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Meet Pippa Funnell

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Horse&Rider spoke to Pippa Funnell to find out what it is she really loves about eventing

I first wore the Union Jack at the Junior European Championships in Germany in 1986 and it was a very proud moment for me. It was my last year in juniors and the horse I rode, Airborne, was enormous. It was a really twisty cross-country course and it felt like I was steering an oil tanker around slalom poles! Wearing the Union Jack for the first time as a senior in 1997 was also very special. I’d waited a long time after young riders to get my senior call-up, so that felt really good.

Winning the Rolex Grand Slam of eventing in 2003 is definitely the most memorable moment in my career. I won Kentucky on Primmore’s Pride in the April, Badminton on Supreme Rock in the May and Burghley on Primmore’s Pride in the September. It was an amazing feeling and it took a while to sink in. 

On the other hand, my biggest disappointment was missing out on the London Olympics when my two top horses, Redesigned and Billy Shannon, were injured shortly before selection. There was such a hype and build-up to the games, so when I realised that both my horses would be out I hit quite a low. 

Billy Shannon was a very special horse and it was only a minor injury, but I had further heartbreak when she developed leukaemia and had to be put down. It takes a lot to pull yourself back from
such major disappointments, but riding nice young horses keeps me going. It keeps my dreams alive, and when they come through for you and you can watch them progress, it’s really special. You must have a genuine love of the day-to-day horsey life because so much can go wrong with horses. 

I’m proud of all my horses, past and present. Right now, Billy the Biz stands out as a particular achievement. He’s always been a great jumper, but I never really considered that he’d be an eventer because he didn’t move so well. Then we did the Hickstead Eventers’ Challenge in 2013 and I decided to take him eventing for a bit of fun and a personal challenge. He’s now competing at three-star level and I can’t believe how he’s changed. I’m always proud of my horses whenever they try for me. 

The hours before I go cross-country at a three-day event are my least favourite part of eventing. I get nervous, feel sick and question ‘Why do I do this?’. But then when I have a good ride, I remember exactly why. To prepare for a tough cross-country track, I try to be very strict with myself and ride the course in my head in a positive way, fence by fence, making sure I know all the options, in case things go wrong. Once I’ve done that, I don’t let my mind switch off from this plan. When I’m convinced that I know all the options and that I’m mentally set to ride positively, then I think ‘What’s the point
of worrying?’.

‘Ninety-five percent of a horse’s problem is what the rider is doing on top’ is what my coach, Ruth McMullen, used to tell me. I love this because it makes you look at yourself and you become more aware of your own role in the way your horse goes.  

I always look for an intelligent, trainable brain when choosing a horse. It’s an added bonus if he’s a good mover, but this combination is hard to find. He has to be a careful jumper as the showjumping has changed quite a bit, but you still need quality Thoroughbred blood, that hasn’t changed. 

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