There are a few things that are certain in life: death, taxes, and a extraordinarily tough showjumping course at Les 5 Etoiles de Pau. Of all six CCI5* events in the world, it produces the fewest clear rounds over its tricky track, which makes best use of tight distances interspersed with flyaway long approaches to big square fences, laughing in the face of anyone who tries to pick their way around for a steady clear. Like the rest of the competition, it rewards boldness — but boldness comes with increased risk, and a lead at the start of the day, even with substantial margin for error, doesn’t guarantee a thing.
Today, though, there was no margin for error to play with anyway: just a pole separated a world-class top five, and if you wanted to play the game, you needed to be sure of every step you took in the main arena. And it’s not just the track itself that plays a part here — the unique atmosphere of the ring, which is surrounded by an incomparably enthusiastic audience, creates a pressure cooker of an environment in which you’re never sure if the crowd will break its silence with a badly timed (though always, inarguably well-meaning) cheer after a particularly tough bit of negotiation mid-round. When sitting on an experienced veteran of the sport this is no less nerve-wracking; if you find yourself jumping for a top spot on a horse who’s never seen anything quite like it, it’s a whole different story.
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Article written by: Tilly Berendt