Hubert Pignolet: "My most prestigious victory"
This Sunday, in his own backyard, Hubert Pignolet scored his greatest victory by winning the Normandy Horse Show Grand Prix*** with Athos d'Elle (Apache d'Adriers x Papillon Rouge). At 9 years old, the Selle Français stallion is none other than the maternal half-brother of Nykita d'Elle who has also been very successful under his rider-breeder’s saddle, before going to the highest level with Roger-Yves Bost. A victory that comes 20 years after that of a certain Cabri d'Elle (Scherif d’Elle) under the saddle of Bertrand Pignolet... before he was sold and enjoyed a magnificent career under the saddle of Paola Amilibia.
It’s a great opportunity to catch up with Hubert Pignolet.
"Sunday's victory is obviously my most prestigious victory. I can’t say that it’s the best of my victories, as I have the incredible memory of a victory almost 20 years ago with Favorite d'Elle, in an unexpected event in Béthune. I took part in a 135cm Grand Prix and all the best French riders like Eric Navet and so many others were there... but what I didn't know was that at the end of the first round, the jumps would go up by 5cm and the last obstacle would be removed... and we’d repeat the that for several rounds. My mare had jumped magnificently well, and I found myself in the final jump-off which was the equivalent of a three-star, against Robert Breul who took his turn, convinced that I would knock a pole down... but I won. It’s a victory that has remained engraved in my memory, as has last year's win that I had with Athos in Bordeaux, when we won with a three-second lead over Christian Ahlmann. It's not something that happens every day, and then the next day, I met him, and he said "Hi", that was something special. My victory at Fontainebleau with Etoile d'Elle (Type d’Elle) where I won the qualifier and the 6-year-old final was also special, as I don't know if it’s happened too many times that a mare has won two events in a Championship.
Yesterday's victory is even more wonderful than usual as when I jump near home: I never get good results! For many years, I put terrible pressure on myself... but that’s over now. Now I don’t stress about competitions, I'm a lot more relaxed. I think I owe that to my wife's support, the time I spend with my children no longer allows me time to stress about competing... and my Dad's death also changed a lot. I've always wanted him to see me ride... and then I got old too (laughs).
I really can't say where Athos will stop. Three months ago, we made the decision to give Nilane (Nippon d’Elle) to Kevin Staut, and Athos took over from her... and he’s done it well. And today, even though we finally made the decision to bring Nilane back into my string, Athos has clearly taken over the Number One spot. But Nilane is still my heart horse. I started her again quietly in Saint Lô, we needed to get our groove back. She has incredible ability and outstanding jumping quality over the top level jumps, but Athos has an incredible mind and always wants those clear rounds. The only thing that's not good is that his stallion career hasn’t taken off. In fact, people follow his results and are interested in him, but when you see him in real life, you don't take another look at him because he's not a very extravagant horse... but he's a horse that's always right up there! He’s no more impressive over 150cm obstacles than over 130cm... and he doesn't expend any more energy jumping 150cm than 130cm either!
On the contrary, people with foals by him often want to keep them and they seem to be very nice. We may not keep him as he’s half owned by Mr. Aubé with whom we’ve had many horses, so it’s possible that he’ll be sold at some point.
Athos is really the ultimate competition horse. At home, he doesn't push himself too much, but as soon as he walks into the arena, he's not the same horse! Yesterday in the lap of honor he was having fun cantering to the audience’s applause, he really gets into the game. He loves it. He’s a horse that needs good rhythm to jump well and use his elasticity. Yesterday, I had no doubt when I was about to jump the last obstacle. It was a similar jump-off to the 7-year-old Grand Prix, where I was 30 hundredths of a second faster than Marc Dilasser and Arioto (Diamant de Semilly)... and more than three seconds quicker than the next combinations! In the end, this season, Athos rose nine rankings and has placed seven times. For us, it's really difficult to get selected. We’re often labelled as breeders more than riders. A victory like this should obviously help us out. We don't often get selected so when you do, don't blow it! We had decided to give him a break after Béthune... and he resumed after two months off from competition. Now he's going to follow this up with competitions in Verbier and Humlikon."