William Fox-Pitt shares his thoughts on Pau performances and how eventing should progress
CONSIDERING Pau came at the end of a very busy year, it still had a decent field with some quality horses. Getting there wasn’t much fun – it apparently takes six vets to check a horse’s microchip at Caen – but, given Covid, Brexit and equine herpes virus, once we were at the event, they did very well with the organisation.
We had beautiful weather for the first few days, and then some rain. The ground at Pau Horse Trials is always a bit of a concern as it doesn’t always have a lot done to it; it can be quite bare and trampled. However, it had been levelled well, some spiking and watering was done, and then the rain made it as good as it can be there.
Tim Price deserved to be in the lead after dressage and there was no catching him. I do, however, wonder if our FEI tests are too boring now. I don’t want our event horses to be trained and dominated to do ever more difficult dressage, but I think our tests could be more imaginative and changed more often; I did the same test here in 2018 as I did in 2021. The new short Olympic eventing dressage test made people think and ride.
A demanding cross-country course
PAU’S cross-country course is always interesting, as it is unlike anywhere else. The first three minutes are through trees, so if it is sunny, the shadows and contrasts vary all day and you can never be sure how horses will jump in and out of the lake. Cross-country day this year was cloudy, however.
The early part of the track twists and turns with u-bends and circles, and doesn’t really feel like a five-star. It’s very different out on the racecourse and there is much more galloping. The course then comes back into the trees. The two water questions didn’t have much more than a 40-metre circle between them, so you had to come right down the gears, before galloping again for the final two minutes.
It was rather a mixed bag and typical of Pierre Michelet; not very big and scary but quite demanding, with a lot of accuracy needed. The questions were pretty repetitive – down a bank to a skinny, corner or angled fence. I think there were 12 of those. The waters were softer than previously. With one long route, riders could get round without ever jumping into water, which is quite surprising at CCI5*. That was the case at Blenheim this year – a CCI4*-L which qualifies you for Badminton – as well.
However, it gave us lots to think about and was a good first CCI5* for younger horses and riders because, although Pau is never forgiving, it is not daunting. There was a fantastic turnout of enthusiastic spectators – the car parks were jammed full, and the packed stands made the showjumping atmospheric.
I went to Pau on a forward foot with two good, proven horses, but things just didn’t go to plan. Both had 20 penalties across country. I couldn’t turn Oratorio after the first element of a fence and ended up on the wrong line for the next part, while Little Fire ground to halt on top of the bank – I have no idea why.
They both showjumped well, as did a lot of horses. I think Tim Price’s round was the best I have ever seen on the final day. Falco gave everything a foot, and to have a horse that can score in the low 20s in the dressage, jump like that and be brave enough to go clear round a CCI5* cross-country track is quite something.
Pau showed that in eventing now there are a lot of horses who can get into the 20s in the dressage (45% of starters here) and showjump clear (34% here, though some had time) – and that’s with many of the best horses having been elsewhere this year. The jumping phases did have influence at Pau, with Tom McEwen moving up from 20th after dressage to second.
We have to keep the cross-country test sufficient and maintain its influence, as there aren’t many mistakes in any other phase. Our sport is eventing, not combined training.
- This exclusive column will also be available to read in H&H magazine, on sale Thursday 4 November
You might also be interested in:
Horse & Hound magazine, out every Thursday, is packed with all the latest news and reports, as well as interviews, specials, nostalgia, vet and training advice. Find how you can enjoy the magazine delivered to your door every week, plus options to upgrade your subscription to access our online service that brings you breaking news and reports as well as other benefits.