up: along with his win at Blair, he also took second in the CCI4*-L at Ballindenisk – only his second run in a 4*L. His has an incredible cross country jumping record – other than 20 penalties in his first  CCI4*-L at Blenheim last year, you would have to go back to 2020 to find his last cross country jumping penalties.

His show jumping is only slightly less reliable – he never has more than two poles, if that, but he will want to keep those to a minimum this week, as rails fall easily here and are expensive, too. Though Wills won’t be setting out to break any records this weekend, his prowess as a cross country rider coupled with Felix’s natural ability will no doubt see them finish well, and hopefully set them up well for the challenges of next year. Not to mention adding yet another 5* horse to Wills’ ever increasing string!

Kate Rocher-Smith and HHS Dassett Class. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Kate Rocher-Smith and HHS Dassett Class

Eleven-year-old Irish Sports Horse gelding (Can Ya Makan x HHS Riverdance). Owned by Lesley Rocher and Dassett Eventing. Groomed by Sue Tomlinson. 

Kate Rocher-Smith and her team at Dassett Eventing have sourced and produced some of the best horses in the sport – both past and present. However, Kate has also enjoyed various successes herself, and was long listed for the Junior teams,  before setting up Dassett Eventing in 2005. Remarkably though, Pau will mark her first start at 5*. HHS Dassett Class will be making his debut, too, so Kate and her team will no doubt be thrilled to even be at Pau in the first instance, before they even make their long awaited start.

HHS Dassett Class – or “Matt” as he is charmingly referred to at home =- came to Kate’s yard from Ireland, having been bred and produced as a show jumper by Marion Hughes. He’s got quite exceptional jumping breeding; his sire, Can Ya Makan, won the Hickstead Derby with Shane Breen last year. Matt was originally intended for the same career, but made the change to eventing as a fresh faced six-year-old and has never looked back, moving up to CCI2* in his second season with Kate, and taking a top 20 spot in the British Young Horse Championships at Osberton that same year. He would go on to finish in the top 30 in the 8/9 year CCI4*S at Blenheim two years later in 2021, shortly after making his 4* debut at Blair where he pulled off a top twenty finish. Quite a mean feat for his first run at the level, and over a challenging course at that. Still, Matt enjoys an atmosphere – the more the better – and Kate describes him as a confident jumper, perhaps a throwback to his youth as a showjumper.

He made a successful return to Blair last year, bettering his previous result to finish 15th,  and repeated that result again this year, proving his consistency and aptitude for the sport. Usually a “relaxed dude,” Matt is not altogether without flaw, and has been known to deposit Kate at various events when out for a hack – hopefully he won’t leave her lost in France this weekend and will earn himself a banana or two (his favourite treat).

Kate, who trains with Robert Snaddon and Lisa White, credits the whole team at Dassett Eventing with getting Matt to this level, and while it is Sue Tomlinson who accompanies her this week in France, Hayley Wright has also played an integral part in his fitness prior to the event. With a dressage averaging mid to low 30’s and having shown excellent form over some of the toughest tracks in the sport to this point, there is no reason why all of the hard work at Team Dassett – not least that of Kate herself – shouldn’t be rewarded this weekend, giving Kate a 5* debut to remember for all of the right reasons, and earning Matt his beloved bananas.

Kylie Roddy and SRS Kan Do. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Kylie Roddy and SRS Kan Do

Thirteene-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (VDL Arkansas x La Vie En Rose, by Touchdown). Bred by Michael Dooner. Owned by the Fox Family. 

One of Kylie’s first jobs as a teenager was making tea and coffee for clients in her mom’s hair salon, but it was manes and tails rather than bobs and mullets that Kylie dreamed of. She began working with horses when she left school aged 16, shortly afterwards making the move to work with Olympic gold medalist, Britain’s Leslie Law. Whilst working for Leslie she produced her first horse to 3*, which she made the difficult decision to sell in order to continue with her eventing dream. Kyrenejenellas Boy went on to compete at Badminton and the Athens Olympics with Czech Republic rider Jaroslav Hatla.

It’s great to see SRS Kan Do, or George, back at this level: he was sixth at Luhmühlen last year, and then, after one further run, was out until August of this year. That Luhmühlen run was a reroute from Badminton, where they’d looked excellent across the country (and had started the week on a 29.4), but lost shoes on course, which meant that Kylie put her hand up when she felt the horse couldn’t quite get the purchase he needed on the ground.

She describes George, with whom she finished 20th at Blenheim CCI4*-L in 2021, as the most talented jumper she’s ever ridden, and that confidence was proven well-founded when they headed to Pau that October for their five-star debut. They ultimately finished eleventh there in good company, adding just 5.6 time penalties across the country and 1.6 on the final phase to their impressive 29.1. Their scores have been trending upwards a bit recently, with tests more consistently in the low-to-mid-30s, but they should be well capable of a great result this week — they’re quick, consistent, and a one-or-none pair on the final day, and they suit this technical course well.

Starch your collar and make sure your silverware is polished, because this horse is owned by Michael C. Fox, an actor best known for his portrayal of footman Andy in the Downton Abbey series and films, and his family. George was actually Michael’s own competition horse originally, and the pair competed to BE100 together before Michael’s burgeoning career meant that he had far less time to ride, and his insurance prevented him from partaking in risky sports. So he handed the reins to local pro Kylie, who had been successful as a Young Rider, competing at two European Championships, and has since built up a business producing event horses and retraining racehorses.

Izzy Taylor and Happy Days. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

Izzy Taylor and Happy Days

Eleven-year-old British-bred gelding (Cevin Z x Vale Brook, by Tudorville). Bred by Emma Humphrey. Owned by Alex Colquhoun, Lavinia Taylor, and Caroline Wilson.

Izzy comes to Pau fresh off the back of a big win with another smart grey: her youngster, Barrington Alice, won last week’s Six-Year-Old World Championship at Le Lion d’Angers. Her ride this week, Happy Days, made his CCI5* debut at Pau last season, finishing 21st after a reasonably slow clear across the country and a three-rail final round. Since then, we’ve seen him out at a very wet Thoresby — where Izzy withdrew her whole string after dressage — and a rather dryer Burnham Market, where he finally got a run in and finished fourth in the 4*-S, his best four-star result yet, before heading to a pretty grotty Badminton, where they began their week on a 29.6, but then suffered a technical elimination on cross country for jumping two B elements at the KBIS Brush Boxes.

Now, after a frustrating 20 at his Bramham reroute and a smart clear at his CCI4*-S prep at Little Downham, Happy Days returns for a crack at moving into the top twenty. He’s become a pretty consistent 20s scorer, including a very good 25.9 at Burgham CCI4*-S in 2022. Though he won’t be a big winner this week, it could be a big milestone in his career – this is just his third full season eventing, and it’ll be great fun to see the prodigious young gelding tackle such a big challenge.

Tom Rowland and KND Steel Pulse

Twelve year old Irish gelding (Tinarana’s Inspector – Lady Lux by Olympic Lux) Owned by Michael Wilmshurst and Alison Sharpe). Groomed by Georgie Dobbin.

This will not be Tom Rowland’s first trip to Pau; he first made the trip here back in 2015. That was his first time at a 5*, so it seems particularly appropriate that he is bringing not one, but two horses here for their first crack at the level, too. The younger of these two horses, KND Steel Pulse, or Dermot, has been with Tom from the very beginning of his eventing career, way back in 2016. Despite an inauspicious start, with 40 penalties on his first run cross country, it would be another three years before he faulted on the cross country again, and to this day, they remain a rarity.

The same cannot be said for his show jumping though: despite a commendable number of clear rounds, he is also prone to knocking a pole, or two, or three, or even four, as he did a few times back in 2021. Still, recently he has proved more consistent – he has  lowered a maximum of two rails at a time this season, testament to the dedication of his rider in constantly working to improve every phase, and eke the most he can out of his horses.

