Pippa Funnell ‘gutted’ main Rio hope out injured; fall left her with no feeling in arms

  • Pippa Funnell has told H&H that the Rio Olympics is “out of the question” for her main hopeful Sandman 7 (pictured).

    Speaking at Houghton International Horse Trials in Norfolk, just under four weeks since she had “a purler of a fall” at Withington Manor Horse Trials in Gloucestershire, Pippa said that there is “no plan” for the horse for the rest of this season.

    “He has bruised the nerves in his neck and is now on two month’s box rest,” explained Pippa. “We will wait and see how he is after that. I’m shattered about it, but he’s still young and his limbs are in good order.”

    The 10-year-old Sandman 7 belongs to Pippa, Jenny Nolan (Pippa’s mother) and Ruth McMullen — Pippa and Jenny gave a share in the horse to the rider’s first trainer for her 80th birthday. The pair were members of the silver medal-winning British team at the European Championships at Blair Castle last year, finishing eighth individually.

    “I’m gutted for mum and Ruth too,” said Pippa, who added she is “getting better each day,” after the crunching fall at fence 16, a big parallel, on the advanced course at Withington.

    “I wasn’t knocked out so I remember all of the fall,” admitted Pippa. “Sandman simply misread the big oxer and tried to bounce it. The going was great, I wasn’t travelling too fast or too slow, we were in perfect balance, he was jumping really well and the next moment we had fallen. It was quite alarming as he’s such an experienced and bold horse.

    “I was in shock — even now I would still ride down to that fence in the same way every day of the week.”

    Pippa was quick to express her endless gratitude to the fence judge, plus the paramedics and event organisers.

    “The fence judge told me not to move and although my first reaction was, ‘Well I need to get up’, I then realised that actually I had no feeling in either of my arms so I should do as the lovely fence judge was telling me and stay still — it can’t have been nice for her to see,” she said.

    Pippa was taken to the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford where she stayed for three days.

    “I had whiplash and hyper-sensitive bruised nerve endings in both arms,” she said, explaining that she has had “unbelievable support” throughout the ordeal including a hospital visit from Team GBR chef d’equipe Yogi Breisner.

    “Even though I’ve been in the fortunate position of receiving Lottery funding for many years, I’ve never really needed to make use of the UK Sport physio [Kate Davis] and team doctor Peter Whitehead before,” said Pippa, who also credited osteopath John Harris.

    “They have all been amazing. Whenever I needed any advice, such as whether I needed to be doing more or less in my rehabilitation they were always on the end of the phone — some days I was calling them three or four times.

    “When you break ribs or a simple bone, you know where you stand with regards to the healing process but my injury was quite unusual so I made good use of the back-up team from UK Sport and it was hugely beneficial,” continued Pippa, who was back on a horse at home two weeks after the fall when she went for a “quiet hack” after feeling in her arms returned.

    She returned to competition last weekend (20-22 May) at Rockingham International Horse Trials where she had three “nice runs”.

    “I schooled a horse for the first time five days before Rockingham. Huge thanks must also go to my home team who have kept everything going,” she said.

    Pippa said she will “be sensible” at Houghton this weekend where she has three horses competing (two in the CCI2* and one in the CIC3*), and will have to take things as they come but that she has been “getting better each day” with regards to her injury.

    Refocusing on Rio

    Pippa said that her main hope for Rio selection now is Billy The Biz, an 11-year-old owned by Carol Toliver.

    He only started eventing when he was eight years old, but the grey has already clocked up some impressive results, including a win in the CCI3* at Ballindenisk a week before Pippa’s fall.

    “He went there to get his Rio qualification,” Pippa revealed. “He might not have started eventing in his youth, but instead he was getting great exposure and mileage jumping decent showjumping tracks in big atmospheres. He has also scored better dressage marks than Sandman at some competitions.

    “There are some obvious combinations for Rio selection, but on the other hand a couple of the places are still wide open, so I would like to keep pressing on and aiming for Rio.”

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