The routine: Pippa Funnell, Olympic medal-winning three-day eventer

Seven hours a day in the saddle keeps me strong
Click to follow

Pippa Funnell, 33, won the Olympic silver medal for Britain in the three-day event at Sydney last year. This October, riding the same horse, Supreme Rock, she took both the team and individual titles at the European Championships in Pau, France for the second year running, the first time any rider had won successive championships on the same horse. She was born in Sussex into an equestrian family, with a commentator for a father and a mother who organises horse trials and showjumping events, and she is married to showjumper William Funnell.

How do you develop successful partnerships with your horses?
Many horses have the physical qualities needed for success, but it is difficult to judge what a horse is like mentally. A horse needs to want to win. The connection that a rider builds up with the horse is such a special part of the partnership. When I won the European Championships, the main feeling I had was gratitude to Supreme Rock. He just loves the job. I do talk to my horses, constantly, but people would think I'm a batty old horsewoman if they knew that.

Do you have a particular routine?
You have to dedicate all hours of the day to riding. The difference with this sport is that you are involved with other beings. No matter what happens, you can't say: "I don't feel like doing it today". The horses need feeding and they need exercise. It's an eight-day-a-week job. The lovely thing is that you have a daily routine, but no day is the same. Particularly in three-day eventing, with its three phases. There's no repetitiveness. Every cross-country course is different, so we have to be very alert mentally.

What physical strengths do you need?
I don't think it's so much about physical strength. I'm not that big. I'm 81/2 stone and 5ft 6in. If people think that the horses jump the fences because the riders are physically strong, they are wrong. It's all in the training. Building up confidence in a horse is a very long process. The horse needs to trust that what you are asking it to jump is not too daunting on the other side, and that you're not asking it to do something impossible. Still, I am probably quite strong without being aware of it. My fitness comes purely from the riding I do. Picking up water buckets and bags of shavings all day probably builds your strength up, but it isn't an issue, which is why it is one of the few sports in which men and women can compete on the same level.

How often do you ride?
From January through to the end of October I am in the saddle about six to seven hours a day, every day.

Don't you ever have a day off?
It's very rare! It takes a very good reason, like someone's wedding. For the last four years, I have taken a week off to go skiing. If I do go away, it would have to be something active. I thrive upon go, go, go, you know, the hectic lifestyle.

How does your routine change during the off-season?
I still go riding about three to four hours a day. All my competition horses go back to their owners and are turned into the field for three to four months, so they have a complete break. This is the time that I get to be at home and train the young horses, so it is a very important time. One of the things which gives me pleasure is seeing how the young horses progress in their training. You're talking about horses that have never been ridden and don't have any trust initially. It's amazing to see how they grow.

Is your diet important?
No. I am not a fussy eater, and I don't follow any particular diet. I probably should. I try to eat one good meal a day, with lots of meat and vegetables. The one thing I am very strict on is that I make myself drink a lot of water, especially when I'm competing.

The UK three-day event season starts again at the beginning of March