Once again this year, the cross-country event at Les 5 Étoiles de Pau staged a magnificent show for its spectators. Thirty-one combinations and 45 efforts to be negotiated along the 6.3-kilometer course, and all in just 11:08 minutes. That was the challenge that French course designer Pierre Michelet set the 45 competitors on the start list for the only CCI5*-L cross-country event this year.
Ten horse-and-rider pairs completed a flawless round, riding home without a single obstacle penalty and within the time limit imposed. Among them was British rider Laura Collett with London 52 (Landos x Vernante), her own, Keith Scott, and Karen Bartlett's 11-year-old Holstiner gelding, who stay in pole position on a score of 21.3. "It really picks you up to hear the encouragements from spectators along the course!" Collett said. "The public here in Pau is really amazing. So, a big thank you to them all and to the organization team to have made it possible to run the cross-country course in these conditions. After my first round with Mr Bass, I knew I had to be very careful with London 52 on the combinations. He’s a very careful horse and always jumps a bit bigger too. So, I stayed very concentrated and he was just perfect. It’s the first time he’s ridden an 11-minute cross-country course, so I’ll see how things go tomorrow in the show-jumping event, but whatever happens, I’m just really proud of him this evening!”
Collett's fellow countrywoman Piggy March, riding John and Chloe Perry and Alison Swinburn's 11-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding Brookfield Inocent (Inocent x Shalies Pet), took advantage of the few difficulties encountered by Christopher Burton to take second place on the provisional podium on their dressage score of 22.2. “We’re really lucky to be here in Pau," said March. "For me it was a golden opportunity to prepare Brookfield Inocent for the Olympic Games in Tokyo next year. I’ve never been to Pau before, but I more or less expected the kind of course that we rode today: a course that encouraged forward, brave, attacking riding but with the odd sneaky thing put in. I’m really proud of my horse who was competing in his first five-star cross-country event today. I think he’s one of the best horses I’ve ever had.”
New Zealand rider Tim Price also climbed up one place after the cross-country event, despite being just a second over the time limit, riding home in third place on Wesko (Karandasj x Kolien), his own and the Windrush Equestrian Foundation's 17-year-old KWPN gelding, on a two-phase score of 23.4. "2020 has been a strange year for everyone," Price observed. "If there was only to be one five-star competition this year, the Pau five-star is a pretty good representation. So, a big thank you to the organization team and course designer Pierre Michelet for the quality of the course today. It was a course that encouraged bravery but also demanded us as riders to be on our toes, take the brilliance of some of the big jumps and do something with it. For me, that’s exactly how a cross-country course should be at this level."
The French riders ended the day with three flawless rides. Jean-Lou Bigot climbed up to eighth place with Utrillo du Halage (Kara du Halage x Colline du Halage), Florence Assar's 12-year-old Selle Francais gelding, on their dressage score of 29.9. Alexis Goury and Trompe l’Oeil d’Emery, a 13-year-old Selle Francais gelding, got into the top 10 on a score of 30.7, while Maxime Livio and Vitorio du Montet (Lando x Jenlah des Yvers SF), Phillipe Asclipre and SCEA Ecurie Livio's 11-year-old Selle Francais, 31st after the dressage test, now lie in 12th place before the final show jumping test tomorrow afternoon. It was another wonderful day for equestrian sport, and some splendid French performances as two of these three horses were competing for the first time at five-star level.
"When I walked the course, I loved it already even before riding it!" Bigot said. "Pierre Michelet gave us a wonderfully balanced and technical course to work with. Congratulations and a big thank you to him! All the same, I can’t say that it was an easy ride for me. Since the European Championships, Utrillo du Halage has made a lot of progress and I’m really pleased with his performance in both the dressage test and the cross-country event today, but I’ve still got a lot of work to do to compete at the same level as Tim Price!"
This year’s Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event CCI5*-L was on April 21-25 and was the first five-star event to take place in the U.S. since 2019. The entry list had the best riders in the world, previous Kentucky champions, Olympic hopefuls, and horses who have been eventing in the U.S. since they were 4 years old.
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Horses have so much power over us. They don’t know that, of course, but, unwittingly, they expose our personal weaknesses – and bring out our hidden strengths. This is something Allison Smith, a 28-year-old from Warrenton, Va., knows very well. Her passion for eventing and the pressure she put on herself to succeed in this many-layered, ultimately demanding sport exacerbated her anxiety and perfectionist tendencies. Yet one horse has changed her life in a way she never could have anticipated.