William Funnell: ‘I’ve come away really impressed’


  • Leading British showjumper and four-time winner of the Hickstead Derby, William Funnell, discusses the UAE’s rising fortunes and the World Cup Final

    WITH so many international indoor shows once again cancelling over the winter, more riders than ever seem to have joined the various tours around the world.

    I’ve taken two horses to compete in the UAE’s series of four- and five-star shows and, although there has been a recent FEI Tribunal decision regarding a horse abuse case in Abu Dhabi last year, I’ve personally had positive experiences at UAE shows and watching their riders.

    It’s the third time I’ve been on this particular tour and I’ve come away really impressed by the rising standards, competitive spirit and forward thinking. The UAE tour looks set to expand further in 2023, making it a popular alternative to the expense of travelling to Florida, and high-class riders such as Henrik von Eckermann, David Will and Shane Breen have been in action.

    It’s been especially good for me because, having not ridden competitively for six months with a broken ankle, my world ranking is at an all-time low, making it very difficult for me to get into five-star shows in Europe and to get my top horse Equine America Billy Diamo (pictured) up and running again.

    It also benefited my other horse Equine America Billy Picador, whom my wife Pip jumped to finish second in the Foxhunter final as a seven-year-old. Picador hasn’t done much since because of Covid, so she’s a very low mileage 10-year-old.

    Thinking ahead

    I FIRST received an invite to the UAE shows as part of the prize for winning the Hickstead Derby, sponsored by Al Shira’aa, and a lot of the turnaround in the country’s fortunes can be attributed to Al Shira’aa’s founder Sheikha Fatima Bint Hazza Bin Zayed Al Nahyan.

    She supports the whole UAE team and they’ve benefited from training from Saudi Arabia’s Olympic bronze medallist in Sydney, Khaled Al-Eid. Previously, UAE riders perhaps lacked horsemanship, understanding of young horses and comprehensive training.

    But Sheikha Fatima, who also has stables in England, has organised for young showjumpers to come over and ride at Hickstead and some other national shows.

    Lots of people can get on and ride a made horse, but with the current price of horses you can’t just keep buying and buying. For continuity, they need to be able to produce horses too, and they’ve had that foresight as Sheikha Fatima has been looking to the future with the breeding side of things. A couple of her home-breds from the UK won the young horse finals, ridden by UAE riders.

    So the changes have been remarkable, and the UAE team wasn’t far away from winning the Nations Cup there in January. They planned for it and rode it well, and the same for the grand prix. You can see all the hard work that’s gone into it, so they should be congratulated.

    They gave the Irish a really good run for their money, and Ireland appear to have great strength in depth in their teams right now.

    Unfortunately Great Britain only had a three-man team but we were delighted to finish third. Having fallen off in my last Nations Cup, I was a bit nervous putting my team jacket back on! But at least I managed to jump a clear in the second round.

    Positives from London

    ONE of the many excellent positives to come out of the new-look London International Horse Show was Harry Charles’s impressive performances to win the World Cup qualifier and the grand prix. He’s stepped up impressively and put his name in the hat as one of the top three riders in this country.

    Europe’s indoor season is really struggling, and the showjumping World Cup is going through a difficult period caused by Covid and cancellations. With the length of the Global Champions Tour season now, it’s very difficult for riders to factor in the World Cup Final for their best horses. The World Cup Final used to be like a championship, but there’s work to do for the series to regain its prestige.

    • This exclusive column will also be available to read in Horse & Hound magazine, on sale Thursday 10 February

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