Having considered calling time on her equestrian career a couple of years ago, Pippa Funnell was thrilled to maintain her lead heading into the decisive show jumping at the Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials.
Funnell, 50, had earlier withdrawn second horse Billy Walk On from the competition, and channelled all her energy into her ride on MGH Grafton Street who had led the field after the dressage phase.
The gruelling, four-mile cross-country course took no prisoners and several leading riders failed to successfully complete the second stage of the competition.
One of just 33 riders to make it around the track, Funnell admitted she was absolutely delighted to hold on to her lead ahead of the showjumping phase.
“I’m a bit overwhelmed,” she said. “It’s been a bit of a surreal day.
“Two years ago I suffered some nasty falls and I really questioned if I wanted to keep going because I was in pain and had lost a lot of confidence.
“But when you get a good horse that jumps well that really helps, and while I’m not always the bravest person it makes a huge difference if I believe in my horses.
“I’m loving the sport again now, feeling brave and I’m absolutely delighted with how it’s gone so far this year.”
With just one phase to go, 2003 champion Funnell admitted she was originally tentative about how MGH Grafton Street would behave on his five-star debut, but is delighted with his response.
She said: “I can’t say it was a textbook ride and it wasn’t always pretty, but he’s done amazingly well to step up to this level and I was always going to have to use my experience at different points.
“He’s got a turn of speed, he’s learnt how to land and run, and he’s in a good rhythm now which I’m hoping he can take into the final phase on Sunday.”
Piggy French sits just behind Funnell in second while former winner Oliver Townend is within striking distance in third.
Townend hailed horse Ballaghmor Class as the complete package after his cross country show but admitted it was tough watching so many of his rivals struggle on the gruelling track.
“He felt perfect,” he said. “He feels completely professional now and I’m confident he could jump around any course in the world.
“We all know Burghley’s hard work. It’s an extremely tough course but watching what went on today wasn’t great. I’m just pleased we got round smoothly.”
The multi-award winning Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials (September 5 - 8) has been established as a major international equestrian and social event in the Autumn Sporting Calendar for over 50 years. For more information visit burghley-horse.co.uk