Pau Track Topples Best in the World as French Rise to Occasion on Home Soil

Thibault Fornier and Siniani de Lathus. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

It takes a course with a lot of nerve to push the likes of William Fox-Pitt, Oliver Townend, Tim Price and Phillip Dutton out the moon door, but on Pau cross country day, nothing and nobody is sacred. As usual, Pierre Michelet’s take-no-prisoners course laid waste to the dressage leaderboard today — as quick to knock off unlucky giants as it was to reward deserving rookies.

When dressage leader Oliver Townend went overboard at #31A, a double of brushy swans, the door was thrown wide open for mutiny. Enter, to replace the world #1, four-star rookie Thibault Fournier. The 23-year-old Frenchman turned in one of just four fault-free cross country trips today with Siniani De Lathus, a 12-year-old Selle Français gelding (Volchebnik x Elia de Bunouviere, by Tenor de la Cour) owned by the rider and Isabelle Fournier.

“You never know when you have a step up like that how the horse is going to respond, but he went really well,” Thibault says.

Asked to account for all the trouble on course (21 out of 59 starters — over a third of the field — retired or were eliminated), he says, “It was one of those courses where you had to stay concentrated from start to finish. There were a lot of horses who got tired and riders were losing maybe a little bit of concentration and not taking that into account, so maybe that was the reason why there were so many incidents at #34B and #35 which caused a lot of problems.”

Indeed, many riders were on their merry way to the finish flags until the final combination caught them out. #34AB, a big brush atop a mound on a downhill dogleg turn to a triple brush skinny, is enough of an ask, but then #35, another triple brush skinny, pops up in your face another couple strides out. Thibault wouldn’t know anything about that — he was so up on the clock by the time he arrived there, he opted to spare the risk and take the long route.

French riders have won Pau the last three years running (and have three riders in the top 10) and Thibault may well extend the streak tomorrow (not bad for one’s four-star debut). Siniani De Lathus is a one-or-none rail horse — he jumped clear at Bramham and Aachen this year but has had a rail down in his last two runs. He has a rail in hand tomorrow, but Thibault says he’s giving himself no budge room: “I’m going to ride it as if we have no points to spare and stay focused until the end of the competition.”

Gemma Tattersall and Pamero 4. Photo by William Carey Photography.

On Thibault’s heels are Gemma Tattersall of Great Britain and Pamero 4, an 11-year-old Hanoverian gelding (Perigueux x Rita, by Perpignon) owned by Clive Smith. “When I walked the course I thought it was a tough four-star cross country with lots of accuracy questions, and I thought the time would be really tight,” she says.

Pamero’s first four-star was Badminton earlier this year, and Gemma intentionally took her time around the course, coming home with 26 time faults but a confident horse. Today, however, she stepped on the petrol and Pamero delivered, and their double-clear moved them from 13th after dressage into the penultimate spot.

“I think that decision to not go fast at Badminton paid off here,” Gemma says. “He gave me the most wonderful ride around. His jumping was pretty incredible and he was extremely straight to all his skinnies and listening to me, and he finished full of running because we’ve been working on his speed and stamina at home.”

Izzy Taylor and Be Touchable. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Sitting 3rd is another Brit, Izzy Taylor, who had three trips around the course today. It was with Be Touchable, a 12-year-old Dutch gelding (Untouchable 27 x Ureka, by Indoctro) owned by Sophie Dodds, that she rose from 7th into the top three.

“His round was very, very smooth,” she says. “He was good through all the combinations, very good at the water and then just toward the end, coming out of the water he chipped in at the swans, went on two and nearly threw me out the door but luckily stayed upright. That knocked the wind out of him a bit and so he was a little tired for 30 seconds, it took him a minute or two to get his breath back.”

Ros Canter and Zenshera. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Next down the list is Ros Canter and Zenshera, her own 14-year-old Dutch gelding (Guidam x Telvera, by Matterhorn). Fun fact: EquiRatings has confirmed that if Ros finishes in the top three tomorrow, she will become the new FEI World #1 — the first female to be world #1 since Mary King in 2011. For that to happen, she has to jump clear and Izzy or Gemma need to have one down, or Thibault could have two down.

“I’m absolutely over the moon — I’m very proud of Zenshera,” Ros says. “It was a tough old course out there. He’s not the speed machine that some of the others are. He has to dig deep really from the word go, so it was a long slog for him today, but he just kept trying, and he tried, and he tried again, and at the end he had to try really hard. All he wants to do is go through the flags for me, so I’m really delighted with him.”

