Wednesday, May. 22, 2024

Ringside Chat: Pau CCI**** Winner Astier Nicolas On The Ideal Horse, How Michael Jung Does It, And More

He’s 26. He just won his first four-star CCI on Oct. 25 in Pau, France, beating the seemingly unbeatable Michael Jung.

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He’s 26. He just won his first four-star CCI on Oct. 25 in Pau, France, beating the seemingly unbeatable Michael Jung.

Just who is French rider Astier Nicolas? We found out for the Nov. 9 issue of The Chronicle of the Horse. Did you know that he grew up riding in Pony Club and earned a degree in equine management in England? Do you know where he found Pau winner Piaf de B’Neville? If you want to get to know the talented but humble Frenchman who defeated the biggest name in eventing, make sure to pick up a copy of the Nov. 9 issue of the Chronicle.

In the meantime, check out some of the fun facts we found out about Nicolas that didn’t make it into the print edition. We caught up with Nicolas, who’s based on his own with a string of 14 horses near Wiltshire, England, to learn more about his Pau winner, Piaf de B’Neville, what he looks for in a horse (he brings most of his mounts along himself), and why he thinks Jung is so good.

Chronicle: Tell us about bringing along Piaf de B’Neville, or “Ben.”

Nicolas: He had quite a fast preparation. He was not very good at jumping fast, because he comes from a show jumping pedigree. He would never judge the fence properly at speed. When you had a good jump five strides away, it was always too close when you got to the fence. He was a really careful horse, and would show jump well, but couldn’t do it at speed.

Now he’s so easy to ride at speed. He was a bit anxious to start with, but he’s such a nice horse and trusts his rider so much that he got rid of that in about three years.

You like to bring along your own horses. What do you look for in an event horse?

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I like them not too big. Ben is quite big, but I love him. I like them more average-size. I don’t like them so big, but if they can move big, that’s great, because they can be good in the dressage and cover the distance in combinations cross-country.

I like them with more energy to contain, rather than to generate. Ben is not exactly what I’m describing, but he’s one of my first horses, and you go from one to another, and you refine what you’re looking for. I like them not too big with a lot of blood.

My favorite quality in a horse is like what many riders would say—the brain. I think the best I’ve had, the two boys [Ben and his young rider horse Jhakti du Janlie] that I’ve ridden at four-star, are good horses in the way that they want to do it. I call them high-level sport horses in their brain. Ben is probably the best of the two. He really gives all that he has, and even what he hasn’t.

I’m mainly riding French-bred horses, not because I don’t want other horses, but because I find my horses in France easily. We’ve got great breeding. In England, I’d rather sell a horse than buy it. They don’t breed so much and they’re all expensive.

Who is your eventing idol or inspiration?

I’m in close contact with [Andrew Nicholson, who I worked for for a few months in 2009], and I’m really inspired by him. If I’ve got an issue or some questions that I don’t manage to sort out, I will ask him. He’s not far from me and we see each other at the competitions often. In England you’ve got a lot of other riders that you’re lucky enough to see every weekend who are very talented.

I look at Michael Jung. He rides all three disciplines, as a pure dressage rider and pure show jumper. We’ve seen in the past riders that are good in two phases. I keep wondering how he does it. His horse management must be incredible because he always comes to a championship with a horse in top form.

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I don’t know how fischerRocana, who was 9, was show jumping at the maximum, then was at Luhmuhlen four-star [in 2014,] had one down, and the win went to Tim Price. I don’t know how a month and three weeks later she was recovered, fit and better to claim second at [Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games (France)]. I don’t know how he did that. She’s doing the indoor cross-country circuit in the winter and was at four four-stars in 2015 [of which he finished two], and they don’t seem to break.

After we all started admiring the fact that he can ride every discipline, the fact that how he manages to train them and get better quickly…I don’t believe that he’s so golden that when he touches a horse it becomes better. I believe he trains them really well, and there must be a lot of training put on the horse, but there must be something that makes them hold on to it without getting injured.

That’s quite fascinating. It seems like he puts more training on them than we do, but if we did, we would break them. There are some things we need to learn. I think it would be fascinating to learn, because it would be a big help to the rest of the world to find it!

Is there another event horse that you would like to take a spin on?

The only thing that would be good for me would be to find a young horse and produce it and win with it. I think it’s the trust relationship with the horse. I think even if I found a really good horse, and I was given the ride, what it would look like would be different and maybe not as good. That’s not the way I think. I think as a partnership from the start and producing the horse and getting the best in them and improved.

Make sure to read the Nov. 9 issue of The Chronicle of the Horse to find out more about how Astier Nicolas developed himself into a four-star winner.


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