A successful trip to the south of France for Pau made for a great end to the season. I last went there 15 years ago for the European Championships. It’s a 12-hour drive, but joining up with Laura Collett and sharing the driving and cost made it more fun.
Pau is one of the world’s six four-stars and the French always make you feel welcome. Twelve Brits made the journey — some were rerouting from Burghley and others like me were riding four-star debutants. Pau is a good introduction to this level as the cross-country is on generally level terrain with good ground. It gives you an indication of how good your horse might be.
How Jung nailed it
Money has been spent at Pau to provide a permanent sand arena big enough to hold international driving, which gives a true big-time feel, as well as a consistent surface for the dressage.
However, as seems all too common these days, there were big discrepancies in the dressage judging. When the scores are so close — at Pau, 0.9 of a penalty separated second and fifth places after dressage, and the prize money difference for those placings is €16,800 (£15,143) — erratic judging is not acceptable.
Many riders have suggested having five rather than three judges and following a proposal that has also been put forward for pure dressage of discarding the best and worst scores. The FEI should now consider this.
Most four-star tests are let down by inconsistency in the flying changes, but Michael Jung nailed them all. Neither of his rides were brilliant movers, but his training regime gives him an accuracy that sets him apart. Watching him, there was never a moment of doubt that he would achieve every change.
Upping the French game
Pau cross-country course-designer Pierre Michelet, who was also responsible for the Rio track, is renowned for building technical, bold courses, which need accurate riding.
To make the four-star distance a true test, some parts of the Pau course were very twisty, with narrow fences on committed distances. To get near the time, you needed to be motoring and have complete trust in your horse — and quick reactions if he needed any help. The saying, “If you are enjoying yourself you’re not going fast enough” was true.
I had two fantastic rides, especially from my Olympic reserve horse, the nine-year-old Billy The Red. His aim all year was Rio, but having travelled there and back without competing and come home on good form it made sense to continue his season. I’m very pleased with my small team of horses and their consistent four-star results this season.
There were only seven clears over an up-to-height technical showjumping track, including one from the winner, Maxime Livio. France have upped their game, breeding more horses with thoroughbred blood and the ability to gallop, which is showing in their results.
It was also a great week for my London team-mate Nicola Wilson, who had two horses in the top 10. Eventing is all about partnerships and you don’t lots of horses, as shown by Alexander Bragg’s fifth on the talented Zagreb. He has strong family support and showed what hard work can achieve.
It’s all change now in the British camp with Yogi Breisner’s retirement. The person in this position plays such a pivotal role through the whole system — many are waiting with bated breath to see who will take over.
Ref Horse & Hound; 20 October 2016