Tom initially trained with Angela Tucker, who he went to work for straight after leaving school, before going on to spend time at the yards of both Pippa Funnell and Nigel Taylor, so he’s certainly learnt from the best in all disciplines. Dermot’s ever improving dressage scores also reflect this – bar the odd blip here and there, his first phase score is usually at the lower end of the 30’s and has even broken into the 20’s in the last couple of years.

Dermot has jumped clear around both Blenheim CCI4*-L and Blair Castle CCI4*-S, and indeed, finished comfortably within the top 20 at the latter, so he has certainly proven himself ready and willing to tackle the kind of questions demanded at 5* level. So while these two won’t be troubling those at the very top of the leader board on this occasion, they are more than capable of a safe and steady completion in their first 5* at least, and perhaps if Dermot produces his usual clear cross country round, a top 30 placing to boot.

Tom Rowland and MGH Maybe A Mission

Fourteen-year-old Irish Sports Horse (Jack of Diamonds – Merry Kate by Able Albert) Owned by Robin Patrick. Groomed by Georgie Dobbin.

Tom is perhaps best known for his partnership with another ‘Mission’ horse – Possible Mission – with whom he has completed both of the big B’s (Burghley and Badminton, of course) multiple times. His other ride at Pau though, is MGH Maybe a Mission, also an Irish Sport Horse, like Possible Mission, and also owned by Robin Patrick. Similarly, Tom has had the ride on him from the word go, which was way back in 2015, so it’s safe to say they know each other inside out. This shows in their ever-improving form at the top level.

Although ‘Mark’ was ultimately spun at the second horse inspection, he did jump clear around the cross country at his first CCI4*-L at Blenheim in 2021, after posting an impressive 29 dressage score. Since then, these two have gone on to show an ever-increasing consistency right across the board, jumping clear cross country on all but one occasion and holding their own in the first phase, too, rarely straying above the low 30’s, and breaking into the 20’s on the odd occasion, too. Mark has jumped around the  CCI4*-S at Chatsworth twice now, finishing in a notable 6th place on the latter occasion, and also jumped clear around another CCI4*-L at Millstreet in June, to finish in the top 15. So he’s more than ready to make the step up to 5*, and in pretty good style too. A top 20 wouldn’t be out of the question for these two, and we wish him and Tom the very best of luck for making it two out of two ‘Missions Completed.’ We’re here all week, folks.

Libby Seed and Heartbreaker Star Quality. Photo by Leszek Wójcik.

Libby Seed and Heartbreaker Star Quality

Twelve-year-old Irish Sport Horse mare (Boswell Mr Heartbreaker x Killard Quality, by OBOS Quality 004). Bred by Cora Horan. Owned by Jonathan Seed and the rider.

Amateur rider Libby and her beloved mare return to the top level after making their debut at Badminton last year, where they finished in the top 30 after jumping clear around the biggest track they’d ever faced. They jumped clear on Sunday, too, making it a very happy week indeed for the dynamic duo.

Libby works full-time as a medical sales executive, continuing on an impressive balancing act that she honed while juggling eventing and a degree in Medical Sciences at Exeter.

Libby has a sparkling career as a young rider behind her: she rode on the British team at the Pony European Championships in 2013, where the team took gold, and in 2017, she rode as an individual at the Young Rider Europeans, earning herself a top twenty result. That’s certainly not to say that she’s stepped it down a notch as a senior competitor, though: she took her first international win in 2021 in the CCI4*-L in Strzegom with Heartbreaker Star Quality, adding just 2.4 time penalties across the country and 0.8 in showjumping to their first-phase score of 34.7.

This year, they’ve notched up three FEI runs — and three FEI top tens. Those came in the CCI3*-S at Burgham, which was a return to international competition after a year out, and then at Blair and Little Downham’s CCI4*-S classes.

They’ve only got ever faulted across the country at one FEI event, and that was the very tough CCI4*-L at Bicton in 2021, which they followed up with that Strzegom win. They’re a pretty quick pair, and their dressage is constantly getting better, so they’ll be aiming to hit the very low 30s — their Badminton test earned them a 33.4, and they’ve improved on the flat since then. On Sunday, they’ll really be laughing: Pau’s showjumping is notoriously tough, but they haven’t had a rail in two years. Expect another exciting week.

Oliver Townend and Tregilder. Photo by Peter Nixon.

Oliver Townend and Tregilder 

Thirteen-year-old British Sport Horse gelding (Royale Concorde x Trewins, by Hand In Glove). Bred by Preci Spark Ltd. Owned by the Hazeldines & Mitchell Fox Group. Groomed by Francesca Gorni.

Hot off the plane from Maryland, Olympic team gold medalist, 2023 Badminton runner-up and Burghley winner, and current World No. 1, Oliver Townend touches down in Pau with Tregilder for the gelding’s fourth CCI5* start. It would be fair to say that the gelding’s 5* form doesn’t do him justice; he (almost inexplicably) fell at the penultimate fence at Burghley last year on his top-level debut after a truly superb round up to that point, then at this year’s Burghley edition, he emerged from the woods at a walk, broken rein swinging and 5* disappointment once more. He did have a good run ‘round Luhmuhlen in June however, adding just 1.2 cross country time to his dressage of 29.9, before uncharacteristically rolling two poles on the final day – it was still good enough for ninth place though. 

At 18hh, ‘Gizmo’ is pretty enormous and has, according to Oliver, “taken a long, long time to mature.” He showed he’d grown into himself when he won at Burgham in July, finishing on his dressage of 27.1. In the first phase, this is a horse that consistently scores sub-30, there’s a toe into the 30s occasionally, but these are perhaps times when dressage scores have been on the high side across the board. When bad luck forsakes him, he’s a speedy clear across the country kind of guy, one you can see totally relishes his job as he eats up the track. The final phase is his least consistent, but this is a horse who does not have a weak phase. Sometimes he rolls a pole, often he jumps clear. Very occasionally he’ll lower two. 

Here’s hoping that ‘Gizmo’ gets the trip he deserves and adds a second 5* completion to his record this week, potentially even a top placing. Oliver’s team will need to keep one eye on the weather forecast in case of rain, and make sure they remember that daylight saving time ends in the UK this weekend, we don’t want ‘Gizmo’ inadvertently being fed after midnight. And a shout out to photographers at the event – no flash photography, please!

India Wishart and Diamond Sundance

Seventeen-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (Sunny Boy x KEC Costello Diamond, by Glidawn Diamond). Owned by Cindy Onslow. Groomed by Shelley Allen.

It’s a second trip to Pau for Diamond Sundance, this time piloted by five-star debutant India Wishart. He made his debut at the top-level in 2020 with Rosa Onslow in the irons, who took on the ride in 2017, competing at the Young Rider European Championships in 2019 with the gelding, where they finished 12th, before going on to a second place in the CCI4*-L at Blair Castle the following month.

‘Sunny’ has partnered a few riders as he’s moved up through the levels, originally being produced by owner Cindy Onslow, before Emily Orpwood took over the reins; he had a brief stint with China’s Alex Hua Tian in 2016, before Cindy’s daughter, Rosa, continued his progress up to 5*. Riding for Australia after switching to her father’s nationality, Lissa Green (daughter of British eventing legend Lucinda Green) had the ride for the 2021 season, with India taking over in 2022. 

His recent form at 4* with India suggests a mid- to high-30s score in the dressage – they put down a 37 in the 4*-L at Blenheim last month and a 34.4 at Millstreet this season; the last time he competed on French soil, at Pau with Rosa, he scored 32.2 in the first phase. This horse is for sure a cross country horse, with 21 consecutive clear rounds – including at Pau in 2020 – at international competitions under his girth. Will he add to his impressive record this week? It would be very cool if he did. He will add time, but a steady clear round for India’s first time at the level would be a job well done. He lowered two poles on the final day last time out, and had one at each of his two runs before that, but he jumped clear in the 4*-S at Blair Castle last season on the way to finishing in 12th place; it was twelve faults in the final phase when he went to Pau with Rosa. Realistically, we will be looking at him adding penalties in the show jumping ring on Sunday, India will be hoping to keep it to a minimum though and to come away with a solid top-level completion.

