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Basics, rider position and attention to detail: vital lessons from Pippa Funnell

Can you imagine what would you learn if you spent five days with all-round eventing legend Pippa Funnell?

The Windrush Equestrian Foundation was founded in April 2018 in memory of event horse owner and enthusiast Christina Knudsen. Each year, a small group of riders are selected to take part in the The Windrush Young Eventers Programme and they receive all-round training and education.

This year’s Windrush scholars have just spent five days training at Pippa’s yard, with those on the full-time programme riding their own horses and the riders on the part-time programme enjoying sessions on Billy Stud horses.

H&H was invited to attend the final day of training and we asked the six riders to tell us their main takeaways, so we could also pick up some of Pippa’s brilliant advice too:

Connie Copestake: “A focus on the basics. It sounds simple, but it’s the base of everything. I get too hung up on the technical side and Pippa has stripped everything back to basics and highlighted things I could make better, so when I went up a gear, everything fell into place.

“For me it’s a focus on rhythm for jumping; consistency of rhythm and balance and not getting hung up on striding because if you are in balance and rhythm, the stride will always be there. It’s a confidence thing for me and then I can give the horse more confidence as well.”

Will Furlong: “There’s been a lot of focus on us as riders — going into everything in so much detail. We’ve spent time making sure we are sitting correctly in balance so we allow the horse to work and we don’t get into the habit of hindering them. We’ve all got our weakness and for me it’s being conscious of not tipping my left shoulder forward.

“When jumping, Pippa pointed out I was riding too strongly with my seat. I hope that by getting the horses more in front of the leg and having them more travelling in the canter, I won’t feel I need to drive to the fence and I can be less dominant in my seat.”

Alicia Hawker: “The rider’s balance, so that whether the horse spooks or takes a big step over a trotting pole, we make sure we are not losing our balance because then we can get the horse back into balance more quickly.

“With young horses, making sure the horse is off our inside leg to outside rein. And always to be asking them something, to get their brain and settle them quickly. Also, to be clear in the system, so that every time I ride them, it’s the same system. Then if they get fresh or excited, it’s clear to them what I want because it’s the same system every day.”

Max Warburton: “Attention to detail with each horse. It’s not drilling them, but putting perfect on everything we do and seeing it through. If you have a mistake and it takes two hours and 100 times to see it through, you don’t just call it a day and think it’s ok.

“Rider position and straightness is another one — it’s easy to be slouchy or collapse on one side so you have to be on it all the time, so that’s definitely something to work on.”

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India Wishart: “The importance of the basics and that if they are in place, it all comes easier. Pippa really gets you to think about what you do and why you do it, to unpick why you do certain things. But she doesn’t overcomplicate it, she keeps it simple.

“She’s encouraged me to be more creative in the way I think about the horses, to experiment so that if horse is struggling to bend, for example, I play around with different things. She says the horses will teach more more than she ever could.”

Yasmin Ingham: “When I stop or steer, I always go to my inside hand; it’s easy to swing the horse round the corner with the rein. Pippa encourages you to make the correction with your leg and is a sucker for inside leg to outside rein. When you are coming round a corner to an over, you might make a bit of outside flexion so the horse doesn’t fall out of the outside shoulder.

“Straightness affects rhythm and balance and if one goes, it’s like dominoes so you have to nail each aspect of the scales of training. Pippa has drilled that into us.

“From riding the Billy horses, I have also learnt to react to each horse as an individual and that it’s all about adapting your riding to what suits each horse.”

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