Suck It In and Pray: Your Pau CCI5*-L Cross Country Preview

“I’ve eaten slices of pizza that were wider than this, y’all.” –Wylie. Photo courtesy of CrossCountryApp.

You’ve heard of show condition, but let us tell you something: there should be a spot on the equine body-scoring chart called Pau condition. This year’s course, designed by Pierre Michelet –– affectionately dubbed Michelet the Menace — is full of all the teeny-weeny, itsy-bitsy, thinner than a supermodel skinnies we’ve come to expect from France’s five-star … and then some. You wanna get through those flags and not take 15 penalties with you? You better suck it up, buttercup.

Check out this (not comprehensive) sampling of the course’s skinnies and corners:

Woof. Lots of technical stuff out there, straight from the dark, labyrinth depths of Michelet’s brain. But it’s not just the dimensions of the fences that make it difficult – and we’re certainly looking at some of the biggest, boldest questions we’ve ever seen at this event – it’s the go-kart turning, too.

There are a few things you need to know about the Pau course: first of all, it’s a city event, and so it has much less space to play with than the likes of Badminton, Burghley, and Kentucky. This means that the first and last third of the course wend their way through a tightly-packed wood, requiring horses and riders to be on their A-game — and their lines — from the word go. The middle section of the course opens up into the middle of the racecourse, where we’ll see our competitors try to make up the time they lost in the early slow minutes, and that they won’t be able to make up in the final slow ones, either. This means that the combinations in these first and last sections are as tricky as it gets: the waters, for example, require dizzying circles and hairpin turns to navigate the myriad obstacles placed within them. The second crucial detail is that the French favour a forward stride — their style is to open up, slip the reins, and ‘allez! Allez! Allez!‘ their way through. If something looks like a compact three, you better plan to land running and make that long two happen, baby. Positivity will be the watchword, and those catty pony types who can problem-solve on their quick little feet will have a ball.

But for all that the course looks like the devil’s playground at first glance, overnight leader Tom McEwen asserts that this course in three parts is actually rather fluid. We’ll certainly be looking forward to seeing his plan of attack in action with his two very different horses, Toledo de Kerser and the oversized Figaro van het Broekxhof.

The official length is 6,410 meters, with an optimum time of 11 minutes 15 seconds.

Here’s the course, via our friends at CrossCountry App. Many thanks to Paul Tapner for the recording.

Pau’s cross-country phase begins at 14.00 local time/13.00 BST/8.00 a.m. Eastern time, and will be live-streamed with English commentary through Horse&Country TV (dressage and show jumping are free; cross country requires a subscription) or here with French commentary (player embedded below). You can find ride times here.

Best of luck to all for a safe, happy day of cross country. Go Eventing!

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