Laura Collett’s exclusive reflections on Pau: ‘Now, London believes in himself’ *H&H Plus*

Laura Collett won nine medals at under-21 level and has represented Britain at three senior European Championships. She won her first five-star title last week at Pau.

  • Laura Collett looks back on her journey from falling at last year’s Europeans to her first five-star win at Pau

    AFTER my fall with London 52 (Dan) at the Europeans last year, Tina Cook said to me on the Sunday, “Surely you’re going to take him to Boekelo? You don’t want to finish the year on that note.”

    Between the Europeans and Boekelo, we went cross-country schooling a few times. We treated him like a baby, trotting to fences, trying to build his confidence and encourage him to trust himself because he’s always been quite a shy horse.

    Going to Boekelo, I just wanted to put things right – to win was a lovely extra. It felt like the event was a turning point; now, Dan has belief in himself. He felt amazing cross-country and finished knowing he’d done well. After Boekelo, he had eight weeks in the field to switch off and he came back looking and feeling like a different horse, physically and mentally.

    Through his career, Dan’s felt very different to how he’s looked. Although he won Chatsworth Event Rider Masters in 2019 and Blenheim’s young horse class the year before, he’s always felt insecure.
    This season, my pre-Covid plan was to take it step by step according to how he felt, but I had pencilled in Luhmühlen five-star.

    Dan had already started cantering before lockdown started. He’s quite a cheeky horse and with no events, he was about to start being naughty because he didn’t have enough to do. We gave him a break and didn’t jump for about six weeks. We were just pootling until there was a clear plan for when events could restart.

    On his first run, at Bicton Arena, he felt great and I said that if all went smoothly, Pau would be on the cards. He’s gone from strength to strength since. I was getting quite annoyed with the talk that things were shutting down – it would have been a waste of a year not to be able to come when he felt so ready.

    I knew heading to Pau that both Dan and Mr Bass (Chuck) stood a good chance and that Dan was among the favourites, but I tried to put that out of my mind. After last year, which had so many ups and downs, I just wanted to do right by the horse and let him prove how good he is.

    After each phase, I said to myself that if it didn’t quite come off this time, as long as he’d had a good time, it didn’t matter – he’s young, he’ll win a five-star one day, whether it’s this week or in two years’ time.

    Writing this on Sunday night, I still can’t believe we won. The whole week doesn’t feel real. It’s something you dream of for so many years – ever since I started watching Badminton on TV – but you never really think it’s going to happen. It’s surreal.

    What a buzz

    THE young horse World Championships at Le Lion d’Angers the week before Pau was weird – it’s usually an event with so much hype, but there was no public and no tradestands. However, driving into Pau, there was a buzz straight away.

    The organisers did an incredible job and everything felt pretty normal, except for the compulsory masks. Everyone was so grateful to be there that no one minded obeying and organisers said they were proud of the public for their compliance.

    I wouldn’t want to jump round a five-star with no crowd. Particularly in France, they are so loud and you need that atmosphere, which was there from the moment you went into the warm-up.

    For me, going to Pau and quarantining on return was a no-brainer. I won’t be missing anything now and when you have two horses fit and ready for a five-star, you make it happen.

    Winter plans

    DAN and Chuck will go out now for six to eight weeks. Meanwhile, I’ll play with the young horses and have racehorses in for schooling.

    My main hope for next season is for a normal year. We’ll play it by ear, but I’ll have Badminton in my mind through the winter.

    H&H 29 October 2020


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