This past March, the 10th annual Saut Hermès took place at the iconic Grand Palais des Champs-Élysées in Paris. The three-day horse show is much more than that – it is a celebration, an international show jumping competition, and a weekend of entertainment to delight equestrian enthusiasts and casual patrons alike. What cannot be underscored enough is that the entire event so fittingly represents the brand. The understated but beautiful decor, the dedication to the sport and the horse, and the manner in which their spectators are treated as guests, directly reflects the experience one receives in any Hermès retail store.
Partnering with the Grand Palais
This, the 10th anniversary of the Saut Hermès, provided an opportunity for the Hermès team, the competitors, and the spectators, to reflect on what the show has done for the sport, and what it represents to the house. One thing that becomes clear is that despite the enormous effort undertaken to erect stabling, lay down footing, assemble seating, and more – in the Paris venue, the Saut Hermès continues to improve year over year. Axel Dumas, Chief Executive Officer of Hermès, explains his thoughts on that point: “This year, this very special edition, has led me to reflect on the joy of repetition. In high-level sport such as we see here today, repetition is at the very heart of training, as training is at the heart of success.” The repetition of the Saut Hermès certainly led to a seamless event that ended in success. Dumas goes on to conclude, “To what is excellence ultimately owed? Very often, to diligent repetition.” This 10th anniversary of the Saut Hermès proved his point; the event was nothing less than excellent.
There could not be a more fitting venue for the Saut Hermès than The Grand Palais, and its best qualities mirror those of Hermès. Both have a rich history. The Grand Palais was built as an exhibition hall in 1897 in the Beaux-Arts architectural style, and has been used to house art galleries and as a WWII military hospital, and now hosts acclaimed events such as the Tour de France and the Saut Hermès. Founded in 1837 by Thierry Hermès as a harness and leather workshop, Hermès grew throughout the century into the high fashion luxury brand it is today. Both the venue and the brand are symbols of craftsmanship and beauty. The Grand Palais is beautifully constructed with ornate decoration, stone facades, and glass vault ceilings. Hermès is committed to hand crafting their goods, maintaining traditional styles, and using classic, artistic touches in their designs. Both provide an elevated level of sophistication: The Grand Palais to its hosted events, and Hermès to those who wear and use their products. From the moment the Saut Hermès begins, the show and the venue are intertwined into a fanciful weekend.
Dream a Little Dream of…Hermès
Each year, Hermès chooses a theme, and this year’s theme was perfection: “In the Pursuit of Dreams.” The theme introduced itself immediately with the decor of the Grand Palais. As spectators stepped through the exhibition hall doors, their eyes drifted upward to the enormous jump poles and balloons that whimsically hung from the glass plated ceiling. With the sun streaming through the windows, illuminating the different colors on the decorations, visitors smiled with childlike delight at the spectacle. As they found their seats, they marveled at the unusual and imaginative jumps that had been designed especially for the event. And the presence of the majestic Pegasus statue by the artist Christian Renonciat was perhaps even more fitting this year than others, as the image of a winged horse immediately invoked the celestial mythology, as well as every young horse enthusiast’s dream, of one day riding a flying horse.
Through their interviews and commentary, the competitors themselves shared the significance of the dream theme, often referring to the definition of dream that is synonymous with aspirations, goals, and hope. Many riders reflected on how simply getting to do what they love each day – to be with horses – was a dream come true. Several made remarks to the effect that having the opportunity to compete at the Saut Hermès was also a dream come true. And a few commented that maintaining the dream to compete, or the dream to win, is an essential part of success in the sport, implying that dreaming is not just a fun pastime, or something that happens during sleep, but is an integral part of living one’s best life. It seemed these words were meant to encourage listeners at the Saut Hermès to reflect on their own lives’ dreams, and to ponder how they might move that dream from fanciful thought to an objective goal.
Perhaps the most exciting evocation of the 2019 dream theme was the virtual reality experience available to all attendees. Spectators had the opportunity to climb aboard a “horse” complete with reins and saddle, and were given a VR headset by a Saut Hermès host. The incredible “ride” began with cantering and jumping a short course in the Grand Palais. The feeling of being on the back of the horse was so real several riders got into two-point as they neared the first VR jump. After a handful of jumps, riders were surprised to find that they were actually on a pegasus, when magically the horse underneath them lifted into flight and flew out of the Grand Palais ceiling. After a beautiful flight around the city of Paris, the pegasus landed gracefully on the porch of the Hermès store, and with a shake of his head and flapping of his ears, insinuated that the ride was over. The squeals and giggling from the VR exhibition in the Grand Palais lifted to the glass ceiling and echoed throughout the venue, in turn no doubt lifting the spirits of those who heard – and understood the reason for – the childlike laughter.
