Laura Collett leads Pau five-star after dressage: ‘He was scared to start with, but the canter was amazing’ *H&H Plus*

  • Find out what Laura Collett was thinking as she rode her leading dressage test and why there was disappointment for Jonelle Price with her former five-star winner…

    Laura Collett tops the Pau Horse Trials 2020 dressage results at the close of the phase today (23 October), following a brilliant test on London 52.

    Keith Scott, Karen Bartlett and Laura’s 11-year-old is at his first five-star but is an established star in the first phase and after a slightly nervous entry when he put his head up in the first halt, he improved throughout the test for 21.3. This put the pair 0.7 of a penalty ahead of Thursday’s leaders, Chris Burton and Graf Liberty, owned by Jill Martin and David Webster.

    “He was very good – he was scared to start with,” said Laura. “He went down the centreline and shoved his head to one side and looked at all the people; I struggled to get him to trot. He can do better trotwork, I had to be a bit safe because he felt a bit fractious, but he let me in in the canter and it was amazing. He likes showing off!”

    Laura had her Pau horses at Le Lion last week and said London 52 was very relaxed there, but he has changed this week with the atmosphere at Pau, something horses aren’t accustomed to in this year of eventing behind closed doors.

    “They’re so not used to seeing people and he’s been quite lit up and nervy,” she said. “Yesterday morning he did some amazing work and I was getting excited, but then in the afternoon I rode him in the arena familiarisation and he was off his head and I thought, ‘We’re in trouble’. But luckily he’s learnt the arena is a safe place and he knows to listen and concentrate, that’s where he’s grown up in his brain.”

    Laura presented the test beautifully, with spot-on accuracy, and the extensions were the highlight. French judge Xavier Le Sauce awarded her a 10 for the extended canter, which was the moment when Laura overtook Chris Burton on the running scores.

    “I watched a few smart tests yesterday – Piggy [March], Tom [McEwen] and Burto [Chris Burton] – and knew it would take something pretty special to beat them,” said Laura. “When I did my first centreline I thought I’d blown it – you can’t afford mistakes when you’re trying to beat a 22 – but when I went into canter, I could really go for it.

    “I looked at the screen and knew if I nailed the last flying change, I’d be there or thereabouts. I thought, ‘Don’t put any pressure on, just ride it like the others.’ He was awesome.”

    Bragg into seventh

    Alex Bragg was the best of four Brits forward in the first session, scoring 24.9 for seventh. Philip and Sally Ellicott’s rangy bay Zagreb – who has been in the top five here three times – showed off the scope of his paces and gained five nines, as well as a 9.5 from British judge Nikki Herbert at B for his canter stretch circle.

    “The horse was very good today, I’m pleased,” said Alex. “He’s very expressive and quite established now so I just wanted a really solid clear round and he was exceptionally rideable. I felt I could ride the transitions in and out of his extended movements better than ever before.

    “I’m glad the judges enjoyed watching him and rewarded him with the marks – we needed it because it’s one of the most competitive Paus I’ve ever been to.”

    Zagreb’s work was only marred by a missed first flying change and a half step back in the first halt, for which his marks ranged from five to 8.5.

    “I felt he wasn’t quite square behind, so I went to nudge him and he thought about coming back, so I thought I’ll just ignore that and go forward,” explained Alex. “It was me trying to make a minor adjustment and him reading the question a bit wrong. As a rider, that’s a bit of ringcraft – to go forward before you ruin the mark altogether – it’s better to get a mid-range mark than really low.

    “It was just a communication thing and didn’t affect the rest of the test. After the first medium trot he felt great, relaxed and in self-carriage, and off we went.”

    Alex showed his delight as he left the arena, taking off his top halt and treating the masked crowd to a little celebratory dance.

    Pau Horse Trials 2020 dressage results: six Brits in top 10

    Four other British horses besides London 52 and Zagreb are in the top 10 as the phase concludes, with Piggy March third on John and Chloe Perry and Alison Swinburn’s Brookfield Inocent, Ros Canter (Zenshera) equal fifth, Mollie Summerland (Charly Van Ter Heiden) eighth and Laura Collett’s first ride Mr Bass holding 10th. The next three places are also in Team GBR’s control, with Nicola Wilson (Bulana) 11th, while Tom McEwen (Toledo De Kerser) and Sarah Bullimore (Conpierre) share 12th.

    A New Zealander, an Australian and a German also secured spots in the top 10 during this morning’s action.

    Wesko, who joins his stablemate Ringwood Sky Boy as the oldest horses in the field at 17, was the last horse into the arena and his relaxed, classy performance was only disturbed by a half step into canter as he approached the right trot half-pass. He and New Zealand’s Tim Price garnered 23 for fourth place.

    Australian Kevin McNab’s even test with Scuderia 1918 A Best Friend was rewarded with 24.8 to sit alongside Ros Canter in equal fifth. Tim and Kevin both have another horse in the top 15, with Tim 14th on Ringwood Sky Boy and Kevin 15th on Scuderia 1918 Don Quidam.

    Germany’s sole representative at the French five-star, Christoph Wahler, presented lovely elevated trotwork with the grey Carjatan S, but some anticipation in the flying changes dropped his marks. However, his score of 25.6 – including four nines, two of them from British judge Nikki Herbert at B – is good enough to see him into ninth at the close of dressage.

    World number one Oliver Townend was the first rider into the arena this morning, MHS King Joules steaming gently in the morning sunshine. Unfortunately the smart black showed his tension and nerves when he cantered in the first corner going into the medium trot, which meant the pair were fighting to get back on terms with the leaders throughout the test. Impressive canter work lifted their score and they finished on 28.3 for 17th at the end of the day.

    There was disappointment for New Zealand’s Jonelle Price – there were moments where she was able to show off the former Luhmühlen winner Faerie Dianimo’s extravagant paces, but the grey mare became very tense, cantering in extended trot and then completely losing the movement as she crabbed sideways in the right canter half-pass. She finished well down the order on 36.9.

    Tomorrow’s cross-country phase over Pierre Michelet’s track starts at 1.30pm French time (12.30pm British time), with Tim Price first out on course with Xavier Faer.

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