Riders have been giving their first impressions of the Pau Horse Trials cross-country course ahead of the five-star action tomorrow (28 October).
Pierre Michelet’s track features 31 fences over a distance of 6,322m, and as in previous years it is as twisty as ever. The optimum time is 11 minutes six seconds, and riders will have to navigate four water complexes, skinnies, corners, and some tough combinations.
One of the key talking points ahead of the cross-country is the influential distances.
“It’s very Pau-like,” said Jonelle Price, who won the 2022 Pau on Grappa Nera, and this year rides McClaren and Hiarado.
“There’s quite a few three-and-a-half strides, which I’m not such a massive fan of, but that’s our responsibility as riders to figure out how to make them work.
“Nearly every other fence is either a corner, or a skinny, or an angled rail – so there’s plenty of opportunities to have a mistake if you don’t quite execute those distances right.”
Tom Rowland, who rides KND Steel Pulse and Farndon, agreed and said that riders will need to be “really aware” of the distances.
“A lot of them are half strides,” he said. “I think it’s a really decent test, and that seems to be the consensus. It’s a proper five-star in terms of the number of turning combinations, accuracy fences, and the lines Pierre is asking you to commit on.
“To be totally honest it’s different to Badminton or Burghley in that it’s not as big, and after you walk those courses to me you feel quite tired like, ‘God that was exhausting’, but here it’s not like that.
“I don’t think there was a single skinny fence at Badminton this year like a triple brush, but there must be almost 20 here. It’s a very different track, but in its own right I genuinely think it’s every inch a five-star course.”
‘You need to know your horse’
Ros Canter will pilot Pencos Crown Jewel and five-star first-timer Izilot DHI round the Pau Horse Trials cross-country and said there are “plenty of places to make a mistake”.
“I think it’s really important that you have to know your horse and have a plan,” she said.
“I’ve got two different horses so I will probably have two different plans. For me it will be about getting the right frame of mind for each office and hoping I can deliver the performance for each one.”
Another talking point is the early questions on course, and US rider Boyd Martin, who brings forward Ferdarman B, believes the “first third of the track is the hardest”.
“We’ve got to set off and you get two warm-up jumps, and then it’s like arena eventing for the next two minutes! I think I’m going to warm my horse up a bit longer than usual, and really get him jumping, and turning, and going, and whoa-ing, and try to get him ready,” he said.
“Fence four is this drop with three strides to a wicked angle corner [pictured below], and at the last couple events I’ve screwed up early in the course so I’ve got to really be disciplined in my riding and make sure my horse is ready for the intensity of the first part.”
Boyd’s compatriot Alexandra Knowles, who rides Morswood, agreed.
“I think from fence three to fence nine you’re going to know what you’re dealing with,” she said.
“It feels like a very taxing few couple first minutes from fence three; you’ll know how they feel up on a blind drop and we repeat that a few times, so how my horse jumps that will tell me how he’s going to jump the next – is he going to land short, or is he going to travel down the hill, because then after that we have the same kind of blind drop but with the skinny at the bottom?”
New Zealander James Avery will be taking on the Pau Horse Trials cross-country with 10-year-old five-star first-timer MBF Connection and believes it will be an educational track for a young horse.
“At first glance it looks like a great course. There’s lots of questions, and a lot of stuff that we practise and do a lot of, but it’s the accumulation of question after question after question that is tough for a young horse like mine. It’s testing but kind and obvious to horses,” he said.
“There are a lot of riding up mounds and coming down the other side, and I’m prepared that halfway round, my horse might start going ‘Really again, another one?’ I think that’s one thing I need to watch.
“The angle brush coming out of the water after the step [fence 9abc] is a pretty good early question. It encourages forward riding, and that’s the first place where I think that forward riding might catch you out. So you want to be on the ball there.”
Pau Horse Trials cross-country: wet weather
Another factor to add to the mix will be what effect Wednesday’s (26 October) downpours will have had on the ground.
Piggy March is on five-star first-timer Coolparks Sarco and said Pau’s ground can generally “take it” when it comes to water, but she believes that there will be some “soft patches”, while Tom McEwen, who is riding JL Dublin, said there had been an “unbelievable amount of rain”.
“I’ve been here in the wet but not quite like that, so that will be something to pay attention to,” he said.
The Pau Horse Trials cross-country gets under way tomorrow (28 October) at 11.30am local time (10.30am British time). Check out the full course.
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