Ryan Wood and Woodstock Bennett. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

On behalf of the Eventing Nation, we would like to formally extend American-based Aussie Ryan Wood an invitation to just come on over to the dark side and ride with Team USA already. We’re fun, we have good team outfits, your accent fits right in, it’ll be grand.

Ryan and Woodstock Bennett, an 11-year-old gelding (Shannondale Sarco St Ghyvan x Ponail Belle, by Beau Royale) owned by Curran Simpson and the rider, were legends out there today, collecting just 5.2 time penalties to move from 36th to 10th place.

“Yeah, it was pretty awesome!” Ryan says. “We set out there kind of conservative and just got into a good rhythm. It’s his first four-star so I didn’t know what exactly to expect, but he stepped up and did everything I asked. He’s a special horse; we’ve had him since he was four years old so we’ve got a good partnership. He came home really strong and I couldn’t be happier.”

Look at ’em go:

“I probably walked it six or eight times, and had a good plan about how to ride each combination and knowing my horse. There were certain jumps, like the ducks coming out of the last water that we walked in one but thought might ride in two, and we were ready for that. He actually did two little ones there, and then the last difficult combination before the arena (#34AB-#35), we thought it would be a bending three or four to a two, and the original plan was three there — after putting in the second stride at the ducks we decided to stay out for four.”

Hallie Coon and Celien. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

We also couldn’t be prouder of Hallie Coon and Celien, an 11-year-old Dutch mare (Tenerife Vol x R Quicksilver, by Hamlet) owned by Helen Coon and the rider. (See Tilly’s sweet post-dressage feature on the pair here.) They followed up a personal best dressage score of 29.1 with a clear cross country round in their first four-star, with 24.4 time faults owing to the horse getting a bit tired and Hallie making the good horsemanship decision to take a couple options.

“She jumped through the corners in the infield well and then galloped down to the ditch-and-brush and just came down a little short on the landing side of that,” Hallie recounts. “I kind of punched her into the water in the infield and she just didn’t quite have the step to carry across the distance, so I jumped the B and then circled around and took the option out.” They also opted for the option at the #34AB-#35 booby trap, jumping #34AB in a careful four then circling around to the #35 option.

Hallie Coon and Celien. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

The pair will head into show jumping in 20th place. Hallie’s got a competitive streak a mile wide — she told us she didn’t come to Pau to “complete” — and initially she looked a little bummed at the finish about the time penalties, which shuffled her down the scoreboard a bit. (“I set the bar real high for myself, don’t I.”) But then she glanced over her shoulder at her mare in the vet box, steam rising from her dark body and a satisfied glimmer in her eye, and it all shifted into perspective: “I have a happy horse. She has the biggest heart in the world and she tries so hard.”

Kim Severson and Cooley Cross Border. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Kim Severson and Cooley Cross Border were the third combination out of the box and the first out for the U.S. They looked absolutely super and poised for a successful result. “The course rode well,” Kim says. “Crossy tried, he jumped, he was good, he was on it, but then…”

But then … they had a runout at #35, ultimately picking up the 20 jumping penalties plus 9.2 time.

“I rode him really well right up until the end,” Kim says. “I thought I was in there really well and he just didn’t try. He tried everywhere else, he was really, really good, he pulled up well — it’s just very unfortunate.”

At the finish Kim was already examining and cross-examining that stretch of three seconds, trying to figure out what went wrong. “He was on (the line), he was right there. I went right by the tree and I almost felt like he kind of just turned away from the tree for just a second, and then he wasn’t on it anymore.”

Despite the blip, and as a testament to the course’s slash-and-burn influence on the dressage scoreboard, the pair still moved from 28th to 25th.

Phillip Dutton and I’m Sew Ready. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Phillip Dutton and Boyd Martin fell onto hard times earlier on course.

Phillip and I’m Sew Ready, a 14-year-old Dutch gelding (Lupicor x Jarda, by Elcaro) owned by Kristine and John Norton, missed their stride jumping up the bank at #7B and belly-flopped. Phillip went out the side door to the left. Both horse and rider walked off course OK.

Boyd Martin and Steady Eddie. Photo by Leslie Wylie.

Boyd and Steady Eddie, a 15-year-old New Zealand Thoroughbred gelding (Jetball x Tudnella) owned by Pierre Colin, Denise Lahey, and George and Gretchen Wintersteen, were given 50 penalties for missing a flag at the corner at fence #5B, then retired after a runout at the brush corner at #22.

Pau Top 10 After Cross Country: 

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