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So that’s it — the last event of the 2017 season is over. It has felt like a long year, and I think we are all quite pleased to have finished now. The New Zealand team had a great win in the Nations Cup final at Boekelo — I know it isn’t a major championship, but it was a nice “feel-good” boost and bodes well for next year.

Pau is a lovely event to go to as a finale — we enjoyed fabulous weather, and it has a wonderfully friendly, relaxed atmosphere. Data analytics company EquiRatings wound everything up by announcing that Andrew Nicholson and I could take the world number one spot if we got the right results, and that created a buzz.

I took two horses: the experienced NZB Campino, and Kiltubrid Rhapsody, tackling his first four-star. Both did very good tests to sit in equal third and fifth places after dressage. With the late withdrawal of Michael Jung and La Biosthetique-Sam FBW, it was all on for an exciting competition.

Tougher than expected

When we walked Pierre Michelet’s cross-country track, we thought it was reasonably difficult, but I didn’t expect it to cause the level of trouble it did. It was twisty with lots of combinations on turns, and very “French” with forward distances, but beautifully presented and the ground was near-perfect. There were very few frangible pins, interestingly enough.

By the time I went on my first horse, I think only two riders had got home. Rhapsody has a big jump and a huge stride, and at fence seven he jumped enormously over the first rolltop with a drop behind it, which meant he pitched on landing a bit and I couldn’t quite turn him enough to make the corner three strides later. That was an annoying 20 penalties, and I didn’t put my foot down round the rest of the track, but he jumped it all beautifully and did a lovely clear showjumping round the following day. It was an excellent introduction to four-star level for him and, aged 10, he’s an exciting horse for the future.

The one fence I was a little worried about for Campino was number 11. He’s always been a bit “ditchy”, but it’s fine if I can keep up the pace and give him a forward, confident jump. Here we had to throttle down up a bank and over a brush, then turn on a downhill three strides to a narrow, angled brush over a ditch, followed by another on a sharp left-handed turn. We had a problem at the b element, the first ditch, and I retired. There was no point carrying on for him to finish right down the field, and I had had quite a heavy fall at Aldon the Friday before Pau week and had sore, strapped-up ribs which I was feeling. Not the results we had hoped for, but we all returned in one piece.

Problems were spread right round the course, and I think it was a true four-star test. It wasn’t the strongest four-star field ever assembled, but it was good to see some younger riders coming through — including three past and present winners of the Mark Todd Bridging the Gap scholarship in Alicia Hawker, Franky Reid-Warrilow and Alexander Whewall. And Sarah Bullimore rode exceptionally well to get all her three horses home with clear cross-country rounds and very few time-faults.

Ref Horse & Hound; 2 November 2017