As Siniani de Lathus’s hooves hit the ground on the back side of the final show jumping fence at the Les Etoiles de Pau CCI4*, the young Frenchman in the irons was totally overcome with emotion, and the home crowd went ballistic in the stands. Taking an extra lap around the arena, Thibault Fournier alternated wiping away tears, pumping the air, and hugging his horse’s neck. Not only had they just won a four-star event, they had made history. At only 23 years old, Thibault is the youngest person to win the Pau CCI4* and he did at his very first attempt at the level.
“I’m lost for words. I came to Pau to see whether I had the level to compete in a four-star competition against the best riders in the world,” Thibault said. “I’m overjoyed with what I have achieved here, but I’m especially thrilled with my exceptional horse who carried the whole competition off brilliantly!”
Thibault and Siniani, a 12-year-old Selle Français (Volchebnik x Elia de Bunouviere), were in fifth place after dressage. A faultless cross country round, which saw them finishing square on the optimum time across designer Pierre Michelet’s tricky, twisting track, moved them into the lead. They entered the show jumping arena on the final day with the weight of a whole country on their shoulders. The hometown crowd looked on, jumping every fence with them. Not only was a historic win on the line, but so was the Pau title, which had been secured by a French rider for three years running. Britain’s team World Champion Gemma Tattersall had just secured a clear round. To still win, Thibault could have a single rail down but no time penalties, which had been incurred by more than 40 percent of the field.
“Siniani was jumping so well in the warm-up area that I came into the main arena almost too relaxed,” Thibault said. They ticked a rail at the third fence, and the crowd held its breath. “When I heard the bar fall, it was a definite wake-up call that helped me refocus immediately on the competition. Then I just rode like I always ride, but there was a lot going on in my head.”
That clutch focus was exactly what was needed. They finished the round without further penalties to win. While the crowd continued to cheer with all their might, Thibault dismounted in the middle of the arena, hugged and thanked his horse again, and they walked out together.
Watch them win:
Photos by Nicolas Hodys.
Written by Hossein Maleki
Having grown up on horseback, Leslie Threlkeld, Managing Editor at NOËLLE FLOYD, treasures her career in the equestrian industry as a writer, photographer, and eventing technical delegate. Leslie thrives on frequent travel but never tires of returning home to the serene mountains of North Carolina.