Let’s Twist Again: Riders React to Les 5 Etoiles de Pau Cross Country

There’s swans a-swimming, and witches cackling, and also a mushroom or two out on Pierre’s track.

Well, the riders aren’t kidding when they describe Pierre Michelet’s track as twisty: I literally got lost just trying to follow the route on CrossCountryApp. I had to walk it with my finger five times before I found my way and even then I wasn’t sure I hadn’t jumped a B element twice.

It’s very much got a round-and-round-and-back-and-to-we-go-again vibe – makes me dizzy just thinking about it. Luckily though, I will most definitely not be riding the thing, like, ever. Well, maybe in my dreams after a whole day watching and bringing you live updates, and I’ll probably miss a fence, or cross my tracks, or throw up.

But actually riding it for real are the 55 competitors who’ve signed up for the madness, and EN’s got the scoop on what they think about the whole shebang.

First, the facts:

  • the course is 6322 meters of twists and turns;
  • the optimum time is 11 minutes and 6 seconds;
  • there are 45 jumping efforts, comprised of 31 numbered fences;
  • there are 11 combination fences: eight doubles, two trebles and one ABCD combination;
  • there’s one compulsory passage, which comes between Fences 17 and 18, where riders will have to remember to keep the red on the right and white on the left, and we all know what that leaves in the middle.

Make sure you check out Tilly’s course preview for the low-down on all Pierre’s offered up this year — coming soon!

Who’s let their wife walk the course for them? Who plans to prepare with some weirdly wonderful poetry? Who’s hiking up their brave pants? All this — and more — as we dive into the riders’ reactions to the cross country at Les 5 Etoiles de Pau.

Les 5 Etoiles de Pau: [Website] [Entries] [Schedule] [Live Stream] [Live Scores] [EN’s Coverage]

EN’s coverage of Les 5 Etoiles de Pau is brought to you by Kentucky Performance Products.

Tom McEwen – GBR – JL Dublin – 23.1 – 1st

Tom and Dubs are smiling as they sit in the lead going into cross country. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Tom McEwen is clubhouse leader after the first phase with ‘Dubs’. He’s got to be excited about his chances here this week after they finished Kentucky in the spring as runners-up. Here’s what he thinks of the task ahead:

“Obviously, we had an unbelievable amount of rain on Thursday. I’ve been here in the wet, but not quite that wet! So that’ll be something to pay attention to. I also thought the first four minutes is pretty much a short-format course, so you’ve got to be quite careful to make sure that you get them to recover well going back onto the racetrack – and then from there, it’s just slowly making the time up home really.”

And how does he think it’ll suit Dubs?

“He likes better going, and he likes a flat track – he doesn’t mind twists and turns, because he can keep up the pace everywhere. So definitely we came here because it suited – I wasn’t expecting quite as much rain in the south of France, but it is what it is, and I look forward to tomorrow.”

So do we, Tom, so do we!

Ros Canter – GBR – Izilot DHI – 24.3 – 2nd / Pencos Crown Jewel – 28.3 – 8th

Ros and Isaac are sitting pretty in second. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

To be fair, Halloween is approaching and people are up for frights. So why not walk your 5* course in the dark? You know, for laughs. We’re guessing Ros is planning another trip round the track in more favorable conditions, but each to their own!

“I walked it in the semi-dark last night, so I’ve not seen a huge amount! There’s lots of turning lines to skinnies, there’s lots of places to make a mistake. I think it’s really important that you really know your horse and really have a plan for you. I’ve got two different horses, so probably will have two different plans. It will definitely be about me getting in the right frame of mind for each horse, and hoping I can deliver the performance for each one.”

‘Isaac’ may have looked like a total pro in the dressage ring, putting down a 24.3 to sit in second, but he’s a ten-year-old contesting his first 5*. He’s known to have a good look at some of the, quite frankly, weird and wonderful decorations out on course (anyone else remember the giant pigs?), and I’ve spied a witch in a spooky looking tree at Fence 27. What’s Ros’ plan for holding his hand when thinks he sees a g-g-g-ghost?

“I don’t really know, to be honest. It very much depends on the day with Isaac a little bit, how much that comes out in him or doesn’t. I have 100% faith in him jumping a 5* track in terms of the scope, the carefulness, the bravery – he’s got all of that, it’s about trying to give him a good experience. Will I be going for gold? I’m not sure yet, I’m very much going to let him tell me what he’s thinking. Equally, there’s not a huge amount of Thoroughbred in him and I don’t want to knock him in that sense either. So I will very much go out there trying to be competitive but with his confidence in mind at the same time.”

