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Grand Adventures: Saut Hermès

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Saut Hermès had been loitering near the top of my bucket list for years. The math was simple: Amazing Horses + Glass Palace + Paris = MUST DO. But somehow, being held over only one weekend in March, and about 5k miles away from home, it had routinely been postponed as scheduling conflicts and responsibilities dictated. While going through a tedious recovery after an accident, it became something more important. A point of meditation-- a glimmer to focus on in the dark. I decided that when I was back on my feet, I'd work on cultivating a little more tenacity about pursuing passions. After all, life is precious and a little uncertain, so I was determined that at first chance, I'd be off to Paris to live this little dream and mark Saut Hermès off my bucket list. CHECK!

2017 marks the 8th year that Saut Hermès has returned to the Grand Palais, reviving the tradition of horse competitions in this space that used to thrill horse-loving audiences back in the early 20th century. This gem of French architecture was built in the 8th arrondissement of Paris on Champs-Élysées as part of the Universal Exposition of 1900. Built in the Beaux-Arts style, the building reflects the movement's taste for ornate decoration, and used techniques that were innovative at the time, particularly its glass vaulted ceiling which allows natural light to flood the space. It was used for expositions, mostly art and industry related, including riding competitions that took place here annually from 1901 to 1957. Having fallen into sad disrepair by the 90's, it was closed for restoration until 2007. In 2010, the first Saut Hermès event was hosted by historic saddler and luxury goods maker Hermès, and horses were finally back thrilling audiences in the Grand Palais!

One part sporting event, one part cultural event, Saut Hermès brings top international show jumping competitors together for a CSI 5-star rated jumping competition. In addition to the show-jumping classes and pony game competition, a spectacular equestrian themed show is put on every year. With an Hermès pop-up shop, bookstore with authors signing books, pony rides and grooming lessons, interactive activities, photo booth and saddle making demonstrations, there's something at Saut Hermès for everyone to enjoy.

ABOVE: Out for a stroll before heading over to the warm-up ring + Temporary stalls lined up along the Avenue des Champs-Élysées.

ABOVE: Even the patrol horses who police the neighborhood are gorgeous creatures.

BELOW: Rock star parking by Pont Alexandre III. The horse vans were fantastic, and have me seriously rethinking Duke's ride. 

ABOVE: Jaunty stick horses for the 'Cheval Surprise'.

BELOW: Pony Game competitors taking the arena.

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A wonderful selection of kids books in the book store.

TOP: A wonderful selection of equestrian books in the store.

ABOVE: Le sac du jour.

BELOW: The program. Take two! In addition to the event details, there's gorgeous black and white photography you'll be tempted to hang on your wall.

ABOVE: Patient ponies recovering from their grooming sessions and pony ride responsibilities.

BELOW: Saddle making demonstrations. Note the gorgeous hand saddle-stitching and finishing.

Every year there's a special equestrian theatrical performance. This year Florient Azoulay and Mario Luraschi produced a tripped-out performance of the classic Don Quixote tale, Du Songe de Don Quichotte. There was trick riding, a windmill, and a truly surreal tableau with an old car piled with books pulling a horse stuffed into an oversized tack trunk, but my favorite part was a baroque Frida riding dressage.

BELOW: Interactive technology. Ride along or put on the goggles-- after all, having a flying adventure with a real Pegasus is challenging.

ABOVE: The warm up ring was the perfect place to camp out and enjoy your champagne or espresso. It was standing room only, and quite a crush, but so fun to watch the horses prepare. I was so impressed with the calm confident disposition of these athletes. At the CSI 5* level, 7 years is the minimum competition age, and it's wonderful to see so many of the horses still competing at the top of their game well into their teens.

BELOW: A couple of grooming notes. Left: Note the spur patch kept for the comfort of the horse? Thoughtful! Right: Also, red tail ribbons, the international sign for "run up on this hind at your own peril", are unexpectedly stylish in Paris. I believe this is Edwina Tops-Alexander's mare California in the warm-up ring, who later wore the champion rosette with equal panache.

ABOVE: While the contestants warmed up, the ground crew was feverishly resetting the arena. 

BELOW: Grand Prix course inspection with riders and coaches walking the course and counting strides.

At 1.6m the jumps were breathtaking and the course was technically challenging. A triple ending with white rails along the west grandstands had the entire crowd gasping and wincing as each horse and rider struggled to clear it. There was even at one point shushing and a reminder to the crowd to please remain silent as cheers and gasps were erupting loud enough to be distracting to the competitors. In the end, only three riders out of 47 qualified for the jump off and the €400,000 Grand Prix purse: Penelope Leprevost, Edwina  Tops-Alexander, and Bertram Allen.

In the jump off, Bertram Allen and Molly Malone V were up first and had a very fast go (39.20) but took down a rail on the final jump. The French favorites, Penelope Leprevost on Vagabond de la Pomme were second up, and had the audience literally on the edge of their seats. Coming in with a swift 41.44, the applause nearly took the house down as she completed a clean round, putting them in first place. Finally Edwina Tops-Alexander and California took the ring, not only jumping clear but shaving .08 seconds off of Leprovost's time for the win. No doubt it was painful for the crowd to see their compatriot miss out on the win on home turf after such an exceptional performance, but it was impossible to deny the mastery and incredible skill of the Australian pair. The champions were met with cheers and a standing ovation. 

Few things match the pageantry of Saut Hermès award ceremonies. Each contestant who places earns a rosette for the bridle and a brilliant orange cooler. Oh yes, and their portion of the purse-- in this case €400,000. The national anthem of the contestants is played, and the competitors turn to salute the audience. Those who placed take a lap around the arena, and the champion takes a second round alone. All and all it's a charming and inspiring way to spend a day or two. I really must get back to my 12" oxers.

If you missed the show, not to worry, Hermès did a great job of capturing the entire Grand Prix Hermès CSI 5* - Class 10, including the jump off. Check it out! Or better yet, join me next time. I'm putting Saut Hermès back on my bucket list...

Awards Ceremony

A radiant Edwina taking the victory lap!