By Kimberly Summers
I’m in Paris. Let’s just start with that. Add in a dose of Eiffel Tower, elegant style, the most refined equestrian show jumpers the world over, with rider’s talent rivaling that which has been done perfectly in Paris for centuries, and a venue wrapped up as pretty as a Hermès package. This is Saut Hermès 2022. An international 5* show jumping competition which The Hermès house has been organizing since 2011. Th new edition is a sporting, artistic and cultural event celebrating the various facets of the world of horses. After a 2-year hiatus, the weekend spectacle returned to the eco-friendly, temporary Grand Palais Ephemere, designed for big events and for the 2024 Olympics while the Grand Palais is under renovation. It stands at one end of the Champs de Mars, perfectly positioned to look down a swath of green lawns, to the Eiffel Tower.
I enter the Palais where my press pass awaits and am immediately whisked away by a lovely Parisian woman with bright red lipstick, a luxurious silk scarf, and black hair perfectly coiffed with flowing waves. She leads the way to the press brunch, not realizing I have just entered a 5 year old’s version of Disneyland. I catch a glimpse of the magic of the ring, a magnificent horse leaping while palpable silence erupts into crowds cheering. Bright lights, colorful Hermès-branded jumps, score board overhead–I try to control my wide eyes and act as if this is standard viewing. We then pass by the warm-up ring where the pros prep for their round. This ring is where the action is. Trainers eyeing every move. Owners dressed for the affair watch quietly from the sidelines. Grooms hear the directives from the master riders and move rails up and down and in and out. Riders maneuver about one another like a perfectly choreographed drill team. I hear the occasional “oxer” in 5 different languages. I follow my gracious hostess but I am seriously close to dropping this woman and explaining that I don’t need to eat any more baguettes today. Inside the dining room, and I am once again containing myself. Carving stations and chefs in white hats, champagne flowing, important people who belong here milling, chatting, dining. I try not to show my excitement while taking more photos of the Eiffel Tower but when I say this is the best view I have seen of “her majesty”, it is the best view…right from the brunch, at a horse show. I discretely snap a photo or ten. Introduced to my table, I meet my contacts. All 20 or 30 somethings in perfect style…one from Vogue adorned in a black leather dress, several from Hermès with all the accouterments, a posh magazine publisher, and others who all seem as if this affair is just another day at work. All American. After a quick cafe crème I put my cup down on the hand crafted leather Hermès placements designed in the traditional colors that make the name famous. There are hundreds of them…perfectly placed in two enormous dining halls, on two floors, set for the many luncheons and dinners ahead intending to delight the palates of sponsors, owners, executives and their friends. The ceiling is cleverly decorated with enormous paper origami style horses in beige. Classy yet playful.
The morning began with the launch of the new Selle Rouge jumping saddle. The history, the artistry and impeccable workmanship go back to 1837. Known for their Birkins and scarves, the heart of Hermès is what it says under its original logo: a sellier, or saddler. The only things made in its atelier above its world flagship store on the rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré in Paris are saddles; the most desirable and expensive saddles made anywhere. The skilled saddle makers are in attendance to demonstrate how they craft these incredible pieces of functional art —bespoke and perfectly fitting the horse and rider—an heirloom made to last a lifetime. If work needs to be done on the saddle at any time, it goes back to it’s original saddle maker. These saddles are magnificent and are available on artistic horse models to sit on, touch, and discover.
Ringside finally with only a small wall between myself and the action. I can hear breathing through wide nostrils, I can see the concentrated expressions of the riders, I can feel the pounding of the hooves as they gallop on the leather and clay footing. I watch, and then move to a new location to see each jump at all the various angles. I am not one for sitting in the stands. I like to move. I like to watch the faces of the grooms and trainers when their horse and rider team are strategically going for the win. I like to quickly position myself to listen to the conversations with the supporting team after a round. I position myself to hear a run-down of a ride in English. A top woman trainer from Ireland commenting on the near perfect round of the rider….carefully describing to the owners how “the round was so brilliantly executed, how difficult the course is with all the winding turns within a quite small arena, how quickly the fences come up, and then there was that f***ing rail down at the last fence!” He was sure to win as he was fast…very fast. This is the game. It all comes down to rails and time. An Irish man trainer walks up and comments on how he is the “second best trainer in Ireland next to her”. They all get a laugh.