Jesse Campbell – NZL – Diachello – 26.9 – 4th / Cooley Lafitte – 39.5 – 52nd

Jesse and Danny put their best hoof forward to sit in 4th after the dressage. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Jesse and Diachello put their best hoof forward in their dressage, but he’ll be stepping out as our trailblazer with his other ride, Cooley Lafitte.

“I’m pathfinder, so there’s a lot of responsibility to do a good job for everyone else, so they can see what the track should ride like. I’m excited about taking on that role with my first horse, and he should give me some some really good knowledge for how to ride Diachello.”

Cooley Lafitte is here for his first time at the level, but Diachello’s been to Kentucky and finished just outside the top ten. How does Jesse think the pair will tackle the track?

“They’re two slightly different but similar types of horses. Danny’s [Diachello] quite cold; the other guy’s pretty hot, like you saw in his test. But they’re both really long striding, so these sorts of Pierre Michelet distances should hopefully be not too bad.”

Oliver Townend – GBR – Tregilder – 27.2 – 5th

Oliver’s at Pau fresh off a flight from Maryland, where he finished third with Cooley Rosalent. He’s here with the experienced Tregilder on a reroute from Burghley where they were tearing up the track until his rein snapped, ending their competition early. He’ll be hoping everything stays in tact as he takes on Pierre’s course. What does he think of it?

“I’ve not actually fully walked it yet! I’m going to have two walks today [Friday] and then walk it again in the morning. It looks hard work. Everything’s very French – the distances, and everything’s on the turn, to start with. It’s not ideal, but it’s not ideal for a lot of the field. It’s a five-star and it’s always going to be tough – as it should be. We’ll try and do our best and see where we end up.”

Tim Price – NZL – Viscount Viktor – 28 – 6th – Happy Boy – 32.9 – 24th=

Tim seemed surprised to have the lead overnight on Thursday, Viktor not so much. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

With two 5* debutant rides – Happy Boy an eleven-year-old and Viscount Viktor just nine – Tim’s here to give both horses a positive experience of their first top-level outing. He hadn’t quite walked the course when we spoke to him, but luckily the other half of Team Price seems to be significantly more prepared, and had brought back the intel:

“Jonelle said it’s big and it’s twisty at the beginning. There’s a few distances we have to make a real decision on, so for him [Viscount Viktor] that might be a bit of a tough thing because he’s jumping bigger fences than he’s jumped before. He’s a big striding horse, so if there’s somewhere at 10 minutes that I need to ask him to balance and add one stride, then I think that might be quite difficult for him. But I believe in him a lot. I don’t have any intention of going hell for leather. I just want both of them to have a nice experience and to learn something about themselves, and hopefully I’ll learn something good about them.”

Jonelle’s here with a 5* first-timer too. Why have Team Price chosen Pau for these youngsters’ first taste of the big time?

“Pau is great for a first-timer because it’s flat, so they don’t kicked in the breadbasket with a hill. It’s at the end of the year, so the timing of it is good, because they’ve had lots of experience at 4-star-long and all that sort of residual fitness is there – and it’s on a surface [for the dressage], which is good. You don’t have it really tough here in all three phases because of the weather [which has been wet, wet, wet].”

Piggy March – GBR – Coolparks Sarco – 28.1 – 7th


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Piggy’s on a 5* run right now, having just hopped off the plane from Maryland. How does the track at Pau compare to Ian Stark’s course last week?

“It’s a decent track. There’s lots of places to run past – typical Pau, for sure. It’s very different to last week [at Maryland]. My legs didn’t hurt anywhere near as much when I got to the finish this week as they did last week because it was so up and down, whereas here is a is a flat track.”

Piggy also points out how twisty and turny the course is at Pau.

“It’s twisty, and certainly not an easy track here, it never is. You twist a lot and the distances are big, forward, brave distances. There’s lots to jump.”

Like most riders (and press, and commentators, and grooms, well everyone), the weather’s on Piggy’s mind.

“It’s rained all day, hasn’t it [on Thursday], so it’ll probably be soft – there’s got to be soft patches, it can’t be brilliant. I’m sure Pau can take it though, because it’s sandy.”

And how does she feel about ‘Jeremy’ making his 5* debut this week?

“It’s his first five-star, so you come into it not having a clue what you’re going to get, but he’s ready for it, and that’s important.”

Lea Siegl – AUT – DSP Fighting Line – 29.6 – 10th=


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Lea’s sure made her mark at the top of the sport since her 15th place individually as the youngest rider in the field at Tokyo. She comes here with ‘Fighty’ on great form, and he’s known to be super speedy across the country. She’s noticed those twists and turns out on course. What’s her plan?