India’s had some influential support as she’s made her way into her eventing career, after gaining a degree in Geography before switching to eventing full-time. She was based with with fellow Pau competitor Pippa Funnell at The Billy Stud in 2020 and was part of the Wesko Equestrian Foundation program in 2020/21. With everything she’ll have gained from such top-class mentorship, as well as  being sat on a seventeen-year-old cross country machine, she should be coming into her first 5* full of confidence, which must be a very nice feeling indeed.


Daragh Byrne and Kilcannon Ramiro

Eleven-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (Ramiro B x Flick Princess, by Kildalton King). Bred by Mary Bolger. Owned by James Byrne and Daragh Byrne. Groomed by James Byrne.

Ireland’s Daragh Byrne and Kilcannon Ramiro are coming forward for their first attempt at CCI5* this week. The gelding’s been brought along slowly through the levels, partly because he’s pretty enormous and so needed the extra time as he matured. He’s stepped up a level each year and is now here for his first 5*.

‘Kilcannon’ is owned by Daragh and his dad, James Byrne. They bought the gelding as an unbroken three-year-old from the Goresbridge sales. A steadfast supporter of both his son and his “pride and joy”, James has never missed a competition, in fact, he’ll be right in the thick of things at Pau as he’ll be grooming for Kilcannon at the event. 

He’s for sure a horse to get excited about. He won on his first attempt at the 4*-L level at Ballindenisk last season, and comes to Pau off the back of a fourth place finish in the same competition this year. He’s generally mid- to high-30s in the first phase, but he’s pulled out a couple of low-30s results, namely a 32 on his way to winning at Ballindenisk last year. He’s certainly no slouch across the country; in 19 FEI starts, he’s had jumping penalties only once, back in 2021. He had an unfortunate fall on the flat in the 4*-S Nations Cup at Millstreet earlier this season, but aside from those two blips, his record is impressively clean. He’s reasonably speedy too, generally keeping time faults to single figures. Based on form, it would be fair to say that show jumping is something he’s still working on, with faults in each of their runs bar a 1* in 2018. More often than not, it’s one or two poles, but sometimes they tip one or two more. The rolled four last time out in the 4*-L at Ballindenisk, but a solid first-phase score and speedy cross country round meant they still finished fourth. Daragh – and his dad – will no doubt be delighted with a 5* completion on their debut at the level, however it plays out. 

Ian Cassells and Master Point

Ten-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (Pointilliste x Chikari, by Kings Master). Bred and owned by Bridget McGing. 

It’s a five-star debut for 29-year-old Ian, who has been quietly proving himself to be something of a master (see what I did there? Sorry) of producing top-class young horses over the last few years. His is a last-minute entry, and comes with the exciting Master Point, who he rides for owner and breeder Bridget McGing, who’s a busy vet at Troytown Greyabbey equine vets in Ireland, and a member of the Eventing Ireland board, too. Master Point made his CCI4*-L debut this summer at Millstreet, where he finished sixteenth after a 34.8 dressage, a reasonably steady clear cross-country, and two rails down; he then contested the Blenheim CCI4*-L last month, where he was a top thirty finisher with another, slightly swifter, clear across the country, this time with a 30.2 dressage and just one rail down.

Master Point has previously won at both CCI2*-L and CCI3*-L, both times at Ballindenisk, and while Ian won’t be coming here to push for a win, he’s very aware that he’s sitting on a horse who has all the right stuff for the future. Master Point can be very quick, he’s super reliable with just a frangible activation on his FEI cross-country record, and those dressage scores are constantly improving — it’s the showjumping that needs the most work, with a tendency to two or three down (or more, at Burgham this year), but all of that will come in leaps and bounds from the educational experience he’ll have at Pau. It’ll be really exciting to see Ian on the world stage, too — he’s a beautiful rider to watch.

Sarah Ennis and Grantstown Jackson. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Sarah Ennis and Grantstown Jackson

Twelve-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (Clover Brigade x Winning Lass xx, by Right Win xx). Bred by Caroline Widger. Owned by Peter Cole and Susanna Francke.

After missing the 2021 European Championships, three-time European Championships competitor and Tokyo Olympian Sarah Ennis returned to the major stage at this summer’s European Championships, riding the relatively inexperienced Grantstown Jackson, for whom it was just a second CCI4*-L start, after taking second place in the CCI4*-S at Ballindenisk. The pair ended up taking the pathfinder role for the week — and boy, did they smash it. In incredibly tough conditions, they delivered the second-fastest round of the day, zipping home clear and with just 2.4 time penalties. They ultimately finished fourteenth.

Now, we get the joy of seeing the twelve-year-old step up to the topmost echelon of the sport, and if he delivers as he did in his last French adventure, he’ll certainly establish himself as a serious contender for the Irish team at next year’s Olympics. He’s still green for his age, and there’s some fine-tuning to do — he’ll score in the high-30s, or perhaps even the low-40s, for one, and his showjumping can be a bit of a wild card, but he’s an exceptional little cross-country machine and should be great fun to watch on Saturday as he whizzes around Pau’s tight turns.

Joseph Murphy and Barrichello

14-year-old British-bred gelding (Balou de Rouet x Madon’s Even Wiser, by Matinee du Madon VII). Bred by James Dyer. Owned by Sarah Hughes.

This isn’t a first five-star for Barrichello, who has previously contested Badminton last year with Ireland’s Cathal Daniels, but had an unlucky fall late on course — but it’s his first with Joseph Murphy, who took the reins this season and becomes the fifth rider to partner Sarah Hughes’s gelding internationally. He began his FEI career with Britain’s Caroline March, who is Piggy’s sister in law; then, he briefly moved to William Fox-Pitt before doing a year with Alex Bragg. After that, he had 2019 out, and then he went to Cathal, who kept the ride from 2020 to 2022, though the horse didn’t compete in FEI events at all in 2021. Now, he’s with Joseph, who rode him to a sixth-place finish in Kilguilkey’s CCI4*-L this summer and a top twenty finish in the inaugural CCI4*-S at Lisgarvan in August. They did a test and showjumped at Ballindenisk CCI4*-S last month, but withdrew before cross-country. He’s a talented horse, and should do a low-30s dressage, a quick cross-country, and, realistically, will have one or two rails on Sunday, but the pair are still very much getting to know one another and Barrichello is once again having to adapt to a new rider, so this is something of a fact-finding mission this week.

Joseph brings a huge amount of experience to the table, though, to help him through: he’s ridden at countless five-stars and been part of the Irish team at the London Olympics, the 2014 World Equestrian Games, and four European Championships, plus has ridden as an individual at a fifth. His best result here was fifth in 2014 with Sportsfield Othello; he’s also had great results with the former Laura Collett ride Calmaro, with whom he was ninth at Kentucky in 2022 and 14th here in 2021. This pair won’t be vying for the win this week but they should be able to deliver a great result, as long as they’re on the same page at this early stage of their partnership.

Felicity Ward and Regal Bounty. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Felicity Ward and Regal Bounty

Twelve-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (VDL Orestus x Edge of Reason, by Senang Hati xx). Owned by James O’Callagham. Bred by Miriam de Feu.

Felicity Ward and Regal Bounty, barn name “Cuba,” have hit the ground running this season. After one run around the E110 level at Lisgarvan House, they quickly jumped up to the FEI level and have so far completed the Ballindenisk CCI3*-S, the Marbach 4*-S, and the CCIO4*-NC-S at Millstreet International Horse Trials. The 2023 season also marks their highest placing in international competition, which occurred at the Ballindenisk 3*-S where the pair came in second place, with a score of 33.9, adding just 0.8 time faults to their dressage score. Over the summer, the pair contested the CCI5* at Luhmühlen for the second time, once again finishing fifteenth. They then headed to the European Championships, though their weekend ended early when they suffered their first ever horse fall. This’ll be their third five-star, and it’ll be exciting to see them over a track that’s quite different to Luhmühlen’s.