Emile Hermès Collection
One dream to fulfill during a trip to Paris for the Saut Hermès is most certainly a visit to the Emile Hermès Collection. The collection is housed just a short walk from the Grand Palais in several rooms of the third story of the Hermès flagship store on Rue Faubourg Saint-Honoré. After entering the Hermès corporate offices, a few quick right then left then right turns guide guests to a section of the building that has two distinct museum markers: Chilly air conditioning and a lovely musty smell. Though many refer to the collection as a museum, it is not exactly that. In reality, it is a private collection of artifacts whose access is reserved for select Hermès employees and private, invited guests. The guests receiving an invitation to visit the collection are lucky ones indeed!
Menehould de Bazelaire du Chatelle, the artistic director of the Cultural Patrimony of Hermès, is as kind and gracious a host as one could imagine. After a short meet and greet, in which she leans forward to carefully hear and learn each guest’s name, she uses a hefty key chain (an Hermès tassel, of course) to open the door. As it swings open, and the incredible artifacts come into sight, the group struggles not to crowd the door in the excitement created by the opportunity to see the personal retreat and offices of the late Emile Hermès, the third in the original line of custodians, who was responsible for the home from 1902 to 1951.
It is difficult to find the words to convey the significance and magic of the collection. Perhaps Menehould describes it best when she explains that, “It is a secret forest of memories; like a jungle, or an Ali Baba’s cave. It is what we call a museum, but it is not a museum. It is like Paris, a place filled with mysteries in which to get lost; a place to find what you are not looking for.” This is exactly what it feels like to peruse the rooms and lose yourself in the collection. The whimsical nature of some of the pieces, such as the child’s game about horses; and the historical importance of others, such as the ancient saddles from a variety of the world’s cultures, break open the soul of the wanderer and allow dreams of wonder, imagination, and function to flow through to the mind.
Menehould explains this is actually one of the duties of the collection; Hermès designers come to the assembly for inspiration, using past pieces to inspire future works, and to be reminded of the tradition that is behind each Hermès piece. The most exceptional and relevant evidence of that is in the tale of an Hermès scarf design. Menehould walked the group to an old book that sat carefully arranged, turned to a page held noted by a ribbon, and opened it to reveal the sketch of a horse blanket made with geometric shapes. She quietly asked the group, “Does this look familiar to anyone?” Before she could finish her sentence, it was clear the entirety of the group had connected the design to the iconic Hermès scarf. Menehould explained that a designer had come to the collection for inspiration and left with this design in her mind and heart, and transformed it into an iconic Hermès piece – what a dreamy tale!
This year’s Saut Hermès coincided with the release of Hermès’s new saddle, the Vivace. Earlier this year, Hermès Partner Rider, Lucy Deslauriers came out in the saddle at World Equestrian Festival in Florida, and word of the beautiful design and unparalleled fit and comfort quickly spread. The saddle is the creation of Laurent Goblet, Hermès’s master saddler, who explained that the Vivace is the successor to, and improvement on, the Hermès Steinkraus. He explains, “When I came to Hermès in 1977, an extra-flat and light saddle called the Steinkraus was revolutionizing riding. When evoking its qualities, the term close contact comes to mind. For the Hermès Vivace saddle I have interpreted the famous close contact through three key words: proximity, stability and comfort.” Goblet was able to achieve all three with the Vivace saddle. To achieve maximum proximity, Goblet improved ergonomics by remodeling the curve of the tree and reducing its width. To improve stability, he redesigned the balance of the saddle by slanting the straps to spread out the attachment points. To increase the comfort, he used a new, supple, elastic type of foam. The result is a smooth saddle that is as close to riding bareback as possible.
Goblet’s 42-year career with Hermès made him the perfect designer for the new Hermès saddle; however, he still worked with a team. An integral part of that team were the Hermès Partner Riders, and for the Vivace he worked with Partner Riders Alexandra Paillot, Anne Kursinski, and Daniel Bluman. Each rider was involved in the design process, tested prototypes, gave Goblet feedback, and explained where improvements were needed. Paillot described her love for the lightness of the Vivace, that it provided a comfortable place for the rider that prefers a lighter seat. She competed at this year’s Saut Hermès, and it was clear to see that the saddle supported this riding style.
To further showcase the Vivace during the weekend, Hermès had set up a section of the grounds dedicated to allowing press to sit on, or even ride in, the new saddle. Hermès arranged to have the most affable (but high quality!) mounts trailered in from a local riding school, and after being saddled up in a new Vivace, they each gave rides to about a dozen people. The competence level of the riders varied, but the horses were all well behaved, and everyone enjoyed their ride. The remarks from the riders were all positive, the majority being about the softness of the seat and the closeness of the contact. The Vivace was quickly and easily earning its place in the Hermès saddle legacy.
25 And Under Only
The Saut Hermès is a prestigious show jumping competition, and somewhat exclusive. They only offer 5* classes and an Under 25 division, so the rider and horse lists are short but star studded. For the CSI-5* entries, there were 52 athletes, 97 horses, and 19 nations represented. Sixteen French riders attended the 2019 Saut Hermès, which included the country’s very best athletes: Roger-Yves Bost, Simon Delestre, Julien Epaillard, Pénélope Leprevost, and Kevin Staut, just to name a few. Top riders from other countries included Edwina Tops-Alexander from Australia, Scott Brash from Great Britain, Daniel Deusser and Christian Ahlmann from Germany, Bertram Allen and Denis Lynch from Ireland, Danielle Goldstein from Israel, Steve Guerdat and Pius Schwizer from Switzerland, and Henrik Von Eckermann from Sweden. With a rider list such as this, the views of the warm-up area were as crowded as the competition arena, as spectators gathered to watch this many 5* riders warm up at once.