“I think it’s very tough. It’s very twisty – there are many turns and it starts very, very quick. The first fences are quite tough, I think, and so if you finish the first twelve fences, then you can start to gallop. But then come back, [as] the last [part of the course] is also a bit twisty. I think the time will be very hard to get, but I have a fast horse and I will try to not pull him back too much in the beginning and keep fluid. So we will see!”

Phillip Dutton – USA – Z – 29.9 – 12th


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Phillip’s another rider who’s on the second of two 5*s on a related distance, having competed at Maryland with his lovely young mare Azure. He’s here with Mr Experience, USEA Horse of the Year 2019, Z. (In case you’re wondering, it’s Zee, not Zed.) He’s another rider to have clocked the turns.

“It’s a lot of turning and rolling back and that kind of thing, so it’s a unique event. But the good horses adjust to what they have to do and so, hopefully, Z and I will as well. I think that it’s always beneficial to be able to watch, and fortunately, the draw I have, I can do that. Some of the distances are quite forward, some are quite short, so you have to make a choice which one you’re going to do.”

Jonelle Price – NZL – Hiarado – 30.4 – 13th / McClaren – 32.4 – 21st


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As well as walking the course for Tim, Jonelle’s been counting strides, and is coming up a little short, or long, depending on how you look at it.

“It’s very Pau like. It feel like similar questions been repeated throughout. There’s quite a few three and a half strides, which I’m not a massive fan of, but that’s our responsibility as the rider to figure out how to make them work. I think nearly every other fence is either a corner or skinny or an angled rail, so there’s plenty of opportunities to have a mistake if you don’t quite execute those three and a half just right.”

Nadja Minder – SUI – Toblerone – 30.5 – 14th


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You’d think walking a 5* track on your debut at the level might be just a tad daunting, but for Nadja, not so much! She is here with the horse she’s had through Young Riders, though, and who better to have than your best friend at your side (or technically, underneath you), as you embark upon the biggest test of your career? She doesn’t want to jinx anything by saying it too loud, so read this in a whisper; what did she think of the track?

“Very technical. I don’t want to say – I don’t underestimate it, but I’m quite happy that I wasn’t that shocked when I walked it. That’s good! I hope!”

The weather’s on her mind though:

“With the rain the whole day [on Thursday] it will be interesting what it does to the cross country day on Saturday.”

Despite her young age, she’s very wise in her primary goal for her first 5*.

“I just want to get round safe and sound hopefully – that’s the main goal, to have him for next year, obviously. To get the experience under my belt.”

She’s got some 5* advice on the way in the form of eventing legend Andrew Nicholson, the Swiss team cross country coach, who’ll arrive at Pau on Friday in time to impart his knowledge before Nadja takes to the track on Saturday.

“I mean, there’s no one better than him to have around for your first five-star – it’s quite a luxury. So we’ll see, but I have a good feeling. I have a lot of trust in him [Toblerone] and I mean, you can’t have a better record than him over cross country tracks. When I haven’t fallen off he’s come home clear, so I just need to have a little bit of the stickability of Andrew!”

Kylie Roddy – GBR – SRS Kan Do – 31.7 – 16th=

Kylie came dressed for the weather, which we approve of 100%. Photo by Tim Wilkinson, via Facebook.

Kylie’s been thinking about the questions that Pierre Michelet is asking of the riders in terms of how they’ve prepared their horses for the level.

“There’s lots of different challenges he’s [Pierre] put out in the course. We’ve got a lot of distances that might be three, might be four – it depends how you jump in. He’s been really clever. It’s all about how we’ve trained them. Are they quick enough with the footwork? Can we commit to a distance at the A element and still keep that pattern through to the B and C element? And he’s challenged our rideability.”

Kylie came to Pau last year with her other horse Carden Earl Grey, and finished just outside the top ten with SRS Kan Do a couple of years ago. How does she think this year’s course compares?

“It’s nothing I didn’t expect, but I think it’s tougher than last year, I walked it and I thought, ‘Oh, actually, there’s a fair bit more to do’.”

The racetrack part of the course is one area that’s quite different from last year. What does Kylie make of that?

“We’ve got a couple of blinds out there. Normally, it’s there for them to see. We’ve got a blind corner and then in that last water [Fence 20AB and 21] that last little bit, it’s separately numbered but it is blind to them. The big, bold water jumper is going to get caught out, possibly. They’re all things that we’re mindful of, and hopefully we can come up with the right balance and canter and rideability on the day.”