Felicity took the ride on the 16.2-hand black gelding from Andrew Kavanaugh before the 2017 competition season. Since then, she has produced Cuba from the EI110s to the five-star level. They’re seriously solid across the country, generally: their only two non-completions in FEI competitions come at this year’s Europeans and at last year’s World Championships, where they retired on course. Besides that, Felicity and Regal Bounty have completed every single cross country course they’ve ever taken on, with only a reasonably slim number of time penalties being the norm. Dressage scores for the duo typically land in the mid-thirties. Show jumping is their bogey phase, which means they’ll need to be really on the ball at Pau, with its notoriously tough final phase — but they did tip just one rail at Luhmühlen last year, which bodes well.


Aistis Vitkauskas and Commander VG. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Aistis Vitauskus and Commander VG

Twelve-year-old Danish Warmblood gelding (Viegaard’s Come Back II x Nione Fortuna, by Abantos NRA STB 83 4). Bred and owned by Mogens and Birgitte Kloeve-Mogensen. Groomed by Helene Stenshoj Vitkauskas.

With seven previous CCI5* starts under their belts, Aistis and Commander VG are certainly not new to the level. This was the site of the horse’s level debut back in 2020, when he was a nine-year-old, and he returns this year having finished eighteenth last year — and having already run at Badminton, Luhmühlen, and Burghley this season, though he retired after a 20 at the German event and suffered a non-injurious horse fall at the Dairy Mound at the latter. His best finish thus far at five-star was just outside the top 10 at the 2021 edition of Luhmuhlen. To add even more depth to their resume, they’ve also competed at the 2022 World Championships and in 2021 finished 25th in the European Championships in Avanches.

While it’s unlikely that you’ll find this pair near the top of the leaderboard after dressage – their scores tend to hover in the high 30s to mid 40s, because Commander, who was bought as a five-year-old from a dressage farm, had suffered some early mental trauma in the ring, and as Aistis explains it, if the horse makes a mistake in the ring, his immediate response is defensive anger – they have a whole lot of clear XC rounds on their record. They’ve had a couple pins here and there at the four-star and five-star level, but are certainly more than capable of a clear round to wrap up a bit of an up-and-down year. This is one of those horses who is SO fun to watch across the country: he’s game, straight, and genuine, and tends to top our list of ‘Five-Star Horses We Reckon We Might Actually Have Fun Riding’. He’s had a big change to his fitness regime over the last year or so, and now swims a lot, which Aistis says has really changed his strength and build.

When he’s not running around some of the biggest tracks in the world, Aistis also competes in FEI showjumping, and his wife Helene (who usually grooms for him, accompanied by their sweet little girl) is a competitive dressage rider. Aistis’ operation is based out of Denmark, which is the home country of Commander VG, who is still owned by his breeders Mogens and Birgitte Kloeve Mogensen of the Volstrpgaard Stud. When he’s not busy producing horses, you can find him building cross-country fences, which he then sells around Europe, or at his ‘church’ — waist high in the local river, that is, going fishing.


James Avery and MBF Connection

Ten year old Irish Sports Horse gelding (Luidam – Traditionally Aloof) Owned by Hazel Livesey. Groomed by Tori Morris.

James describes MBF Connection – or Louis, as he is known at home – as ‘a laidback character, who is passionate about good food and wine.’ Thus, it seems very appropriate that he should head to France for his first 5*, where the finest of both will no doubt be in abundance.

This has been a year of firsts for Louis: he also tackled his first CCI4*-L  at Bramham in June. Unfortunately, he picked up 20 penalties cross country, but went on to show jump clear on the final day. 20 penalties aside, that run at Bramham will serve as excellent preparation for Pau, renowned as it is for being one of the toughest 4*L tracks on the circuit. Since then, he has pulled off a top ten finish in the Nations Cup in Arville, adding just a smattering of time faults to his dressage score, and showed similar form in the Intermediate at Oasby earlier this month, where a steady double clear saw them finish 8th.

That 20 penalties that Louis picked up at Bramham marks his first cross country jumping penalties since 2021, although his show jumping record is less reliable – he is prone to tipping a pole or two. However, as his recent form shows, he is capable of a double clear, so let’s hope he pulls one out of the bag this weekend, too.

Louis was previously campaigned by Matthew Heath and then Harry Horgan, and James (who is based with his fiancée Holly Woodhead at Honington Grange Wellness and Rehabilitation Centre in Lincolnshire) took over the reins in 2021, recording a win on his very first outing with Hazel Livesey’s chestnut gelding. Another good result here will no doubt put James and Louis on the radar for Paris next year, and will cement James’ place as a rising star within Team New Zealand’s ever-growing arsenal.

Jesse Campbell and Cooley Lafitte. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Jesse Campbell and Cooley Lafitte

Eleven-year-old Irish Sports Horse gelding (Je T’aime Flamenco – Graf Shenanigans x Scirocco Delle). Owned by Jay Jaffar. Groomed by Frankie Dunn.

Jesse Campbell is one of a few riders bringing forward multiple horses this week in Pau, and also one of many using this competition to step a horse up to the level for the first time. Cooley Lafitte – or Henry as he is known at home – is certainly ready for the challenge, jumping double clear at both Bramham and Blenheim last year – the latter his first run in a CCI4*-L – and he pulled another double clear out of the bag at Bramham again this summer to finish in the top 20 in the CCI4*-L. His early days were not quite so illustrious though; he was almost sent back to Ireland, such was his lack of appetite for the sport.

However, his owners recognised some promise in him, sending him to Jesse as a last resort – a plan of action that has paid off. It’s unsurprising really, that Jesse was able to turn the horse around. Arriving here as part of the New Zealand Eventing High Performance Squad at the tender age of 21 (the youngest of the 9 riders selected to train here that year), he spent 18 months working for the legend that is Andrew Nicholson, before setting up on his own in 2012. Since then, he’s become renowned for his natural talent and ability, something that’s reflected in his extensive list of achievements, including several Nations Cup appearances, and a trip to the Tokyo Olympics in 2021 as part of Team New Zealand. Even his  5* debut at Luhmuhlen in 2015 was impressive – he was awarded the cross country prize for finishing bang on the optimum time – so who better than to take a tricky horse like Henry and turn him around?

Jesse and Cooley Lafitte represented New Zealand on the Nations Cup team at both Houghton and Haras du Pin last year. In their final prep run for Pau at Little Downham last month they finished comfortably within the top 20, with yet another double clear in the CCI4*-S. While Henry’s dressage is yet to become consistent – his scores range from high to mid to low 30’s – his jumping record is almost immaculate, save for a smattering of poles here and there on the final day. His last cross country jumping faults were way back in 2020, proving he has the bravery to step up to the top level. This, coupled with the experience of his rider, means that Henry’s first time at 5* will surely be a positive one, and add yet another solid result to his record. Not bad for a horse who wasn’t wholly convinced he even liked eventing to start with!

Jesse Campbell and Diachello. Photo by Shelby Allen.

Jesse Campbell and Diachello

Thirteen year old Holsteiner gelding (Diarado – Visser Cholin x Chello I) Owned by Kent Gardner and Jesse Campbell. Groomed by Frankie Dunn.

Pau will be the second 5* start for Jesse and his Olympic partner Diachello, or Danny, who he has taken right through from BE100 level. Their first run at this level was at Kentucky in 2021, where they finished a credible 11th, adding just a smidgeon of jumping time faults to their first phase score of 29.1. Little wonder then, that they were selected as part of the New Zealand Olympic team later that same year.