This is only hour one and I have 3 full days of this–my version of the romance of a Hugo novel and the dazzle of Picasso’s colors. The schedule includes two young riders classes for riders under age 25, qualifying class for the Le Saut Hermès CSI 5*, and the crux de gras of two Grand Prix classes at the top height of 1.6 m. Total winnings for the weekend at 698,000 Euro. We have representation from 16 nations, 55 riders, and 103 horses, and 4,000 spectators. Although no Americans are competing (there are Grand Prix competitions in US currently) there are only Olympians, world champions, and future stars riding at this level. Since most of the commentary is in French, I distinguish crowd favorites through roars from the stands and the excitement of the host’s voice as he introduces the horse and rider. The names are tops: Fuchs from Switzerland, Whitaker from Great Britan, Deusser from Germany, Bluman from Israel, Fredricson from Sweden, Bost, Delstre, Rozier, and Staut from France. This is by no means meant to leave out anyone from the long list of greats at this competition. I follow the enthusiasm and find myself rooting for “Bosty” when he enters the ring as I realize he is a loved by the French and sited for his unique style of riding. The competition is fierce and the rounds get faster and faster as each one pushes for the win. The crowd winces as a tight inside path is chosen that no others had tried. The “ooooohh” radiates throughout the stands when a rail is knocked down. The rider must forge ahead unscathed and not allow any distractions to the next 3, 2, 1 take-off spot ahead. As the pair sail through the air there is a moment of just letting go…there is no control in the air, only an easing of the aids so the horse can have the freedom to land unencumbered. And then one half stride later and the rider is back in control. The courses are Proustian in style—long and complicated, full of twists and turns. Each of the 10 classes throughout the weekend bring surprises and heartache. A favorite to win has an unexpected rail down, horses stop at fences when the communication lags, and even the awful and unthinkable happen with a fall by horse and rider resulting in a leg injury to one of the horses. The rider is fine but in tears. All is managed with perfect execution and the equine ambulance comes to the rescue. We now know that thankfully the surgery proved successful and this horse will live out its years in a grassy field and cared for with the utmost love and attention.
The pageantry continues and rivals an evening at Palais Garnier Opera House with the performance of Alma Vequera Andulusion equestrain ballet. The Spanish style of riding keeps close to the traditions of the Campo region in Spain and pays tribute to the Vaquero (men who herded cattle on horseback). The horses are trained in the highest levels of Dressage and the riders perform one handed while maneuvering long heavy poles, sometimes on fire, to mimic that of the bull fighters. Impressive, talented, and synchronized, the crowd at the Saut is mesmerized. Other events over the weekend include a solo woman rider, bridle-less, herding sheep and goats who are also lorded over by Australian Shepards (which she commands by whistle), a pack of donkeys, and last to enter the menagerie are 6 miniature ponies. The crowd is delighted as she leads members of Noah’s Ark around the arena doing tricks and bouncing over little jumps. Have you ever seen a large horse, a miniature horse, a donkey, a sheep, a goat, and an Australian Shepard all trundle over a jump at the same time? I have and it is quite a spectacle!
Situated around the arena are booths of interest and activity. The Hermès shop showcases the silks, and woolens, the saddle pads, and rice-root brushes. There is a bookstore housing hard to find specialty equestrian books. The writers, artists and photographers are on hand to discuss their work. A renowned illustrator, Philippe Dumas of the Hermès family, penned hand draw portraits of the book buyer on the inside cover of their new treasure. These little books in linen are synonymous with the name and depict hand drawn sketches of equines in their various states of movement and their leather finery. A children’s room is bright and cheerful with walls of oranges and yellows, coloring tables, and lovely young adults on hand to engage the kids. An enormous interactive video screen delights the children–they insert their drawing into a “box” to then have it magically appear before their eyes on the overhead screen. In the photography room one can stand with horse models adorned in large silk ribbons to snap a shot for your memory book. Fun and professionally printed. An exterior paddock offers an educational farm, and an area for pony rides, grooming workshops, and carriage driving lead by an expert Shetland pony.
I enjoy the third and final day with a quick chat with my new friend…the Dad of a young Irish rider. I had met them in the stables just before the son was about to mount up. I followed along and watched Dad and Son simultaneously ride the course. The son atop his mount galloping to the jumps with confidence and the father on the side lines ducking and twisting his body as if he were somehow connected to the horse and rider team. I look over to him as his son presses on past the finish clock and give him a thumbs up…he winks with an Irish eye and a proud grin. I ask him if he is also the trainer and he explains that no, he is “just a farmer whose son grew up on ponies”. I explain so did mine and we both share a moment of pride and joy. His son went on to take third in the Les Talents Hermès CSIU25 Class which competes in teams by country for the 25 and underage group. Well done farmer Dad and son. To end my weekend at the magic kingdom, we have the class all have been waiting for: Hermès Grand Prix CSI 5* Run under Table A against the clock with a jump-off. The height of the jumps and the technicality of the course make this one of the most demanding classes on the international circuit. At 1.6 meters and 400,000 euro in prize money it was the most exciting 2 hours of pure excellence. How nice for the home country viewers to applaud their own as the winner—Kevin Staut on Cheppetta at a time of 35.5 and 0 penalties.
With every detail executed perfectly, this event truly is 5*. Bravo to all who brought this showcase weekend to Paris once again!
For information on the event and to view the final standings go to: