‘Plenty of places where you can make mistakes’: Riders react to ‘intense, twisty and long’ Pau Horse Trials cross-country course

  • The optimum time has proved as much a talking point as the fences as riders’ focus shifts from the dressage to Pau Horse Trials’ cross-country course at the French five-star fixture (28 to 31 October).

    Pierre Michelet’s course features a time of 11 minutes 50 seconds over a distance of 6,740m. Horses and riders will be faced with 31 fences, involving 45 jumping efforts, across the twisty course which features four water complexes and finishes in the main arena.

    “We haven’t gone 11 minutes 50 for a long time,” two-time winner William Fox-Pitt, who has two horses in the mix for the 2021 event, told H&H.

    “That will be interesting – it’s certainly not over in the dressage arena.”

    He added: “It’s not enormous, it’s not scary, but there’s a lot of parallel-drop-turn-corner and parallel-drop-turn-skinny combinations. There’s probably about 10 or 12 of those questions on the course. Turning to skinnies or corners seems to be the flavour of the day.

    “You never underestimate the waters here. They’re not enormous, but they always cause trouble with all the shadows.”

    William added he “hopes for rain” to avoid those shadows on Saturday. While many riders got a soaking during their dressage tests today, the forecast for tomorrow looks drier and overcast with a light breeze and highs of 19C.

    Dressage leader Tim Price, who holds provisional first with Sue Benson’s Falco, has five time penalties in hand over wife Jonelle in second.

    “On one side, it’s a very challenging track tomorrow, the dimensions are consistently wide and big all the way round there and there’s some real choices to make,” he said.

    “Either you plan before you go, or you react in an instinctive way, which is a great Pierre Michelet trait. So you can only have a fairly certain plan to a degree, because the risk just happens on the move.

    “I think that’s going to be a case all the way round, and I don’t think the time’s going to be any easier to get, even with the gallop coming home.”

    Ireland’s Padraig McCarthy, in provisional fourth overnight with five-star debutante Fallulah, also nodded to the length of course as a notable factor.

    “It’s going to be a real five-star I think,” he told H&H. “I’ve never been here before and it’s much different than the five-stars I’ve done, which have been Bicton and Badminton. There you can really set out and get going across country, whereas here has a lot of loops, and it’s not always intuitive which direction you’re going to go in when you’ve come off a combination.

    “I think, without having ridden it, it looks like it»s hard enough to really get your teeth into the course here, because even though it’s a flat site, you’re turning and you’re up and down off mounds, so it feels quite intense.

    “There’s certainly plenty of places where you can make mistakes so I’d be surprised if the leaderboard looks exactly the same tomorrow evening as it does today.”

    British CCI5* first-timer Ailsa Wates, in equal 11th after the first phase with Woodlands Persuasion, told H&H the course is “definitely a level-up” from her experiences at four-star.

    “It’s really big and technical,” she said. “There’s so many places where you could have a mistake. It’s very twisty and really high intensity.

    “The first question is at fence four [to five AB], which is really early on. It’s a really stiff question for the beginning. You’ve just done three plain jumps and then you jump a big fence on the top of the mound, turning to two very angled brushes on a committed two strides. That kind of sets the tone. It’s pretty intense, but it’s really beautifully designed and there is so much attention to detail on all the jumps.”

    Sidney Dufresne, the highest-placed home-side rider after the first phase in provisional eighth with Swing De Perdriat, added: “You really need to know your horse well when you’re competing at this level. You don’t take the same lines with all horses. Tomorrow’s going to be a real battle.”

    French national champion Maxime Livio cautioned that the course is “not something to be taken lightly”.

    “It’s going to be interesting to see how it rides,” he said. “There are parts where we’re going to have to ride smoothly and perhaps a little slower, and other sections where we’re going to be able to let the horses gallop flat out to make up time. Even if we gallop whenever we can, the horses are going to tire very quickly.”

    View the Pau Horse Trials cross-country course map

    Pau Horse Trials cross-country course: how does the time and distance compare?

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