They finished 22nd out in Tokyo, pulling off a respectable score of 30.1, to which they again added just time faults – indeed the last time Danny incurred any cross country jumping penalties was back in 2019, on his CCI4*-L debut at Millstreet. He made up for it the following year, with a 3rd place in the CCI4*-L at a Lignières and has never looked back since. His first phase score is similarly consistent – it is not often that these two score higher than 30, and are usually comfortably within the top 20 heading into cross country. His show jumping record is a little bit more erratic – last season he had at least a pole on all but one of his 6 starts, although he has managed to leave them all standing on both of his starts this season.

Yes, you read that right: Pau will be only Danny’s third start this year, but given his extensive – and impressive – experience thus far in his career, it’s not as though he needs the prep in international runs. 6th in the CCI4*-S at Little Downham in his last run before Pau, his second crack at 5* should be another successful one, especially if he can make it three out of three double clears this season. With Jesse in the saddle he has every chance of pulling off a top ten finish, something that his rider is more than deserving of. Jesse is as hard working as he is talented, and it’s about time that he added a top 5* result to his already impressive list of accolades.

Samantha Lissington and Ricker Ridge Sooty GNZ. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Samantha Lissington and Ricker Ridge Sooty GNZ

Twelve year old gelding (Caretino – Quantum Flash by Tristaking). Owned by Samantha Lissington and Pip McCarroll. Groomed by Fran Dakin.

Another rising star for Team New Zealand, Samantha will have had a busy few weeks by the time she and Sooty get to Pau. She and long term groom Fran loaded the truck up with not one, but two horses, when they left home a few weeks ago, stopping off at Le Lion d’Angers to compete in the Seven Year Old World Horse Championships with rising star Quantas, first.

Quite a whirlwind, then, but Sam is more than used to such adventures – she arrived here (along with Sooty, and a few other horses) from New Zealand back in 2020, with no real fixed accommodation, no car, no lorry…nothing. Since then – in between pulling off several great results –  she and husband Brayden have managed to find a permanent base, Sam has built up a very good string of horses, and this year they finally made the decision to stay in the UK long term. Lucky for us! Oh, and yes, they did buy a car.

This will be Sooty’s first 5*, though his form since his arrival in the UK has been very promising so far. He and Sam pulled off a top 30 in the 8/9 year old class at Blenheim in their first season over here, and their form has continued to show further promise since then – they were 7th in the same class at Burnham Market the following year,  and finished in the top 25 in their first CCI4*-L at Millstreet last year, before taking the top spot in the CCI4*-L  at Mallow just a month later. This season they have come out fighting again, adding just cross country time faults to their first phase score to win the Advanced at Chatsworth in May. Since then, they finished in the top 30 at Aachen, before another podium finish – 3rd, this time, – in the CCI4*-L at Mallow.

They should find themselves in good stead after dressage: their first phase score often breaks into the 20s (their win at Mallow came after posting a 29 in the first phase, a score they bettered there by almost two marks this year), and they should confirm this position after cross country. Other than 20 penalties at Millstreet this year and last, Sooty is generally very consistent in this phase. His  show jumping form is less reliable – he has had a rail or two as often as he has jumped clear this season. Still, he has proven himself more than capable in this phase on several occasions, not least at Mallow last year, and again this spring in the infamous quagmire that became the show jumping at Chatsworth in May. Here’s hoping he pulls off another double clear in Pau; he and Samantha seem to have flown slightly under the radar in recent years, but it is more than time that their reliable and consistent form is recognised.

Muzi Pottinger and Just Kidding. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Muzi Pottinger and Just Kidding

Seventeen-year-old Australian Thoroughbred gelding (Fusaichi Pegasus – Gypsy Princess, by Sadler’s Wells). Owned by The Pottinger Family. Groomed by Amy Bliss Bennett.

Muzi and the  diminutive ‘Ferg’ – 15.2hh on his tippy toes – flew around their first Badminton last year, although four down on the final day dropped them down the placings. Previous CCI5* form includes a fourth at Adelaide back in 2018, and second just a year later – maybe they could have topped the podium in 2020, had the dreaded C word not hit.

It’s a great string of results for a horse who’s among those elite ex-racehorses leading the charge for his brethren: Muzi – herself the daughter of Olympic bronze medallist Tinks Pottinger – bought the son of Kentucky Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus off the track as a five-year-old, and he has picked up plenty of notable results in his second career, including thirteenth in the notoriously tough CCI4*-S at Bicton in 2021. They are capable of a very good first phase score – they posted a 25.9 at Badminton last year, though it was admittedly not as polished this year, where they scored 31.3. But then Badminton this year was not their finest hour – they were eliminated cross country, albeit in particularly heinous conditions. However, they quickly re-routed to Luhmuhlen where Ferg showed a return to top form, bettering his Badminton dressage score by a mark and shooting round the cross country with just 0.4 time faults to sit within the top 10 ahead of show jumping. Sadly five poles on the final day saw them drop back down the leader board, but they still pulled off a top 20 placing, proving that Badminton was naught but a blip for this little pocket rocket.

Historically, it’s the show jumping that has proved to be the Achilles’ heel of this partnership – they had four apiece at both Badminton and the World Championships last year. But the reliability that this special little Thoroughbred shows in the first two phases will no doubt leave him in an enviable position heading into the last day, so there’s certainly a shout that he could deliver the top ten finish that both he and Muzi deserve. If nothing else, give this brave little dude’s cross country performance a watch – he jumps with such enthusiasm, throwing himself over jumps that are almost twice his size with much more gusto than many of his taller counterparts. It’s a joy to behold, and a reminder of why so many of us fell in love with eventing in the first place.

Muzi Pottinger and Good Timing

Twelve year old NZ Thoroughbred (Nom Du Jeu x Baloushe) Owned by Muzi Pottinger. Groomed by Amy Bliss Bennett.

Four of the six Kiwi riders entered here at Pau are bringing two horses across the pond for the final 5* of the season, and Muzi Pottinger is one of them. Alongside her seasoned 5* campaigner, Just Kidding, she will also be riding Good Timing, another Thoroughbred, and a debutant at the level. Johnny or ‘The Shark’ as he is, ahem, affectionately known at home, is ‘a groom’s nightmare’, according to Muzi. As she tells it, it’s just as well he’s good at his job, and his form this season backs that up. He’s finished within the top 20 in both of his international competitions this year.

Muzi brought the twelve-year-old gelding over to the UK in 2022, having previously campaigned him to 3* level in their native New Zealand. Before leaving their homeland, they recorded several top results, not least a second place in the CCI3*-L at Puhinui. They burst onto the European scene at Pratoni last spring as part of the New Zealand Nations Cup team, finishing within the top 20 and confirming their place on the world stage. They rounded off that first season on the European circuit with a double clear at the Nations Cup in Boekelo last October, once again part of Team New Zealand, and once again finishing in the top 20.

Although Johnny didn’t make it on the track, his natural speed has proved an asset thus far in his career – he finished with just 0.8 time penalties in Millstreet earlier this year, earning him third place on the podium, and displayed similar turn of foot in Arville, too, where he added 1.6 time to his first phase score. His jumping record is, quite simply, impeccable – he has had just four poles since his arrival from New Zealand which, when combined with his enviable speed, makes him a very exciting prospect indeed. His dressage shows promise too, though it has yet to become  consistent, and can range from low to high 30’s. Still, as we’ve seen this season, the first phase score isn’t always that important come cross country day, and the leaderboard can be shaken up right up until the last show jump — so a top 20 finish on their 5* debut is certainly not out of the question and no matter the result this weekend, ‘The Shark’ is a serious horse for the future – even if he is a tad aggressive at times. The best ones are all ‘quirky,’ right?!

