Laura Collett claims her first five-star win at Pau: ‘I never actually believed it would come off’ *H&H Plus*

  • Find out how the final phase panned out at Pau today and about winner Laura Collett’s long road to this first triumph at the very top level of eventing…

    Laura Collett topped the Pau Horse Trials 2020 final results today (25 October), winning her first five-star title at the only event at the level this year.

    The British rider had to showjump clear to secure victory with her own, Karen Bartlett and Keith Scott’s London 52 and the pair put in an assured performance, only rattling the middle element of the treble at fence nine.

    “It’s going to take a while for this to sink in,” said Laura. “I never actually believed it would come off.

    “I knew the horse was capable and I wouldn’t swap him for the world. He’s unbelievable in the dressage and the way he came out today having gone cross-country yesterday, I’m a very lucky girl to be sat on a horse like that on the last day.

    “I just had to believe if it was meant to be it would be and if it wasn’t I knew the horse had it in him at some point. It was his first time at this level and to come out and lead from start to finish is what dreams are made of. I still can’t really believe it’s happened.”

    Laura is 31 – by no means old for a rider to claim their first five-star victory – but it has nonetheless been a long road to this first triumph at the very top level of the sport. She rode in – and won – her first international competition 16 years ago and this was her 12th start at five-star.

    Prolifically successful from the off, she won nine medals at under-21 level including three individual golds, but also experienced the tough sides of the sport early, from horse injury to having to sell favoured mounts to build the next stage of her career. The sale of her FEI pony Noble Springbok set her up to buy several horses including Rayef, who took her to eighth on her Badminton debut and a first senior championship.

    Let us not forget, either, that Laura has sacrificed one of her eyes to eventing and nearly much more – a fall at Tweseldown in July 2013 put her in an induced coma for several days. She fractured a shoulder, lacerated her liver, broke two ribs and severely damaged the sight in her right eye. Laura is a small, slight rider, but have no doubts that under her polite exterior she has the steely core that every event rider needs to keep coming back season after season. 

    It would be wrong to say Laura has struggled at senior level. She has already been a runner-up at five-star (2018 on Mr Bass), won seven times at four-star, and been capped three times at senior championships – more than many riders achieve in a lifetime. But two of her three European Championship experiences have ended in elimination and she is yet to win a senior medal; there must have been times when she has wondered if she would be destined always to be an under-21 sensation who never quite made it.

    Yesterday, when asked what victory at Pau would mean to her, she told H&H: “Tomorrow is another day and I don’t really want to think about it. I don’t think I can even put into words what it would mean to still be in this position tomorrow. I just hope the two horses are well tomorrow and do as well as they can and what will be will be.”

    Today, Laura clapped a hand to her mouth, punched the air and hugged London 52 as she made the dream of five-star victory a reality. Outside the arena, she could be seen in tears on the phone to the horse’s part-owner Keith Scott, almost unable to speak.

    This has been an extraordinary year in eventing, as in the world at large, but this was a very happy ending to the main European season.

    Pau Horse Trials 2020 final results: five Brits in the top six

    A British victory was assured when eventual runner-up Piggy French jumped a confident clear on John and Chloe Perry and Alison Swinburn’s Brookfield Inocent, last year’s Blenheim CCI4*-L winner whose original pre-Covid 2020 plan was a trip to Kentucky in the spring.

    “I’m immensely proud as well as so excited to have such a lovely horse competing for the first time at this level,” said Piggy. “I’m just so grateful to everyone here in France and at Pau for allowing us to have this event, we’re all just very grateful.”

    The top two horses, London 52 and Brookfield Inocent, are both 11 years old and first-timers at five-star. Their outstanding results this weekend, with both finishing on their superb dressage scores, put them firmly in the mix as contenders for the Tokyo Olympics next year.

    At the other end of the experience scale, The Windrush Equestrian Foundation’s 17-year-old Wesko also jumped clear to hold onto third with New Zealand’s Tim Price.

    “Wesko is a through and through trier for me. He’s got talent and ability and experience, but he’s old and does it out of pure desire to do what I want and what I ask him to do. I’ll always be grateful to him and enjoy him while I’ve got him at this level,” said Tim, who has not ruled out a trip to Japan next year for the son of Karandasj. 

    “He’s a short coupled and compact horse without massive miles on him and the type you’d expect to go on a bit longer than some. We’ll see how he is – if he’s healthy, willing and happy, it could be a fun prospect.”

    Tim’s two seconds over the tight 87-second time allowed did not affect the placings and he also had Xavier Faer in 13th and Ringwood Sky Boy in 14th. Both were just behind Tim’s wife Jonelle, who landed 12th with Grovine De Reve. He just knocked the back rail off the orange, brown and white oxer at fence eight today.

    Three more top-six places went to Team GBR. Zagreb was foot-perfect to repeat his 2019 fourth place under Alex Bragg – the pair’s fourth top-five result here in as many attempts – while last year’s winners Tom McEwen and Toledo De Kerser claimed fifth with a smooth round today.

    Oliver Townend’s clear on MHS King Joules elevated him from 17th after the first phase to eventual sixth.

    A skilfully ridden clear for Nicola Wilson, just two seconds over the time, left her 11th with Bulana, while two British five-star first-timers achieved top-10 finishes just ahead of the 2017 European bronze medallists. Richard Coney’s dressage-score finish on his own 10-year-old mare Mermus R Diamonds moved the 21-year-old up 25 places after dressage to ninth.

    “I’ve never really properly pushed her for the time across country because her dressage has never been there, but yesterday I went out to try to achieve the time and she felt really good,”said Richard. “Towards the end of the course when she was getting a bit tired she gave me everything.”

    Richard also piloted Kananaskis to four faults today for 18th.

    Mollie Summerland dropped from fifth after dressage to 10th today with two fences down and 1.2 time-faults on Charly Van Ter Heiden, who was fighting her slightly, resulting in the uprights at fences three and six coming down. It was a disappointing finish after her impressive showings in the first two phases, but still an excellent five-star debut.

    Things didn’t quite come together for Ros Canter today, either, when Zenshera touched fence six, the upright into the treble at fence nine and the last element of the double at 11. Twelve penalties dropped them from seventh overnight to 17th, just behind Izzy Taylor (15th with a clear on Artful Trinity) and Laura Collett’s second horse Mr Bass, who wound up 16th after lowering the back bar off the oxer into the double and finishing one second over the time.

    Clears for home side riders Alexis Goury (Trompe L’Oeil D’Emery) and Maxime Livio (Vitorio Du Montet) today pulled them up three and four places respectively into seventh and eighth.

    Read more reports from Pau…