Pippa Funnell on training horses: ‘I love mine to bits but I don’t spoil them – I don’t want a spoilt horse’

  • Consistency is vital when working with young horses – and not just when riding in an arena. These are the words of wisdom from Rolex grand slam winner and three-time Olympic medallist Pippa Funnell.

    “I think within a session people can obviously be disciplined in the way they work a horse on the flat, for example. They could concentrate on transitions or having the horse in front of the leg and off the leg.

    “But when I say consistency, what’s the point of doing all that work on transitions if you then go out hacking and are lazy about it and don’t install that same level of discipline? Or you finish a round of showjumping and the horse falls in a heap?” asks Pippa, who was talking to H&H on episode 37 of The Horse & Hound Podcast.

    “I think people get lazy or they don’t discipline their own minds enough to think, ‘I’ve got to carry this through whatever I do with the horse, whether it’s hacking, whether it’s jumping, whether it’s in the school doing dressage.’

    “There’s no point being quietly firm with horses one day and completely letting them get away with something the next day. It’s a bit like a kid – for an easy life you might tell them off about something one day, but you don’t want to go through the aggro the next day so you think you won’t bother. Then they don’t know where they stand. By being disciplined and consistent with the horses, they know the situation, they understand.”

    Pippa was at pains to stress that from day one when they start handling young horses, she and husband William want the horses to be their friends.

    “The horses are not tools for our trade, and they mustn’t be treated like tools for our trade. They are to be treated like our best buddies that we want to form a really good partnership with – that we work together and that they respect us, likewise we respect them,” she says.

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    This philosophy extends to working with horses on the ground as well as riding.

    “I use my voice and the tone of my voice and as soon as they do as you ask, you reward them with a softer voice or a pat,” she says. “It’s being crystal clear in the vibes you give the horse, so no is no and yes is yes. I want to train my horses so when they are being washed off and I’m on the ground, they don’t move around.

    “That might mean one little yank on the lead rope when they go to fidget and as soon as they stand you say ‘good boy’ so they understand – very quickly they pick it up. That’s the whole way I do it and then you love them to bits. I love mine to bits but at the same time I don’t spoil them – I don’t want a spoilt horse. They know the terms, they understand the terms.”

    If you’d like to hear more about Pippa’s philosophy for training horses, how to plan a season and why she and husband William took on guest editing Horse & Hound, listen to episode 37 of The Horse & Hound Podcast here or search “The Horse & Hound Podcast” in your favourite podcast app.

    Horse & Hound magazine, out every Thursday, is packed with all the latest news and reports, as well as interviews, specials, nostalgia, vet and training advice. Find out more about getting the magazine delivered to your door every week. 

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