Jonelle Price and Hiarado

Eleven-year-old KWPN mare (Diarado – Ubiloa, by Ekstein). Owned by David and Katherine Thomson. Groomed by Kerryn Edmans, Kiera and Rosie  

Fun fact for all you breeding nerds out there: Hiarado, the less experienced of the two rides that the formidable Mrs Price — she of that famous eventing power couple, who together topped the FEI World Rankings at the end of last season – has out in France, is by the same sire as fellow Kiwi rider Jesse Campbell’s Olympic mount, Diachello, who can also be seen here this week. That is where the obvious similarities end though, for while Diachello has several high profile events under his belt, Hiarado, or Jools, is relatively new to the upper levels of the sport, and Pau will, in fact, be her first run at 5* level.

She is also pretty new to Jonelle’s string; she joined Team Price just last year, having previously been campaigned by British-based US rider Grace Taylor. With her former rider, Jools jumped clear around several four-star shorts, notching up some impressive results along the way, including 14th place in the 8/9 year old showcase class at Blenheim in 2021. She has continued to show similar promise and aptitude for the sport since Jonelle took the reins: they were third on their first competitive outing together, and this classy mare has jumped double clear on all but two of her outings since then.

They finished in second place in the CCI4*-L at Mallow in the summer, adding just a fraction of cross country time to their first phase score – a result made even more impressive when considering that it was only the mare’s second run at the level. Since then, Jonelle has run her just three times, taking it steady on each occasion, but still managing to finish within the top 10 on two of those three outings. In fact, on their final run before Pau, they took 3rd place in the Open Intermediate at Oasby, despite 12.8 cross country time faults, thanks to their immaculate first-phase performance which earned a 25.9.

It wouldn’t be at all surprising to see Jonelle and Jools (their names even go well together!) towards the top of the leader board on day one. Though Jonelle is famed as one of — if not THE – fastest cross country riders in the world, she will be mindful that this is Jools’ first run at the level, and will likely want to have a steady but clear run on this occasion. Nonetheless, they have had just one pole down in their time together, so even with time faults, they could well climb back up the leader board on the final day. Watch this space: the genius of Jonelle could see them finish within the top 10, even with the mare’s inexperience.

Jonelle Price and McClaren. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Jonelle Price and McClaren

Sixteen year old Holsteiner gelding (Clarimo – Toni I by Landjunge). Owned by Katherine and David Thomson. Groomed by Kerryn Edmans, Kiera and Rosie.

Jonelle’s other ride at Pau is the tiny McClaren, former ride of the great Sir Mark Todd, with whom he went to the Tryon World Equestrian Games in 2018. His owners gave Jonelle the ride when Toddy retired at the end of 2018, though it would be 2020 before they made their first appearance together. They hit it off immediately, and rounded off that first season together with 3rd place in the CCI4*-L at Strzegom. They hit the ground running again in 2021, where they were 2nd in the CCI4*-S at Millstreet, and 6th in the CCI3*-S at Barbury Castle before making their first trip to Aachen for the CCI4*-S. The wheels came off ever so slightly on that occasion, and Mac picked up 20 penalties on the cross country, but redeemed himself just a few months later when he finished 3rd in his first run at 5* level, right here at Pau. On that occasion he added just a smidge of both show jumping and cross country time faults to his smart first phase score of 24.4, demonstrating that what he may lack in stature, he more than makes up for in guts and ability.

Add to that Jonelle’s widely renowned prowess as a cross country rider, and it’s easy to see why these two have proven themselves quite a force to be reckoned with on more than one occasion, despite Mac’s occasional propensity for naughtiness. Part of the bronze medal winning Team New Zealand at last year’s World Championships in Pratoni last year,  they also finished 10th individually, adding just 6 time faults to another smart dressage score of 26.1. However, as talented as this little guy undoubtedly is, he can have a little bit of an attitude problem at times, picking up 20 penalties when it takes his fancy – as was seen on his second appearance at the 5* level in Kentucky last spring. There, he took a dislike to a ditch, and although he still finished within the top 20, he could easily have been far higher in the placings had he just done as he was told. Still, he chose the wrong rider to mess with, and Jonelle made sure to nip any problem he may or may not have had with ditches right in the bud, by taking a makeshift ditch jump everywhere they went afterwards. Including Pratoni, hence their excellent result there.

The decision to return to Pau with Mac was almost certainly made with the intention to repeat, if not better their previous result here, and he is more than capable of doing that – especially with Jonelle in charge. This season he has jumped double clear on all but one occasion – back at Aachen, though this time it wasn’t an issue that came as a result of any cheekiness – and finished 7th in both the CCI4*-S at Millstreet in the summer, and in the Open Intermediate at Oasby last month, his final run before his trip to France. With a flair for dressage as well as ample jumping ability, and one of the world’s best — and fastest — cross country riders in the saddle, Mac could easily pull off the win here this weekend, though he’d be a bit of dark horse to do so. In doing so, reigning Pau champion Jonelle would add yet another 5* title to her ever growing tally, which currently sits at 3 – just two behind husband Tim, but a gap she will nevertheless be keen to close.

Tim Price and Happy Boy, 2022’s Boekelo winners. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Tim Price and Happy Boy

Eleven year old KWPN gelding. (Indoctro – W.Amelusina 17 by Odermus). Owned by Susan Lamb and Terry Miller. Groomed by Kerryn Edmans, Kiera and Rosie 

Team Price are out in force for the last 5* of the season, bringing two rides apiece to Pau. Happy Boy, arguably the better-known ride of Tim – former holder of the FEI World Number One spot — has had just one international start since winning the CCI4*-L at Boekelo last October. On that occasion, he added nothing to his 25.6 dressage score, which meant he finished on the same score as Tom McEwen and JL Dublin — but because he was closer to the optimum time on cross-country day, he took the win. Tim ran him a lot slower on his next outing at 4* at Millstreet this year, but ‘Happy’ still earned himself another tidy dressage mark, before putting in two clear jumping rounds, as is customary for him. Described by Tim as ‘the consummate all-rounder for eventing,’ he has had just one pole down so far this season, and finished up 2022 having had just two down.

Winner of the Seven-Year-Old World Championships at Le Lion d’Angers back in 2019, it’s hard to believe that this will be Happy’s first tilt at a 5*. He was due to make the step up at Luhmühlen earlier this year, but Tim made the decision to withdraw him at the last minute — not something he will have done without good reason. Since then, he has run him in several national classes, delivering steady double clears on each occasion, and shown ever-increasing consistency in the first phase too, with marks straying no higher than 32.1.  Second and fourth on his last two outings, Happy Boy lines up with a fairly good chance of taking a podium place here this weekend, not least because of the skilled horseman who will be riding him.

As Tim says, “he’s really nifty and comes out and does his best in each phase,”a helpful habit which earned him a top ten finish in all of his FEI runs last year, before topping that podium in Boekelo. Happy certainly has all the credentials to make a very good impression at his first 5*. His dressage score may not be quite good enough to disrupt the very top of the leaderboard (although on his day, it certainly is), but he should still be well within contention heading into the jumping phases — and given his penchant for a double clear, another top ten placing here in Pau would not be out of the question.

Tim Price and Viscount Viktor

Nine-year-old Hanoverian gelding (Viscount – Nova EH) Owned by Barbara Cooper, Ginny Rusher and Glynn Norcutt. Groomed by Kerryn Edmans, Kiera and Rosie 

The other ride of Tim Price out in Pau will be Viscount Viktor, who has only been eventing since 2020, and at just nine years old, will be one of the youngest starters this week. Tim describes him as his ‘next big star,’ and for him to be stepping up for his first 5* after just three years in the sport, it would certainly seem that this is the case. He’s has rocketed up the levels right from the word go, making his first international start in his second season in the sport, in the CCI3*-S at Keysoe. It wasn’t necessarily the most remarkable entry onto the international scene – he had both jumping and time faults to add to a smart enough dressage score of 30.4. However, he then jumped clear across country in all of his international starts since the following year including in his first CCI4*-L at Lignieres, where he also show jumped clear to pull off a top 20 finish.

