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Reflections on Pau

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It’s been a big year for four-star level events for me, the horses and the team behind the scenes this year. After Rolex Kentucky, Badminton, Luhmuehlen and Rio, I decided to attempt the Pau CC4* in France, an event I had only done once back in 2010 on Remington XXV.

This was not a USEF funded trip, so it was a serious ask approaching the owners to make this happen. As you could imagine, it’s a bloody long way to the South of France, and it’s not cheap. I must admit I was a bit disappointed that the Federation gave European grants to every other Olympic reserve horse except Shadow. The Federation was quite happy sending horses overseas to do CIC and CCI 3-stars, but not Pau 4-star?  That said, Crackers did get a half grant earlier in the year to go overseas, which I was very grateful for. But, I was quietly frustrated that the trip wasn’t at least partially funded, so I was on a mission to pay for this trip with prize money!

As a US rider trying to get better on the world stage, I do believe it’s important to keep testing yourself against the best in the world. It keeps you hungry, it keeps you humble, and it reminds you of the level you are chasing. You cannot hide from the toughest tracks in the world.

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Crackerjack and Welcome Shadow showed up at Pau last week thanks to my assistant rider, Mike Pendleton, whom finally got his passport. This was Mike’s first trip overseas! He traveled to France a week ahead and prepared the horses expertly.  When I met up with them on Monday, Mike had them both in perfect condition.

Craig and Gloria Callen’s Welcome Shadow was awesome in all three phases of the event.  It was her first four star, and she stepped up!  She did feel green and a little overwhelmed, which was expected, but I knew she was up to the task, and it would be a waste doing another 3-star with her. She showed her brilliance and toughness on the very demanding cross country. We both misread one of the steeplechase fences, but somehow the Irish Foxhunter stayed on her feet. It was an epic effort to come home with only five time penalties.  She was fresh on Sunday, and put in a good round in the stadium with one rail down in the treble. We finished 13th in a quality field. I so much appreciate that Craig and Gloria decided to send Shadow on this trip. I believe she will come out a seasoned 4-star horse at Rolex next year from the experience!

My old mate Crackers put in a heroic effort this weekend. Lucy Boynton Lie’s homebred put in his best dressage test ever: he was flawless in his dressage, and that left him in the top ten and close to the leaders. On cross country day he was awesome. He is seasoned now at this level, so I managed to cut some turns and jump the big fences out of stride. We were very close to the time, which left us in 6th place coming into the show jumping. He was a little stiff and sore Saturday night, but just slightly. I figured a good night’s sleep would have him in good shape for the next day. Unfortunately he was a bit worse in the morning.  I changed his shoeing, which improved him, and I hopped on and rode him around and that made him sound just by loosening him up. I thought we were in business, but unfortunately we were sent to the hold. The hold vet seemed happy with the way he looked, but in hindsight, I probably jogged him a bit too causally on re-inspection, and he showed one or two awkward steps right in front of the ground jury on the way back. They seemed to talk amongst each other for ever before they politely threw me out.

I suppose at this stage of my career I am starting to get numb to disappointment.  When you compete at the highest level, it’s not meant to be easy. This is the nature of competitive sport. I believe Crackers was fit to jump, and they could have been a bit more lenient. I saw many other horses on the final jog that were also a bit stiff and sore that got the nod. That being said, there is no shame going out trying. Deep down, I believe Crackers would have jumped clear, or one fence down would of left us in second or third, and paid Lucy back for the trip!

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So coming home I felt that while we gave it our best effort, and came painfully close, but in my opinion we came up short.  I would like to thank Gloria and Lucy for a great trip, Silva and Nox for the support and coaching, Mike for grooming, Joanie Morris for planning the trip, Erik Divander, Kevin McNab, Jock Paget for the course walking, and Drs. Christiana Ober and Liz Brown for their veterinary work.

 

Onwards and Upwards!
Boyd Martin

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