Horse of a lifetime: Pippa Funnell and Sir Barnaby

  • It was a highly-charged morning when the 13-year-old Pippa Nolan said a tearful goodbye to the angelic pony she had outgrown and an unenthusiastic hello to Sir Barnaby, her first horse.

    The peculiarly-coloured bluish roan has a catalogue of comic turns, ranging from throwing himself into a colic-like fit if Pippa has forgotten to give him a peppermint, to allowing a groom to lead him to his stable door, only to reverse back to his field.

    Today, Pippa finds him funny, but, atthe time, she says: “I thought he was going to kill me.”

    The 16.1hh gelding had a vile reputation for being nearly impossible to break and a destroyer of tack, who was off-loaded in a job lot after a couple of hair-raising novice events. He whipped round on roads, bucked like a bronco and reared.

    Pippa tried punishing him unsuccessfully and then ignored his bad behaviour, because he had redeeming features. Barnaby had self-preservation and was an ace jumper, who registered clears across country and show jumping with the same regularity as Big Ben.

    His lager lout behaviour during dressage, though, let the pair down, until Pippa joined Ruth McMullen as a working pupil at the age of 16 and the eight-year-old gelding byBarola tagged along.

    Loose cannon

    He improved, but only slightly, because he scored two zeros and a mark of one for three of the movements at the final trial for the Junior European Championships.

    “I used to dismount after dressage saying ¨I never want to ride him again¨, and then,” recalls Pippa, “I always went home smiling, because he was so brilliant in the other two phases.”

    Tucked more under Ruth McMullen¨s wing, Barnaby and Pippa soared through the grades and registered a fifth at Chatsworth in 1986.

    The selectors were wary of the gelding¨s loose cannon and, while fearing to put him in the team, allowed him and Pippa to travel as individuals to the 1987 Young Rider European Championshipsin Poland.

    They won gold, completed Badminton the following year and chalked up another three European medals. There was a first prize waiting for them at Luhmhlen, another at Gatcombe, a fourth at Burghley and a fifth at their next Badminton. In 1993, they won six consecutive advanced one-day events.

    Growing old disgracefully

    Then Pippa retired Sir Barnaby because she wanted him safe, sound and without so much as a windgall to bother him.

    Today, as one of the few horses with more than 1,000 points, Barnaby is unreformed. Pippa has tried giving pupils lessons on him, but they are invariably short. He whips round and bucks the length of the school.

    She could write a biography on Barnaby. How she has stood with him by a ringside where the music struck up for a prize-giving and, although not a prize-winner, he dragged her into the ring.

    “He thinks prize-givings are for him and smart lorries, too. Rather than travel in a trailer, he has dragged me up the ramp of the smart lorry next to it.”

    Pippa is married to show jumper William Funnell and there are “his and hers” yards, tack rooms and staff on the busiest five acres at Forest Green, Surrey. They share one set of statistics, though. When asked how many pets they have, they chorus: “Three – two dogs and Barnaby.”

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