 Hence the promise that double World bronze medal holder Tim sees in him – he showed his talent once again in the CCI4*-L at Mallow earlier this season, where he finished in 4th place with a speedy double clear, his best international result to date. He repeated his jumping clears in both of his following two runs, though he blotted his copy book again at Blenheim last month in the 8/9 year old CCI4*-S with another 20 penalties  after a glance off in the second water and a pole down in the show jumping, too. Still, Tim described it as a ‘half naughty but half green’ run out, a necessary part of his ongoing education.

With this in mind, Tim won’t necessarily be bringing Viktor to Pau for an especially competitive run. Rather, he’ll be keeping the future of this talented young horse in mind, and instead just aiming for a steady and safe run across country, and hopefully a clear round on the final day. The latter is something that Viktor is more than capable of; he’s not always the tidiest of jumpers, but he has jumped clear more often than not this season, so it’s certainly possible for him to put in a stellar performance on the final day. Add to that a dressage score that is unlikely to be much higher than mid 30s and he should pull off a reasonably smart 5* debut and prove himself as yet another bright young star in the Price stable – and for Team New Zealand too, for that matter. An LA Olympic hopeful, maybe? You heard it here first…


Eduardo via Dufresne and Maribera Pomes 15.6. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Eduardo Via-Dufresne and Maribera Pomes 15.6

Ten-year-old Spanish-bred Anglo Arab mare (Bonaparte 81 x Ibera Pomes, by Fuerst Nymphenburg). Bred by Santiago Forn. Owned by the rider. 

This five-star debutant mare might be a bit of a ‘whodat?’ to anyone who doesn’t follow European eventing with an eagle eye, but I, Tilly Berendt, holder of opinions, am here to tell you that I have spent the last three years thinking, every time I see her, that I need to make a bid on her. Not for myself — I have no notions that suggest I’d stand a chance riding one side of this little fireball — but firmly with my agent hat on my head. She is, in short, very, very cool: she’s bold, and brave, and clever with her footwork, and genuine as all get-out, and while her performances can often look a little rough around the edges, I think there’s a real diamond in there — and no fence too big for her to find her way to the other side of, even though she’s quite a petite stamp.

This’ll be an experience-gaining outing rather than a competitive one; her dressage scores aren’t going to put her in a position to fight for a top spot, as they fluctuate through the 30s and sometimes into the 40s, and even though there’s a huge amount of potential for her to become a seriously fast cross-country horse, she does tend to have a fair amount of time on the clock, probably because she can be strong and she and her rider don’t always totally agree on the approach to a fence.  That carries through to showjumping, too, and while she’s very capable of going clear, she also sometimes scatters the poles when they don’t seem to be singing from the same hymn sheet. But daddy, I love her — and I think you will too. It’s also very exciting for Spain to have a horse and rider both stepping up to this topmost level.


Nadja Minder and Toblerone. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Nadja Minder and Toblerone

Fifteen-year-old Swiss Warmblood gelding (Yarlands Summer Song x Medelyne). Bred by Eric Attiger. Owned by Nicole Basieux.

Nadja might be one of the youngest riders here at just 23, but she rides like a much more seasoned pro – and despite a truly uncharacteristic tumble from Toblerone at last year’s World Championships, she can be relied upon to keep forging on ahead and fighting for her goals. She has a palpably close bond with all her horses, but Toblerone, particularly, is special: they’ve come up from Young Rider Europeans to the big leagues together since 2020, and together, they earned Nadja’s first four-star win, taking the CCI4*-L at Baborowko last spring. Nadja was also enormously impressive at last spring’s Pratoni test event, where she rode two horses and lodged two of the just seven clears inside the time of the week. This year, they’ve represented Switzerland at the European Championships, finishing just outside the top twenty with two solid clear rounds.

This will be a first five-star for both horse and rider, and one they’re well primed to make. They’ve been eking their dressage scores down from the mid-to-high 30s to the consistently very low 30s this year, though in a five-star test we may well see that mark sneak back up again, but then you can count on them to deliver the goods over the weekend. They’re very reliable and tend to be quick, and their final phase has gotten really solid, too, so they should do themselves proud this week — and Switzerland, too, which doesn’t often have many competitors at five-star.

Oh, and if you tend to pick your favourite horse of the week based on personality alone, look no further: Toblerone might have a sweet (and very Swiss!) name, but he’s actually a very cheeky chappy – he’s the resident joker of Nadja’s yard, with a real sense of humour and a tendency to keep things rather interesting for everyone on a daily basis.


Phillip Dutton and Z. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Phillip Dutton and Z

15-year-old Zangersheide gelding. Owned by Z Partnership: Evie Dutton, Ann Jones, Suzanne Lacy, Caroline Moran, Thomas Tierney, David Vos and Patricia Vos. Groomed by Joe Bowersox and Grace Harris.

Multiple-time World Championship rider, seven-time Olympian and Pan-Ams medal winner Phillip Dutton comes to Pau with his Tokyo Olympics partner and 2019 USEA Horse of the Year, Z.

Born in Australia, Phillip made the trip to the States in 1991, changing nationality to ride for the US in 2006, not before he won two team gold medals for his native country at the 1996 and 2000 Olympics. He added to his collection with an individual bronze for the USA at Rio in 2016. 

Z started out in Portugal with Francisco Seabra before Duarte Seabra continued the gelding’s education up to CCI2*. Phillip took over the ride in 2015, bringing him through the levels to the very top of his sport. On the lead up to the World Championships in Tryon in 2018, they won the test event, finishing on 28 after adding just 0.4 cross country time to his first phase score. They followed their victory up by finishing best of the Americans at the Championships, in 13th. At Tokyo in 2021, they just outside the top-20. The gelding has finished in the top-10 in four of his five CCI5* starts, and top 5 in two of them, with a fifth place finish at this season’s Kentucky where he added just 0.4 cross country time to his first-phase score of 31.9, and coming in fourth at Maryland last year, finishing on his dressage score of 30.5. He comes to Pau in great form, having won last time out in the 4*-S at Stable View, where he proved he can be sub-30 on the first day with a 28.1. He’s already had a trip to Europe this year, with a sixth place finish at Aachen. 

A 5* he tends to have a toe in the 30s in the first phase, but we really are talking just a smidge. At the 4* level he’s for sure a sub-30 guy, and it would be nice to see him pull that off at the top level this time around. Follow up his solid dressage form with the fact that the gelding has jumped clear across the country in his last sixteen runs – in his 41 FEI completions he has just one jumping penalty (a 15 in the 4*-L at Maryland in the fall of 2019) on his entire record – and we just know that Z will be looking for the flags the whole way round the course, and is sure to be climbing the leaderboard come cross country day. He sometimes adds a breath of time, but not always. Naturally a bit of a perfectionist, he’s a careful show jumper on the whole, with more clears on his score sheet than penalties; he’s jumped clear in all but one of his runs this season. All in all, based on his form, experience and recent excellent performance at Kentucky, Z is for sure one to watch at Pau. 

Cosby Green and Copper Beach. Photo by Erin Gilmore Photography.

Cosby Green and Copper Beach

Seventeen-year-old Irish Sports Horse gelding (Radolin – Cloverballen). Owned by Cosby Green. Groomed by Ryan Warden. 

When 23-year-old Cosby came to the UK earlier this year to base with Tim and Jonelle Price at their base at Chedington, she was achieving a life-long dream, for the pair had long been her idols. When she starts at Pau this week, she will be achieving another: to compete at 5* with her long term partner, Copper Beach. This will be his second trip to the South of France, though – he first came here in 2017 with his previous rider, Buck Davidson. He finished in the top 30 on that occasion, so Cosby will surely be hoping to repeat, if not better, that form this week. She has had the ride on ‘Sean’ for the last three years, and they have enjoyed several successful runs at 4* level, both in the States and since coming to the UK.

