Words by Helen Scott, picture courtesy of Event Rider Masters, www.eventridermasters.tv

The French took four out of the top five spots in the inaugural running of the Event Rider Masters at the Dodson & Horrell Chatsworth International Horse Trials, with Astier Nicolas, on his four-star horse Piaf De Bneville, taking the top step on the podium.

Kitty King, on the competition leader Ceylor LAN, went into the cross-country last with a comfortable lead. But she had a nightmare in the start box when the nine-year-old was affected by the atmosphere of the nearby finish line and wouldn’t jump out.

“He felt quite relaxed warming up, but we were last to go and all the other horses had left us so he got wound up. I reckon we lost about 30 seconds. It was such a shame as he was foot perfect all the way round,” said Kitty. The pair dropped to 17th.

The best of the Brits, Gemma Tattersall on Quicklook V, was cheered to the rafters by the crowd and for a moment it looked as if she would do it. But sensibly steadying up for the final fence cost her vital seconds and she finished fourth. She joined the podium briefly until Astier Nicolas deposed her.

The Event Rider Masters is a new competition running at six venues across the season, each with a £50,000 prize fund. The 40 top riders who enter (according to the FEI rankings) are accepted into the class and from the start it was a competitive affair. Showjumping and cross-country are run in reverse order, with current leaders sitting on the podium until they are deposed. Ian Stark’s cross-country track made use of the undulations and had plenty of questions, made more challenging by patches of sticky going.

Kitty easily led after the dressage, nearly four penalties ahead of Ireland’s Aoife Clark, on Fernhill Adventure, who had a glance off cross-country, and Germany’s Bettina Hoy on Seigneur Medicott.

She held on to her lead with an immaculate clear showjumping to go into the final phase in podium position, followed by Astier Nicolas and Gemma Tattersall.

The pathfinder cross-country, Christopher Burton on TS Jamaimo, was the only man to get the time, and remained on the podium for a long time until the French invasion began. They eventually finished sixth.

“I really had to chance my arm to do it,” admitted Christopher.

First of the French to make their mark was Karim Laghouag on Entebbe De Hus, eventual third. He was topped by Thibaut Vallette on Qing De Briot, eventual second, until Astier blazed round, with his 6.8 time-penalties nudging him just ahead of his compatriots.

“He’s hopefully heading to Rio, so I didn’t want to go too mad,” said Astier, “but he’s an experienced horse and gave me a fantastic ride.”

Emily King and Flora Harris had falls, and Sam Watson and Tom McEwen were unseated, but all horses and riders walked away.

Full report from Chatsworth, including the ERM and other CIC3* classes, in H&H this week (19 May).