Pau 2011: Missing You Already

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Les Etoiles Du Pau CCI**** | So Relaxed The Riders Even Have Time For A Smile To Camera From XC

If you’re going to frequent a 4 star in October, I can’t think of a better event than Les Etoiles Du Pau. As I sit here in the UK, one week on from embarking for Pau, with the reality of two children to look after, not to mention the prospects of the days and nights getting colder [they have already], I can’t help but think of the warm sunshine and French hospitality (plus wine) I left behind only days ago with a great deal of fondness.

With the children away at Disneyland Paris on a ‘treat trip’ with their granny, Pau represented a rare opportunity to get some ‘me time’ in the sun, and practice my camera skills in perfect conditions – all the planets aligned. I have to say I was pleased with the results of both – a touch of a tan, and some noticable improvement in my photography, not to mention a partial recharging of my batteries. Below is a gallery of my favourite images from Pau.

It was the most wonderful experience for so many reasons, although I was a little perturbed when I arrived by all the low flying military aircraft, but the horses really didn’t mind. It turns out this is where the French Para-troppers train, and the British forces often come here to jump out of perfectly good aircraft.

Until now Pau has always been something of an after thought, “that event in France, oh yeah, it’s a four star now”. What a mistake! I think 4 stars generally get characterised by their cross country courses, the entries they manage to attract, and to a lesser extent the size of the spectator pool. This event has grown in stature on all these fronts.

Pau’s own characteristics are very unique, the setting is a good sized thoroughbred training facility next door to a racecourse. Whilst this does provide a good section of the course with established turf to run over, it does, provide it’s own challenges, not least of which is not being able to walk the course before 11AM every day, because of thoroughbred strings out on exercise. The rest of the course runs beneath some mature trees, and a very picturesque lake, complete with hissing black swans.   You can read my take on the cross country course over at eventingnation.

The French really love taking pictures too. I’ve never seen so many cameras out at a 3 day event. In almost every photo I took on cross country day you can see a row of spectators hold up cameras of all shapes and sizes.

Having never been before, and this being my first foray into the upper levels of the French eventing scene, I wasn’t really sure what to expect. Would it be like Badminton, like Burghley, or Blenheim, or Lexington? The truth is it’s none of the above, it has a character and charm all of it’s own, and you can probably only reference common elements from all of the other major events.

In a Burghley sort of way, the atmosphere  at Pau is very ‘end of season’ and relaxed, only more so – a distinct holiday feeling. The small lorry park sits directly beside the enormous sand warm up arenas, where riders pitched their gazebos, autograph hunters hung out, and everyone gathered in the evenings, for a beer and a BBQ, a bit like sitting on the beach without the crashing waves. I have to confess to spending a lot of time here, especially on the dressage days, and in the evenings.

The tradestand village is much smaller than those you’d find at the counterparts in the UK, but then how many saddlery shops do you actually need at an event? I’ve yet to see a good cocktail bar at Badminton or Burghley, so conveniently located next to the media tent, and hang out for many even in the early morning!

I did spot one tradestand I thought might have misread the forecast, or was hoping for a repeat of last year’s dowpour, but judging by the volume of stock they still had, people just weren’t buying umbrellas this weekend.

Travelling Around The Course Was Easier Than To It (For Me)

Considering the amount I travel at the moment, you’d thing I’d have it licked – at Pau sadly not! Having only booked my flights, hotel & car hire, and organised someone to look after the dog, within an hour of needing to leave home, I was the proverbial whirling dervish. I wasn’t much better once I arrived either, I found my sat nav, but couldn’t find the clip that holds it to the windscreen, so I left my hire car at the event the first night and got a lift to the hotel with someone else so I could get my bearings. This proved futile, and the second day, even with the help of Google Maps on my iPhone, it took me over an hour to find the hotel which was only 10 minutes away. Add to this the fact that I missed my flight home, because I overslept, and was too busy talking about horses when I did wake up, and my travel plans were a disaster. Something I spent hours lamenting, whilst waiting for the next flight home with a fellow Pau attendee, who was facing a 24 hour flight back to Australia in cattle class. Plenty of groans from us both…..

I still look back fondly though, on what for me has been the best four star experience this year – so relaxed, plenty of drama and anticipation in the competition, and one seriously cool location, adorned with sunshine all week long. After such a great Badminton back in April, this has rounded off my year perfectly.

Here’s a few of my favourite photos from Pau:

“Thank You Pau, I Miss You Already”

Now, should I go for the full house and head to Adelaide?

Dominic
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Amateur event rider, aspiring photographer. Technologist by day.

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