Amongst these are top 10 place in the CCI4*- L at Tryon in 2022, as well as a win in the CCI4*-S at Morven Park earlier that same year. They came out all guns blazing on their frst international start on European soil, claiming a top 15 spot in the CCI4*-S at Mallow before taking 8th place in the CCI4*-S at Little Downham in September, adding a few time faults to their first phase score. A nice boost to their confidence ahead of their trip to Pau, no doubt.

They have jumped clear across country on all their starts thus far this season, with a maximum of one pole on the final day. Indeed, they have jumped double clear as often as they have not this year, so fingers crossed Pau sees them pull this off again. With a dressage score hovering around the lower 30’s, it wouldn’t be surprising to see these two finish well within the top half of the field, ending Cosby’s season here on the same high with which it began, and adding to a list of accolades this season that includes earning the best-placed rookie prize at Boekelo earlier this month with another ride.

Sean actually started his eventing career on UK soil, way back in 2011 with Gemma Stevens, and even then, he showed promise, finishing in the top 10 on all but one of his starts in that first season, before stepping up to Novice at the end of that first year. When he was sold to the US, he continued to rack up the results, and has jumped around several high profile US events with Buck, including  Kentucky. 23-year-old Cosby has an experience beyond her years, too, so together they are more than ready to tackle the challenge at Pau this weekend. Still, it must be comforting for Cosby to know that her old mate has already had one successful trip around here – hopefully he remembers the way, and gives her a positive spin around her first 5*, too. Who knows what they have planned for next season, be it Kentucky or another European 5*, but one thing that is almost certain is that Cosby’s is a name you should remember, and this weekend could well be the start of a long – and successful — 5* career for this talented young rider, not least as a result of her time with Mr and Mrs Price.

Allie Knowles and Morswood. Photo by Shelby Allen.

Allie Knowles and Morswood

Fifteen-year-old Irish Sporthorse gelding (Ricardo Z – Princess in Arms, by Present Arms xx). Bred by John Doherty. Owned by Katherine O’Brien. Groomed by Katie Hagerty.

This weekend will be Morswood’s fifth CCI5* with Lexington-based Allie Knowles. Morswood was originally produced through the 2* level by Great Britain’s Piggy March before the reins were handed to Piggy’s then-stable jockey, Ireland’s Susie Berry. With Susie, the gelding contested the Young Rider European Championships in 2017, proving there how quick and competitive he could be across the country.

Since pairing up with Allie, who’s also known for tackling the biggest courses in the world with her OTTB Sound Prospect, Morswood has picked up some exciting results. They went to Maryland in 2021 for Morswood’s first 5* after some of his best performances at CCI4*-S in Unionville and the CCI4*-L at Jersey, ultimately finishing eleventh in that debut at the top level.

The duo then threw their hat in the ring for Kentucky in 2022, cutting their trip short after an unfortunate fall for Allie at the Mighty Moguls. However, the team bounced back for an eighth place finish in the Maryland 5* in 2022. They didn’t complete Kentucky this year, and this autumn, rather than tackling another Maryland, they decided to try their hand — or hoof — at a new venue for the horse, though not the rider. Allie finished 21st here in 2017 on ‘Sounder’.

As if riding at the 5* level wasn’t impressive enough, Allie doesn’t just produce horses and compete – she’s also a USEA ECP trainer, helping her students achieve their own goals, and a young mom. Typical multitasking that we see in a Pony Clubber – she’s an A graduate of Sierra Gold Pony Club.

We’ll look to Morswood to start his week with a low-to-mid-30s score, though he has gone sub-30 at five-star previously. Then, they’ll aim for a clear — and a reasonably quick one, as is their tendency — and they’ll hope to repeat that clear final phase that they delivered on their Maryland debut.

Boyd Martin and Fedarman B. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Boyd Martin and Fedarman B

Thirteen-year-old Dutch Warmblood (Clooney – Paulien B, by Fedor). Owned by the Annie Goodwin Syndicate. Bred by G and G.F. Brinkman.

Boyd rides in honor of the late Annie Goodwin, who was ‘Bruno’s’ previous rider. Annie’s family asked Boyd to take over the ride after her death in 2021 in what he describes as “a massive honor to continue Annie’s work with Bruno.” Boyd describes Bruno as a ‘one-person horse’, and the pair had to take time to grow roots in the partnership, but it has certainly blossomed in the time since. Their top finishes include winning the Tryon CCI4*-L in May of 2022 as well as their 4*-S earlier this year. They also were seventh at Boekelo last year in addition to winning the Grand-Prix Eventing Showcase at Bruce’s Field at the start of 2022, and when Bruno made his five-star debut at Luhmühlen this summer, he thoroughly impressed with an eighth-place finish — a hugely poignant moment for his family of supporters.

Now, we’ll look to them to repeat or even improve upon that finish, and aiming for a win really isn’t beyond the realm of possibility, either. Bruno’s not going to lead the dressage; he’s a high-20s to low-30s scorer, which will put him in a position to hunt his way to the top throughout the weekend. He’s very reliable and naturally swift across the country, and he’s only had one rail since 2020. Boyd ran both his FEI starts since Luhmühlen as combined tests, but there’ll be good reason for that approach — not least that Bruno has been beautifully produced for cross-country, and doesn’t need to put miles on the clock to confirm what he already knows. In any case, they’ve never been out of the top ten in their seven FEI starts in which they have left the start box. Watch them closely this week.


Julia Norman and Ardeo Berlin

Fourteen-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (breeding unknown). Owned by Keith Norman, Bruce Fraser, and Julia Norman. Groomed by Cara Bexton and Sophia Covey.

With most of the horses at Team Norman now on their winter holidays, it will be all eyes on Ardeo Berlin (Bertie) this week – Julia is accompanied by not only her competition groom Cara, but head girl too Sophia too. This will suit Bertie just fine, though; he’s a big fan of VIP treatment and thrives with the one on one treatment that he receives at these top events!

Pau will be a chance for redemption after he and Julia were sadly pulled up achingly close to home at Burghley in September when officials spotted a speck of blood from a tiny bite on his lip. They had looked full of running until that point, so hopefully they will be able to replicate that performance in France this weekend. This will be the third 5* start for Julia and Bertie – “our little pocket rocket” – and Julia’s 5th. Based at the Windmill Stud where she also breeds event horses, Julia actually qualified as a Quantity Surveyor before ultimately choosing to pursue a career with horses.

She has partnered Bertie throughout his entire eventing career, taking him right up through the levels. Together they were 4th at Ballindenisk earlier this year, despite having a grand total of zero prep runs before hand, and were 34th here at Pau this year, despite 20 penalties on cross country day. Bertie, who Julia admits is “not the easiest on the flat” (we can expect to see a mark in the high 30’s or low 40’s in the first phase) lives for the cross country. This was clear for all to see at Burghley: the tiny Irish gelding attacked Derek di Grazia’s track with an enthusiasm and determination that belied his tiny stature. He jumped clear in all but one of his cross country starts last season, and before that his last cross country jumping faults were back in 2019.

This season, Julia – who transferred her nationality to Zimbabwean over the winter – has only run Bertie four times – largely due to the cancellations of many of the spring events she had entered. Still, after a successful spin around the CCI4*-L at Ballindenisk, an almost-completion at Burghley and a jaunt around the OI at both Aston-le-Walls earlier in the summer, and then at Oasby last month, Bertie will certainly be raring to go, and hopefully improve on his 34th place here last year. Fingers crossed for Julia and her pocket rocket; they certainly deserve to make it to the final day, and Bertie will no doubt give this week’s tough course his all as he did at Burghley.

Pau begins tomorrow at 10.00 a.m. CET/9.00 a.m. BST/4.00 a.m. EST with the first horse inspection, while dressage will begin at 2.30 p.m. CET/1.30 p.m. BST/8.30 a.m. EST. You can catch all the action via Horse&Country TV — and keep it locked on EN for all the news, views and updates from each and every day. Go Eventing!

Les 5 Etoiles de Pau links: Website | Entries | Live Scores | Live Stream | EN’s Coverage

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