Mark Todd: Pau’s cross-country course lacked inspiration and the time was too easy *H&H VIP*

  • Pau is always a fun event with which to finish the season. The weather is usually nice, it is relaxed and welcoming, the site is compact and user-friendly — the one downside is it’ s a long way from Wiltshire.

    There are great warm-up areas and a huge main arena, but our horses aren’t used to that dead sand which has no bounce to it. The French horses seem to cope better with it than ours, but they are more accustomed to it.

    There were no real surprises in the dressage — Michael Jung was in first and second. Emily King did a very good test and, but for one mistake, could have actually been in the lead.

    I was a bit disappointed with my own test on NZB Campino — he didn’t go as well as he can do. I was in 14th place on 43.3 — apart from Michael’s two, it was very close.

    My first impressions of the cross-country were that it was fairly straightforward. The water complexes looked the most difficult fences, along with the “bunch of grapes”, which was very narrow and visually hard for horses to focus on, and that was how it turned out. The going was as good as it can be, but again the sandy soil rides quite dead and horses can finish jarred up.

    The general feeling was that course-designer Pierre Michelet lacked a bit of inspiration. It was very samey — up a rise in the ground to a brush, then a forward three or four strides to an angle or skinny, repeated several times.

    The time was too easy. I had a super ride — one of the most comfortable, easy rides I’ve had round a four-star — and, after I’d seen Blyth Tait take the long option at the second-last and make the time, I did the same. I still finished 20sec under the time — and despite that, only managed to move up two places after cross-country.

    I moved up two more places after the trot-up, as the leaders, Michael Jung and Halunke FBW, withdrew from the holding box, as did Bill Levett.

    Pau is also renowned for big showjumping tracks, and this year’s lived up to that — it was up to height with a good degree of technicality.

    Campino didn’t feel comfortable on the surface and to have two fences down was out of character for him. Horses that normally jump well were hitting fences.

    Michael was maybe lucky just to have one down — without his skill, his horse could have had more. But it was great for the locals that Astier Nicolas jumped a lovely clear round and won.

    Winter plans

    Another busy season is now over. We are having Christmas in Britain and heading to New Zealand in January for a few weeks. I’ve downsized my team of horses so I can focus on Leonidas II and Campino for the Olympic Games — both have put up solid performances at four-star level and I’m looking forward to next year. I think we can improve again — and it’s nice to know I can still be competitive at the top level!

    FEI grumbles

    Why on earth is the FEI General Assembly in Puerto Rico this year? And why was it in Azerbaijan last year? Do these countries even have proper equestrian industries? And what about the cost to the FEI — who is paying for everyone to get there?

    And a plea to the FEI to update their unwieldy website so those of us who aren’t computer wizards can actually use it to find out the things we should know.

    Don’t be scared

    Mark Phillips referred to my usual plea for more prize-money in his last column. I do keep banging on about it — because other people keep banging on about it to me. Over 30 years in the sport, with the exception of Badminton and Burghley, the prize-money has got worse, not better. I know there are many factors involved, but as soon as the word is mentioned, everyone comes up with every excuse as to why it can’t — and even shouldn’t — improve.

    Surely there would only be benefits? Horses would become more valuable, encouraging more owners into the sport with the hope of some return. Riders would have a chance of making a living and would target their horses more specifically for competitions. We could pay our staff better. Breeders would be better compensated and more likely to breed specifically for eventing.

    There would be a huge knock-on effect — and only for the good. We should embrace the concept, not run from it.

    Best wishes to Fox-Pitt

    Finally, we all wish William Fox-Pitt a speedy recovery. How strange it is that of the top three riders in the world, two — William and Andrew Nicholson — should have had serious accidents recently, while the other, Michael Jung, is effectively riding with a broken leg…

    Ref: Horse & Hound; 29 October 2015