Thursday, August 25, 2011

Eventing - French style

I started writing about the event at Haras du Pin a few days ago but never quite made it into the details. This was kindly picked up on by a friend on Facebook and since then it has weighed heavily on my mind. Surprisingly, they wanted to know more about what happened with the horses than with the sun-tanning and eating side of things. Shocked by this, I have spent the past two days trying to remember who won all the ribbons. Fortunately, my memory was jogged this week when I spotted Burto getting around the yard with wads of cash falling out of his back pocket.

Sensing that the weather would be good for a week and that people would be in no hurry to return to murky England, the French dragged the event out over six days. This meant there was a lot of time to watch the other classes, and while I’d like to say that this was done separately from the eating and the tanning Bols and I devised an ingenious plan that allowed us to do them all at once. Obviously, the CIC Three Star World Cup was the feature class of the event, and since I was in the Two Star (on account of the fact that it was a World Cup and Burghley was so close) we managed to keep a close eye on proceedings.

While the Kiwis had their time in the sun at Gatcombe two weeks earlier, this week in France was an Australian affair. Clayton F, Paul Tapner, Burto and Sam G had all made the trip across the Channel, and with a World Cup invasion fleet of seven horses between them they were a definite force to be reckoned with. Unfortunately, the World Cup series winners’ prize money was already tied up in the hands of our Kiwi mate Clarke Johnstone but with Burto in the running to claim second prize there was plenty left to fight over.

Clarke On Orient Express
I’d really like to show the professionalism of my blog and be able to give an in-depth analysis of all of the dressage tests in the World Cup class. A proper equestrian journalist might even question the judging or seek out a controversy to fill up their pages. Unfortunately, the reality is that while dressage is fairly boring to watch, it’s even more boring to read about. All I’ll say is that the Australian boys dominated the dressage arena and the judges loved them, and at the end of the day Sam, Clayton, Burto and Paul were filling up the top five places. Overwhelmed by this display of force the French competitors ate a snail and cried themselves to sleep sucking red wine from the bottle.

Burto on Newsprint
Over in the Two Star I was quietly going about my business while all the other Australians stole the limelight in the big ring. Tiger and I did a 54 in the dressage, and while the test was far from perfect or spectacular it gave us a glimmer of hope that we’d be able to find that perfect balance between control and flamboyance at Burghley. With over 80 starters in the Two Star it was an easy class to get lost in, and with my 54 sliding me into 40th place after dressage my name was almost impossible to find on the scoreboard.

Two Star showjumping kicked off early on Saturday morning and I was out there with the sparrows, ready to jump before the sun came up and my shirt stuck to my back. After chopping my way through a swathe of English wood in the two events I’d competed at during my time in England, it was relieving that a trip to France could be the catalyst for a clear round. Burto and Bols are a dream coaching team and with only four time penalties to add on a course that was run at jump-off speed I started the weekend on an absolute high.

It was an upside down and topsy-turvy event, so while I was patting myself on the back for my clear jumping round the World Cup boys were preparing themselves for battle out on the cross-country. The beautifully built and designed courses at Haras du Pin were all run over picturesque countryside, and even though they were still building and dressing some parts of the course on the morning of the Three Star everything looked to be in perfect order by the time the huge crowd flocked in to watch the Aussie riders tear it up.

The French have always had their own style on the cross-country, and while this style – which combines aspects of horse-racing, downhill skiing and base-jumping – might cause the heart of the average person to get lodged firmly in their mouth, French riders and spectators appear to be fairly immune to the potential dangers of this cavalier approach. It is exciting to watch however, and while the Australians might have been the winners on the day with their clear rounds and precise riding, it was the French who caught the imagination.

Despite having some genuinely big fences and tough complexes the World Cup course didn’t seem to cause too much trouble. Sam G, who was leading after dressage on his Gatcombe Express Eventing winner Real Dancer had a few time penalties which slid him down the order, with his place at the top filled by Clayton on his second ride Be My Guest, a horse that possesses a real face for radio. After racking up a few time penalties on his first ride Dunges Laurent Rose, Clayton chewed on some frog’s legs and smashed a croissant to put a bit of French magic into his clear and fast round. Burto slipped into second on Newsprint, Paul Tapner into third on Kilfinnie, Clayton held fourth while the whiz kid from New Zealand Clark Johnstone was in fifth. Burto was there again on Holstein Park Leilani and the poor French were left wondering who invited these antipodeans in the first place.

Smooth dudes - no comment on the sunglasses
On Sunday the mixed up nature of the event meant the World Cup horses were trotting up while I was riding cross-country. It was a great hit-out for Tiger and while the jumps were probably half the size that they’ll be at Burghley the course was tough enough. Clear, under time and with no dramas to report, after raising a bit of a sweat Tiger and I declared ourselves ready to head back to England to tackle the monster that is meant to be Burghley.

It was pretty awesome scheduling that allowed us to have Tiger iced, put away and chewing on a baguette before the World Cup showjumping even looked like starting. The French filled the gap between Two Star cross-country and the World Cup jumping by trying to sell us some horses, and while it was a was a good idea to have a young horse parade I’d be surprised if they were the best France has to offer.

With the sun beating down the sweat from stressed rider’s was the only thing keeping the dust down in the jumping warm-up. The first few riders all knocked a few rails, and when Burto went way out of order on Leilani and had two down we had no idea of how eight penalties would leave him at the end. As the class progressed the kids picking up the rails worked up more of a sweat than the riders, and it took about 30 horses to jump before a Frenchman called Karim Florent Laghouag finally produced a clear round. The rail kids breathed a sigh of relief, sat in their chairs and wondered why more riders couldn’t just do the same.

Once we were inside the top ten you might have thought that the rails would stop falling. Not so. Mark Todd had a couple down to finish eighth, and Clarke, who was fifth into the showjumping had three down to drop into sixth. Not that he was too upset – he could have sat in the stands eating ice cream and still won the big money for the World Cup series. By this stage the two rails that Burto had on Leilani a few hours ago were suddenly looking pretty awesome and he was silently pulling himself up the rankings. Clayton had also gone early on Dunges Laurent Rose, and despite breaking a stirrup midway through the course he only knocked one fence down. Paul Tapner didn’t have a lot of fun on Kilfinnie, and four rails really ruined his afternoon as he fell from third to tenth.

Burto had a couple down on Newsprint, but eight penalties was a good round on this scorching hot Normandy afternoon. Only Clayton could beat him now, but when his stirrup failed to break midway around the course the rails started falling. Four rails down and he suffered that awful tumble down the ladder from first to fourth. Ouch, ouch, ouch.

Surprisingly, Clayton had won on Dunges Laurent Rose. Burto was second on Newsprint and then third on Leilani. Good times for the Aussie boys.

I’d finished 19th in the Two Star, and while I didn’t get a ribbon I did get a prize money cheque for 173 euros. Keep the ribbon, I’ll have the cheque. How good is French eventing?

No comments:

Post a Comment