Generally, I like to think I watch horse inspections with a pretty analytical eye. I look at hooves, I look at stride length and whether it’s equilateral, I quietly brew up ways to make fun of all the outfits. I am present.
Today, I would like to be less present.
The first horse inspection at Les 5 Etoiles de Pau, the final CCI5* of the 2023 season, took place mid-morning under the watchful eye of ground jury President Nikki Herbert (GBR), Helen Christie (NZL), and Emmanuelle Olier (FRA). It also took place under the watchful eye of probably the most malevolent raincloud I’ve ever encountered, at a horse inspection at least.
Just two horses were held through the course of proceedings, which was quite enough to make me want to consider a fistfight with the ground jury, not because they were wrong in their decision, but because I’d happily have sent a dying chicken on a unicycle through to dressage if it meant we could get the whole thing done a bit faster.
Those not-dying-chickens-on-unicycles were both of the strong British contingent that’s come forward this week, and both of them, Selina Milnes’s Gelmer and Izzy Taylor’s Happy Days (truly, WHAT ARE THOSE) were accepted upon re-presentation. One further horse, James Avery’s debutant MBF Connection, was asked to trot a second time but not held. And then, I guess, some other people and some other horses fannied about on the trot strip; I don’t know, it felt like we were there for hours and I’ve been having to wring my sleeves out ever since. Can confirm, though, that all 55 are accepted. What more do you want from me?!
Just kidding. Kind of. We’re all delighted to be here, really, even if the south of France is meant to be much sunnier than this. Pau is a firm favourite, not just in my own and EN’s calendar, but in the calendar of the riders it attracts: it’s got a much more laidback end-of-season feel than the pomp and circumstance of the ‘big ones’, and it’s much more compact, too, with the lorry park and schooling area abutting the public food and trade village, which means that everyone intermingles with everyone else, and it’s just really quite nice, you know? It’s also an event that’s chock full of all the bonkers bonuses we all really, truly desire: pint-sized middle-aged Frenchmen in horse costumes, an inexplicable leather-clad horse dominatrix that wanders around, propositioning children, a horseball tournament, for some reason, and something new this year that keeps landing in my inbox with excitable headlines telling me to check out the ‘PONEY DERBY!!!’ that’ll take place in the main arena. Sure! I have no idea what’s happening! Sign me up! I’m still recovering from the bout of ennui that hit me when I realised that they’re not also hosting combined driving again this year, as they ordinarily do, because nothing thrills me more than seeing carriage horses and eventers do a lap of honour together, but I’ll survive — and more importantly, so will our competitors, this year.
Dressage will begin this afternoon at 2.30 p.m. local time/1.30 p.m. BST/8.30 a.m. EST, with New Zealand double-hander Jesse Campbell first in the ring aboard his debutant, Cooley Lafitte. We’ll see nineteen horses and riders in total today, though none of our small but might US contingent — and you won’t want to miss this spicy first batch, which includes France’s Gaspard Maksud and Zaragoza, who were sixth at the World Championships last year, team bronze medallists Jonelle Price and McClaren, and Piggy March and the former Nicola Wilson ride Coolparks Sarco. You can check out the times in full here, and tune in via Horse&Country TV to catch all the action — a viewing mode I highly recommend, because it’s going to dump 30ml of rainfall on us in exactly the scheduled time period that dressage will be underway, according to H&H snapper Peter Nixon. So that’s fun. Wish me luck. Wish us all luck. Go Eventing. Or swimming. And in the meantime, catch up on everything that you need to know with our packed form guide. It’s dry in there.