Pippa Funnell is used to historic moments. Her glittering career has been full of the highs and lows of a tough sport and, today, she added a new chapter to her eventing memoirs with a fourth win at Bramham, making it a victory in each of the last four decades – 1992, 2002, 2010 and now, 2023.
Riding a relatively new partner in Sarah Ross’ MCS Maverick, Pippa arrived at Bramham in a relaxed mood with a single horse to run, intent on a nice, quiet week and ensuring everyone was aware she wasn’t going to be competitive. Her only mission was to learn more about the talented but quirky 10-year-old. Perhaps that mindset took the pressure off because the Surrey-based rider has ridden as well this week as any in her extensive career.
Pippa and Maverick went into the cross-country phase in second place and a copybook clear round, despite the horse’s relative inexperience, put them into the lead with just 1.2 time penalties. However, a victory on the final day was by no means secured – hot on their heels and just 0.03 of a penalty behind sat Pippa’s good friend Piggy March, riding Brookfield Cavalier Cruise for Alison Swinburn and John and Chloe Perry. Despite being a little further back, Kiwi Jesse Campbell retained his third spot after two phases with Gambesie, with two time faults to end day two on 31.4.
All 31 combinations that came forward to the final horse inspection were declared fit to compete by the ground jury, and so the battle for the 2023 Bramham title began. With less than a fence separating the top five, the pressure was on – it would be a day of ‘clear rounds win prizes’.
Tom McEwen made a move up the leaderboard with the beautiful mare Luna Mist, thanks to a clear round that put the pressure on the top three. Jesse Campbell and Gambesie hunted round, neat as a pin, for an all-important clear. Next in was Piggy March and if there’s one rider who eats pressure for breakfast, it’s this one. She rode a foot-perfect round with ‘Fletcher’ and was clear all the way to finish on 30.8.
Pippa had nothing in hand – not even a second over time – and only a faultless round would do. She would need to draw on every ounce of her hard-won experience to guide this unfamiliar, inexperienced horse around Jason Abbs’ course. Of course, Pippa has jumped to the highest level in eventing and has a second career in showjumping, so the Maverick couldn’t have been in better hands – and the pair made it look easy. A clear jumping round inside the time meant it was victory for Pippa – 31 years on from her first win at the Yorkshire venue and the perfect birthday present for her owner.
With a wry smile, Pippa said: “He’s just exceeded all my expectations. I feel a bit of a fraud being here – I genuinely didn’t know how he was going to be. I’ve had some fantastic spins on him, but I’ve not run him competitively. He was absolutely super, I thought, really class. If I can strengthen him up and he improves from this point, I’m really excited.
“I’ve been really quiet and patient with him this week. I didn’t even want to jump him this morning – I just kept him relaxed and did some polework to shorten him. He’ll certainly sleep well after this – he’s been running on adrenaline! I’m really chuffed – you often question if you’re doing it the right way when you’ve got a horse that wants to go faster than you want to. I’m also chuffed for the owner, Sarah who is so nice. I’m just disappointed she’s not here, but her family organised a big party ages ago for her birthday.
“I wanted to bring him here to find out what I’ve got, whether it was worth putting all that time in at my age – at the moment, it’s definitely been worth it! It’s amazing how special winning a big one is when you get to my stage, I really can’t tell you,” she said with a tinge of emotion.
Piggy was clearly delighted with her young debutante, too. “He was cool, really good,” she said. “First one and I’m excited – he felt really careful and easy today, it didn’t take anything out of him. It didn’t go as well as maybe I hoped but, until you do it, you don’t know and it’s tough out there. The cross-country is about as tough as it is for a four-star, and to deal with it well and come out and jump nicely is great.
“He was really brave yesterday, came home full of running and pulled up amazingly. It’s an exciting feeling when you get one that runs around Bramham and it feels fun and easy. It’s testament to the horse – he’s a very straightforward, level character and has a very old head on younger shoulders,” she added.
Third-placed Jesse Campbell made sure that the New Zealand fern adorned the results sheet with cute chestnut Gambesie, for owner Sarah Moffat. He explained the key to his successful jumping round was some influence from a familiar face on the showjumping circuit.
“Yeah, he was cool. He’s a super jumper and we managed to have a really cool jumping session on Monday with coach Shane Breen. I sent him a message last night – he just said ‘relax and just remember how to be a showjumper’. The horse just did it all for me, he is magic.”
And so the curtain comes down on Bramham 2023 – we’ve been blessed with great weather, bumper crowds and fantastic displays of the horse-human bond. Thank you to all who make it happen – our loyal sponsors, the legion of 500 volunteers, our fantastic fans, the riders, grooms and owners and, of course, the equine heroes.
Put the dates in your diary now for next year – 6–11 June 2024.
Full results – Times & Results | Bramham (bramham-horse.co.uk)