Great Britain won Olympic team Eventing Gold for the first time in 49 years in Tokyo this year, inspiring young riders across the country. One such rider is Theo Funnell, a teenage eventer from Devon, who is passionate about training horses from scratch whilst improving himself at the same time. Nikwax has sponsored Theo for many years and this month we discover a little more about him…
When did your horse-riding career begin and did you always have your sights set on eventing?
I have had a pony since before I could walk so have ridden all my life but, when I was 10 years old, we bought a new pony called Piper. Although he was very inexperienced and had a quirky character, we had an amazing partnership and he would jump absolutely anything for me. I had always loved cross-country jumping, but it was riding Piper that sparked my interest in eventing.
Tell us about your home and horses…
I am very lucky to live on a farm in Devon, which my parents have put a lot of work into improving. We have an arena and an XC jumping, field as well as several young horses we are training up for competitions. Bubba and Tiki were bred here, whilst Lofty was given to me. We also have Arnie, a 3-year old I am breaking in ready for next year and, of course, Dora, my very special horse. She is a 9-year-old Irish Sport Horse, with the heart of a lion, who will try her best at everything (though as a chestnut mare she can be hot headed!). My mum and brother also have horses, and I can’t forget Piggy and Billybob the Shetland ponies.
How do you build a bond with your horses? Is it time in the saddle or on the ground?
Building a bond will always start on the ground and I do a lot of groundwork with our young horses, who must learn to respect your space and be well behaved – a badly behaved horse can be dangerous. I do groundwork in hand, lunging and free schooling, and pride myself on the general care of my horses too, i.e., grooming and feeding, which is equally key for building a positive relationship. I also like to ride my horses in such a way that they work things out for themselves.
Dora and I proved our bond at a recent championship when we were placed 2nd overall and I was the highest placed junior! I had not long recovered from a badly broken collarbone and this was our first big competition together since. Dora really helped me out on several occasions, which was a result of our special bond having trained exclusively together over the previous 3 years.
What is the best piece of advice you have received, and what advice would you give?
The best piece of advice I have received is that you never stop learning – something can be taken from every situation, whether it is good or bad.
The advice I would give is that eventers must be prepared to train hard and accept there will be huge highs and big lows. My mum has always said that not all horses suit all riders, and accepting a horse is not for you is far better than struggling on disheartened.
What accomplishments are you most proud of?
I’ve had great placings at British riding club championships in many disciplines, but I think qualifying for Badminton Grassroots and my recent success at the British Eventing Championships are right up there.
Have you encountered any struggles along the way?
Covid lockdowns were definitely a struggle. I’d worked hard to qualify for the May 2020 Badminton Grassroots championships and was very disappointed when all competing stopped. My qualification rolled over to 2021, but this was also cancelled. It was rescheduled again, at a different venue, only I couldn’t compete because I had broken my collar bone! It clearly was not meant to be.
What kit do you always rely on when riding?
Competition rules stipulate certain kit for safety, such as a body protector for XC, though I would never (ever) ride without a good quality riding hat. Devon is one of the wettest parts of the country so I usually wear Páramo clothing, which I care for with Nikwax cleaning and waterproofing products, as well as my horses’ outdoor rugs.
What are your future goals?
My short-term goal is to train Dora up to 2-star Eventing and/or advanced Dressage, both of which allow me to ride in a tailcoat. My long-term goal is surely the same as every young rider – to compete and be successful at a 5-star level. I will work as hard as I can to get as far as I can, with happy and healthy horses.
See more and keep up to date with Theo at: theofunnelleventing.co.uk