Boyd Martin – USA – Fedarman B – 31.7 – 16th=

Boyd’s singing in the rain – and jumping, and turning, and going, and whoaing… Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Boyd’s also eyeing up the second element of the combination of 5*s we’ve been enjoying over the last couple of weeks. He must have tracks coming out of his ears, but how does he think ‘Bruno’ will like this one?

“I think he’s well suited to these types of tracks where it’s a sort of quick, nifty, accurate, jump-off type course. It seems to me it’s a notch harder than Luhmuhlen, which is about what he needs. I felt like he did Luhmuhlen quite well and he’s improved a lot since then. He loves those sort of Tryon tracks but we’ve still got a mission ahead of us though, it’s going to be hard work, but I’m quietly confident.”

And the course itself, does he foresee any tricky bits?

“I think the first third of the track is the hardest. We’ve got to set off, and you get two warm up jumps, and then it’s like arena eventing for the next two minutes. I’m going to warm my horse up a bit longer than usual, and they don’t let you into the course much, so I am going to get him jumping and turning and going and whoaing [a technical term, Boyd assures us, who, as well being an event rider, is also a poet], and trying to get him ready. Fence 4 is this drop, three strides to a wicked angled corner, and the last couple of events I’ve screwed up early in the course, so I’ve got to really be disciplined in my riding and make sure my horse is ready for the intensity of the first part.”

Someone needs to make a reel out of Boyd’s rap offering. What you gonna do, Boyd? “Jumping, and turning, and going, and whoaing”…

Allie Knowles – USA – Morswood – 33.3 – 28th

Allie’s another rider with distances on her mind. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Allie’s made the trip from the States with ‘Ginge’, and we’re super pleased to see her here. We asked her where she thinks the big questions lie on Pierre’s particularly European track.

“That’s a tough question. I’ve only walked it once, so I’m having to think here! I think actually from Fence 3 to Fence 9, you’re going to know what you’re dealing with. It feels like a very taxing couple of first minutes. From Fence 3 you’ll know how they feel on a blind drop, and we repeat that a few times, so how he [Ginge] jumps that will sort of tell me how he’s going to jump the next. Is he going to land short? Or is he going to travel down the hill? Because then after that we have the same kind of blind drop but with a skinny at the bottom [Fence 4AB], and down back to the corner [at B] is a fairly aggressive three, for him at least. I think I’ll know where he’s at, and how much he’s focused. I think that’s going to be telling. Then obviously, the first water’s very difficult [Fence 7AB] – a lot of blind turns. So once you’re through that, then I think I’ll know better how the last water will ride [Fence 24AB] and how that big coffin [Fence 18ABC] will ride. I think there’s a lot to learn in the beginning that can help you carry through the end.”

Cosby Green – USA – Copper Beach – 35.1 – 35th=

Cosby plans on sticking to her plan. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Cosby’s a US rider who hasn’t had so far to come — just the 24 hours or so it takes to drive down in a lorry — having made the move earlier this year from the States to be based with Tim and Jonelle Price. Her late draw means she’ll get to watch the two masters at work before she sets out on her first 5* trip. She may be young, but she’s sure wise as she tells us how she’s feeling about what lies ahead.

“It’s twisty, but just having good faith and riding smartly in the moment and sticking to the plan as best you can is how I’m going into it. I’ve been relying on the training that I’ve done this past year to really havee a good foundation and so I’m just going to use that when I go out there. I find comfort in that.”



Tom Rowland – GBR – KND Steel Pulse – 35.3 – 38th / Maybe A Mission – 37.3 – 46th


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Tom’s a rider who’s been chatty on the ‘gram.

“The cross country is so so technical. It might not quite be the size and stamina of Burghley or Badminton but when you consider that Badminton this year didn’t have a single skinny and there must be 15 here! There are many lines which in my mind make it a true 5* course.”

Isabella Innes Ker – GBR – Highway – 36.7 – 43rd


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And Bella’s also gone social about how she feels about her big day with her unicorn 🦄

“Tomorrow’s the biggest day we’ve ever faced together, so hoping we’re both got our brave pants on!!”

Hike them up, Bella, and go eventing!

So there you have it, all the twists and turns (and whoaing) of Pau.
Kick on, and allez eventing!

Les 5 Etoiles de Pau: [Website] [Entries] [Schedule] [Live Stream] [Live Scores] [EN’s Coverage]

EN’s coverage of Les 5 Etoiles de Pau is brought to you by Kentucky Performance Products.


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