Following wins at Badminton and Windsor, Pippa Funnell received an altogether different kind of recognition when she was awarded an MBE for her services to equestrian sport in the Queen’s Birthday Honours last week.

Funnell follows in the footsteps of fellow Olympic team member Leslie Law, who received an MBE in January. Like Law, Funnell is a long-standing member of the British eventing team and has bagged a dazzling array of medals during the course of her long career.

She won her first big title when she was just 19 years old, at the Young Rider Europeans at Bialy Bor in Poland in 1987 with Sir Barnaby. A year later, she repeated the feat when she won the team European Young Rider gold in Zonhoven with Sir Barnaby. Then came Bramham with Metronome in 1992, Blenheim with Cartoon in 1993 and again in 1995 with Bits and Pieces, whom she also rode at Burghley in 1996, ending in fourth place.

But Funnell’s early days were crippled by a lack of confidence which she overcame with help from sports psychologist Nikki Heath, with whom she started working in 1997. Funnell credits Heath for her top-level victories, which started flooding in after she and Supreme Rock ended sixth at Badminton in 1999. She and Rocky went on to win the individual and team gold at the European Championships in Luhmuhlen that year, and, since then, Funnell has been unstoppable.

Her success secured her a place in the British eventing team at the Sydney Olympics in 2000, where she won team silver, and in Pau, where she won the individual and team gold with Supreme Rock.

A year later, she finally grasped the four-star victory which had eluded her in the early stages of her career, when she and Rocky bagged Badminton in an extraordinary show of prowess.

Funnell clearly must have liked the feeling of her Badminton win, because she went on to harvest every four-star victory in 2003 to land the $250,000 Rolex Grand Slam. The year had started well for the Surrey-based rider, when she and Primmore’s Pride took the Rolex Kentucky title in April. A week later, she triumphed at Badminton with Rocky. Only Burghley remained between Funnell and the Rolex Grand Slam. But Zara Phillips and Toytown were ready to give battle for Burghley and a nail biting finale took place in the Lincolnshire venue’s show jumping arena. Funnell, second after the cross country phase, jumped a faultless round with Primmore’s Pride, but Phillips, who was last to go, would win if she too managed to produce a clear round. She and Toytown jumped perfectly until the third from home. As the fence went down, it handed Funnell her first Burghley victory, the Rolex Grand Slam and a place in eventing’s history.

Funnell was also a pillar of the British team, winning the team gold and individual bronze at the Punchestown Europeans in 2003 (with Walk on Star) and the team silver and individual bronze in Athens last year (with Primmore’s Pride).

So far, 2005 has been a rollercoaster of joys and sorrows for the Surrey rider. She had to have her Blenheim 2004 winner, Viceroy II, put down after he suffered a bad bout of colic in March. A month later, she had to retire her veteran mount, Supreme Rock, after the gelding suffered a small training injury. But Funnell also triumphed at Badminton for the third time in four years and won Windsor with the inexperienced but talented Blue Horizon. Now, Friday’s MBE crowns her as queen of eventing once and for all.

“Pippa has been an outstanding ambassador for the sport of eventing for many years, as well as an inspiration to people of all ages,” says the chief executive of British Eventing, Peter Durrant. “This MBE is very fitting recognition for her unique sporting achievements both at home and abroad and we are all delighted and thrilled for her.”

  • For a complete run down of equestrians recognised in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list, see this week’s Horse & Hound (16 June, ’05)