William Funnell: time to go back to basics [H&H VIP]

  • With showjumping now a 52-week a year sport, it’s very difficult to stop, take a breather and go back to basics.

    But that’s exactly what my wife Pip and I have done this winter. We had Olympia last month, but for most people — particularly with all the rain — this has felt like a very long winter, without many shows in between.

    So we’ve had trainers Yogi Breisner and John Ledingham down to try to get inspired. Now is the one time when Pip and I are both at home, so it’s good to have some help, to get some new ideas and to work on our own basics as well as the horses’.

    We use the winter months to get a good, solid grounding into the young ones and we spend a lot of time on the flat, doing grid work and basic training.

    People think of Yogi just being involved in racing and eventing, but he’s a very good jumping coach as well. Even turning back to fences, for example, because you don’t always know what’s going on beneath you — he’ll suggest trying this or point out that you’re losing the shoulder there. He comes up with some very good ideas.

    Di Lampard gave me a hand with Billy Congo before the European Championships. She’ll come back again in a couple of weeks and I’ll ride as part of a group of two or three on young ones. As you get older, you forget more than you remember…

    The quest for rankings

    I’m a breeder and a producer, so I was lucky to be part of the Global Champions Tour (GCT) last year. However, I’m resigned to the fact that I’m going to drop out this year — with only one grand prix horse, it’s a real struggle to keep jumping at international shows.

    It’s all too easy to be drawn into competing every weekend, but I took the decision to do what’s best for Billy Congo, look long-term and towards the World Equestrian Games [in August] instead. It’s better to be up there and staying there, than struggling on the fringe of the top 30 riders.

    Ironically, 2013 was one of the best years I’ve ever had winning-wise, yet I’m lower down the rankings than I was the year before, simply because I had two horses firing.

    Jan Tops (organiser of the GC)] has done a great thing for the sport. It’s brought up horse prices, as riders trying to stay at the top need more good horses. We also have the Saudis, the Qataris and the wealthy Americans buying in. But that break between being
    in the Global Tour and not is huge — it’s the difference between being in Abu Dhabi or Arena UK!

    Last year, I didn’t jump many Nations Cups, but this year I’m going to have to do more shows from that angle. This new Furusiyya FEI series has made it even more diffi cult to get back up the rankings, though.

    If you’re not in the top 30, you can still get picked and collect rankings points at the Nations Cup shows and the grands prix, so it used to be a quick way to get yourself back up. But now, with fewer opportunities to jump in the Nations Cup series, it’s become harder to gain these points.

    It’s always been a fight to get into shows and get to the top, but if you win enough you can get there. People will always complain that they don’t have the opportunities, but look at Ben Maher and Scott Brash. Not so long ago Ben couldn’t even get into Olympia, but the next year he was at the Olympics and he hasn’t looked back.

    When I was a lad, we had David Broome, the Smiths and the Whitakers and it was tough to make it, but I hope that seeing Ben and Scott punching their way through will actually inspire a lot of young riders to get on with it.

    It’s very easy to sit on your arse and moan that you do not have the opportunity, but both of those lads have worked for what they have — nothing comes to people who sit and wait.

    William’s column was first published in Horse & Hound magazine (16 January, 2014)