The Under 25 class list was also an exciting one, and the Saut Hermès plays an integral role in advancing the careers of these up-and-coming athletes by offering this division. In the Les Talents Hermès CSIU25-A classes that took place on Friday and Saturday, there were ten nations represented, in a special class restricted to 20 athletes aged under 25 years, with one horse per rider. On Friday, it was Robin Muhr from Israel that took the win, followed by France’s Megan Moissonnier, and then Alice Tapper from Sweden. On Saturday, the CSIU25-A podium had a complete shake up, with Thibault Phillippaerts from Belgium winning, followed by Great Britain’s Georgia Tame, and then Sofie Slattery from Ireland. Both classes were the perfect introduction to the field of rider and horse combinations that would take to the arena to compete in pairs for their nation in Sunday’s special CSIU25-A class. The final pairs, placed according to cumulative points from both rounds and the time of the second round, resulted in an electrifying class. Great Britain’s Amy Inglis and Georgia Tame took first, with Germany’s Laureen Budde and Maxime Perez second, and Tressy Muhr and Robin Muhr third. The young riders did an exceptional job with their mounts, and it is clear the future of show jumping is in good hands – or saddles.
The Weekend’s Best 5* Stories
The 5* classes were exceptional to watch, and the riders all did an excellent job of navigating the challenging course. With the high, glass ceilings, the arena feels very open, airy and spacious. However, as soon as the competition begins, it becomes clear that despite the illusion of space, this is indeed an indoor track, with tight turns and careful lines required to win. Two competition moments in particular matched the magical and dreamy atmosphere of the 2019 Saut Hermès. One was the result of Friday’s Prix du Grand Palais CSI 5* Speed class. After Phase 1’s Table A, untimed track, several excellent riders waited eagerly for the jump-off, including a handful of French riders. As the jump-off started, with the leaderboard listing three French riders holding first, second, and third place, the energy of the crowd began to hum. When the class was over, and the podium was indeed all French, the crowd went wild with cheers and excitement. Patrice Delaveau, Simon Delestre, and Guillaume Foutrier (first, second, and third, respectively) were also very pleased with the result. It was certainly a dream-come-true moment for the French.
The second very significant moment that made the 2019 Saut Hermès exceptional was the result of Sunday’s Grand Prix Hermès CSI 5*, the class that is considered the showpiece of the Saut Hermès. The jumps are set at 1.60 meters, making the indoor track an incredibly technical and challenging one. Still, an impressive 13 riders progressed to the jump-off. A good majority of the countries were represented, and the rider and horse combinations were so talented that the win was any rider’s – and any country’s – to grab. Edwina Tops-Alexander put in an excellent ride, hoping to secure another Saut Hermès win (she was 2017’s winner). Steve Guerdat also rode an excellent track, as did Eduardo Alvarez Aznar. When France’s – and Hermès sponsored – Hermes Ryan ridden by Simon Delestre finished their clean, tight, and wicked-fast ride, it was clear that these reigning champions from 2018 had a chance at the top of the podium. However, Christian Ahlmann was still to go, and he put in formidable ride, though it was not quite fast enough to take first! The crowd erupted in applause as they realized that a French horse, named for Hermès, had just successfully defended his Saut Hermès title. During the awards ceremony, which is admittedly always a little wild, Ahlmann’s Dominator 2000 Z was rearing up, and the other mounts were acting nearly as saucy. However, 14-year-old Hermes Ryan just sat with a hip cocked, ears on Delestre, waiting for his ribbon and gallop around the ring. It was such a sweet moment from such an incredible athlete, and the spectators loved it, offering the pair a standing ovation as a sign of gratitude and adoration. It was a dreamy ending to an incredible competition.
Hermès = The Horse
This year’s Saut Hermès was exceptional, but not unusual. Each year, the Hermès team dedicates itself to bringing to the heart of France the best show jumping the world has to offer. They invite spectators to enjoy a weekend of competition, entertainment, and shopping; and they treat each individual as a guest. It is so special that as soon as the spectators leave after the final class on Sunday, they are undoubtedly dreaming about coming back next year. Luckily, 2020’s Saut Hermès will come soon enough.
The Saut Hermès is so on par with the Hermès brand, that over the course of the show there comes an understanding that Hermès the internationally recognized company, and Hermès the family-owned harness shop, are intrinsically linked, and Hermès wants it to stay that way. There is a feeling that Hermès understands that they could not have had the former without the latter, and that by hosting the Saut Hermès, they want everyone to remember, that they remember, their roots: The horse.