William Funnell on the horses who’ve made his career: ‘Things were stacking up against me – then Mondriaan came along’

  • William Funnell says winning the Foxhunter final, at the age of 17, was a pivotal moment of his career.

    “I really enjoyed young horses from an early age and being with animals,” he says in an interview with H&H showjumping editor Jennifer Donald on episode 55 of The Horse & Hound Podcast.

    “I had a little bit of success on ponies, although not anything serious. Then Cyril Light offered me a job when I left school at 16.”

    On that first trip to Horse of the Year Show, in 1984, William took the Foxhunter final on Once More.

    “At that time, it was live on TV, so I ended up making a bit of a name for myself, but I was always worried about chasing dreams and ending up with nothing,” says William.

    “I think as a man you sort of think you have a responsibility to earn a living. I made a conscious decision to buy a place at 19 and I was lucky – I ended up getting more involve in selling horses, breaking horses, mainly still working with young horses.”

    William first top-level horse was Comex, with whom he jumped his first Nations Cups and was reserve at the European Championships and second in the Hickstead Derby.

    “I had a lot of seconds with him, which really started to make me believe I could do it at the top level, but it became a bit frustrating,” he says. “Then I trained Buddy Bunn for Douglas Bunn and when I had a groin injury John Whitaker jumped on him on Saturday and won the Hickstead Derby on Sunday.

    “At that time I’d never won it, so I was starting to think that things were stacking up against me – when that happened, I thought, ‘I don’t think I’m ever going to win this’.”

    Mondriaan: an honest, brave horse

    The horse who enabled William to achieve that breakthrough Derby win was Cortaflex Mondriaan, who won the class in 2006, 2008 and 2009.

    “Mondriaan was just a fantastic horse – such an honest brave horse,” says William.

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    William’s breakout home-bred was Billy Congo, who won at five-star level and was a European Championships team gold medallist in 2013.

    “Even when he was born, as a two- and three-year-old, we always believed in Billy Congo and he didn’t fail, he didn’t let us down,” he says.

    “I was really lucky to have two super grand prix horses – Billy Congo and Billy Angelo – at the same time. They were competitive horses, nimble, and it made it difficult to come back from a show not having won money, because they were both careful, both jumped clear rounds.

    “To have those two at the same time got me up in the top 30 in the world and I managed to get into the Global Champions Tour for a couple of years – it gave me opportunities. I think in one season Congo won £300,000 – at that level you’re winning £75,000 or £80,000 in a pop. It adds up a lot quicker – in a three-star grand prix a few weeks ago, I won £12,000.”

    Billy Congo also sired Billy Buckingham, who won the Derby in 2018 and jumped at the World Championships in the same year with William. Billy Congo is currently standing in Ireland.

    Hear more about William’s current top horses, his Olympic hopes and how he thinks the county show circuit in Britain could be rejuvenated by tuning in to episode 55 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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