An amazing scenario played out once again here this Saturday at the 4-Star eventing competition in Pau. The cross-country competition often turns the ranking upside down and that’s exactly what happened out there today. The front runners came up against difficulties with some of the complex questions and a young and rising French star Thibault Fournier rode a flawless cross-country round at CCI4* level. Flashback on a day full of suspense and emotion.
As from 9 a.m. the riders in the CIC2* competition set out on the 3,250m cross-country course where the set speed is 550m/min to achieve an optimum time of 5’55’’. In the provisional ranking, the French have taken the top eight places. In fourth place yesterday after the dressage test, Gireg Le Coz took the lead today on his eight-year old gelding Aisprit de la Loge, completing the course in almost perfect time 5’59’’. With a total score of 29.4pts, he overtook his compatriots Héloïse Le Guern/Vue Duciel (32pts) and Astier Nicolas/Arpège du Mancel (33.2pts). Yesterday’s favourite, Clara Loiseau, dropped back to 8th position on Frans Hals (36.3pts) but is still in with a fighting chance in the show jumping final.
This afternoon at 13.30 sharp, the horse-and-rider combinations set out to compete in the much-awaited CCI4* cross-country competition, on a course designed by the well-known course designer Pierre Michelet. With 6,320m to ride through the verdant parkland in the Domaine de Sers, 45 obstacles to clear and a target time of 11’06’’, this gruelling competition required the utmost concentration from both horses and riders. Even the best had their share of difficulties: world no.1 Olivier Townend (GBR) who topped the ranking yesterday was eliminated in the cross-country competition today, eminent British rider William Fox-Pitt (GBR) fell after Little Fire’s refusal on the penultimate combination, Tim Price (NZL) was thrown off-balance after Ascona M tripped in one of the water combinations, and Andreas Dibowski, Boyd Martin, François Pons and Cédric Lyard all decided to withdraw from the competition.
Some exciting twists and turns for the spectators who turned out in spite of the weather this morning to encourage their favourite rider, Thibault Fournier, who ranked 5th after yesterday’s dressage test and made it very clear today that upcoming generation of French riders had definitely not come to Pau to play second to the awe-inspiring British contingent. After a perfect round completed within the optimum time for the course, Fournier took first place (25.5pts) in front of team World Champion Gemma Tattersall (29.9pts) and the experienced British rider, Izzy Taylor (30.8pts).
Showered with congratulations all round, the start of the show modestly took his place at the press conference and talk show organized in the exhibitors’ village for the general public: “I’d like to thank the crowds for being behind me all the way, but the biggest thanks go to my horse, he gave it everything, he’s just amazing,” before adding with a touch of humour “not bad for an amateur!”, as in addition to his equestrian sports at this level Thibault is studying to be a physiotherapist. He also made sure to emphasise the brilliant performance given by his team mates Clara Loiseau/Won’t Wait and Alexis Goury/Trompe l’oeil d’Emery, who ranked 5th and 6th respectively.
Today was also an opportunity to discover horseback archery, an emerging sports discipline that is gradually gaining in popularity. The show given in the central arena gave spectators a chance to see modern-day riders performing this 4,000-year old traditional Asian sport. Several young riders gave a wonderful demonstration of skill and dexterity. At full gallop on their horses, they fired arrows to hit targets located at different points in the arena.
The evening event was the obstacle cone driving test for the CAIO4*. Accuracy and speed were a must for the single-horse teams in the running. Already in the lead yesterday, the French driver Marion Vignaud kept up the pace today with First Quality, maintaining her lead with a total score of 51.60 points before tomorrow’s final.
The results of this amazing equestrian triathlon will be confirmed tomorrow after the show-jumping competitions at both levels of eventing in the morning and the afternoon, separated by the impressive carriage-driving marathon in the middle of the day. The program, practical information and the commentated live broadcast of the event are available on the ‘4 Étoiles de Pau’ app for iOs and Android.