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March 17, 2014

Three Days Hermès At The Grand Palais

The jawdropping interior of the Grand Palais played host to the Saut Hermes Paris CSI.

Paris, France—March 14-16   

It’s not unusual for crowds to gather when Marcus Ehning brings his horse out for a school. On Saturday afternoon under the glass-roofed Grand Palais in Paris, spectators gravitated toward the warm-up arena when Ehning entered with Cornado NRW. It was during a break between classes at the Saut Hermès CSI5* Jumping International, and the freshly groomed warm-up was nearly empty.

Ehning surely planned it that way, because when his grey stallion by Cornet Oblensky stepped lightly into the arena, it was clear that he was fresh. Cornado arched his neck, neighed and rolled his eyes at the children and adults who lined up along the fence two and three deep, pointing their phones at him and draping their arms over the fence.

Ehning reacted to nothing as he circled the arena, and smoothly, seamlessly, he was suddenly giving everyone within sight a riding lesson.

That demonstration of elegance in horsemanship was a fine representation of the atmosphere during the Saut Hermès, an annual spectacle in restrained grandeur that pushes an already elegant sport to new levels of magnificence.

There are few places on earth more elegant than the 2.2 kilometers between the Arc D’Triomphe and the fountain at the Place de la Concorde in Paris, France. The Grand Palais sits between those landmarks, on the river Seine just off the Champs d’Elysees, and from March 14-16, show jumping literally glittered there under its gorgeous, sky-lit ceiling supported by dramatic gridiron lattice.

This is a horse show that is rare in that it is entirely supported and was conceived by a brand. Hermès has as strong of a presence as one would expect at a competition that bears its own name. But in its effort at every level to infuse the show with its identity, it steps everything up into another league.

A group of top international riders received invitations to compete, as did a pool of under-25 up and comers. The show was orchestrated seamlessly, with two days of classes that ranged from your typical speed to an exciting pairs competition.

The three days of five-star jumping cumulated with Ehning and Cornado cantering (smoothly, in airs above the ground it seemed) to victory in the €400,000 Grand Prix Hermès on Sunday afternoon.

They rode last in the jump-off roster of four, clearing every 1.60-meter fence with ease and in perfect form. Actually, it looked more than easy. Ehning and Cornado were only a mere fraction of a second faster than second placed finishers Patrice Delaveau and Lacromoso HDC, but they were smoother across the ground and elegant with every step. 

French Loyalty

French riders stepped up in front of their home crowd, winning two of the rated classes. Julien Epaillard won the Prix Hermés Sellier Grand Prix Qualifier on Friday, and Roger Yves-Bost picked up victory in the Prix de la Ville de Paris on Sunday. Naturally, the stands reverberated with cheers whenever a French rider entered the arena, or left on a score of 0.

The Saut Hermès horse show was entirely conceived by Hermés four years ago. This year was the fifth edition of the show, which has quickly become a standout fixture on the FEI’s five-star calendar of show jumping events.

An earlier date than years past may have had something to do with the lack of U.S. entries this year, but as the sole American rider, 19-year-old Reed Kessler, represented her country well throughout the weekend. She finished fifth as the fastest 4-faulter in the Grand Prix Hermés on Sunday with her Irish Sport Horse Cos I Can.

Watch one rider with hyper-attentiveness throughout the weekend (as an American in Paris, it was natural to track every move of the only American rider at the show) and you’ll start to see more than just their form over the top of a fence.

It was hard not to notice that Kessler, who flew Cos I Can and Ligist to Paris from Wellington, Fla., for the show, was taking her job very seriously throughout the weekend. Even after a clear round, her lips remained set in a line as she patted her horse and exited the ring.

But during the awards ceremony on Sunday, Kessler didn’t stop smiling, at her horse, and at Ehning, who coaches her. 

Appreciating The Horse

While I may have been there in part to cheer Kessler on, the French came to soak in the spectacle that Hermès conceived to appreciate the horse.

Its “Metamorphosis” creative performance on Saturday and Sunday turned the arena into a spinning wheel of galloping horses between a human chain. One and all were covered in ashy dust as they solemnly performed a choreographed routine.

On the other end of the spectrum, Shetland pony races on Saturday and Sunday wound up the crowd as they watched small children gallop stirrup-less around a figure eight steeplechase course.

Lining the sides of the venue were various Hermès-related shops—jewelry and scarves for the fashionistas, and saddles and tack for the riders. Hermès Master Saddlery Laurent Goblet was on site in a sort of pop-up, live saddlemaking shop that featured saddles in all stables of construction and attracted a constant crowd.

For three days that passed by too quickly, it was possible to soak in all things equestrian inside a real live jewel box. What makes Saut Hermès different than another horse show? Everything. 

For full results from the Saut Hermès CSI, click here.

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