Miss Bolton specialised in lacrosse, so she and I got on well

17th September 2004 at 01:00
.... She'd come to teaching from the police force and was pretty, with short black cropped hair

I enjoyed school. My first teacher was Mrs Randall at Mark Cross primary, near Wadhurst. She was a lovely, warm person who wore half glasses and I remember her peering at me over the top of them. I also liked Mrs Grosvenor, but she was a bit intimidating because she was very tall and stricter than Mrs Randall.

By the time I went to Wadhurst College, aged nine, I was already passionate about horses. It suited me fine to be a day girl because, although I missed out on some of the fun of boarding, I could go home to look after my ponies and ride every day. It was quite an academic school and there were two kinds of teachers: the older ones who were strict on manners and deportment and the younger ones who were more fun. Luckily for me, the younger brigade included those who taught sport.

I loved all sport - except swimming, which I was hopeless at. I was mad about lacrosse and in my last year was school games captain and captain of the under-16 county lacrosse team. I loved netball too. I always preferred team games to running races.

Miss Bolton specialised in lacrosse, so she and I got on well. She'd come to teaching from the police force and was pretty, with short black cropped hair. Then there was Miss Sellars who took us for netball and swimming and, after Miss Bolton left, we had Miss Richardson, a big, butch woman who was another very good lacrosse teacher.

Academically I did well - I got eight O-levels - but that was mainly because I was good at cramming. During the summer I was taking part in horse shows most weekends, which the school didn't encourage. I remember my mother being severely talked to by the headmistress when she asked if I could have a half-day off to take part in the trials for the British junior team. The headmistress agreed, but very reluctantly.

The best teacher I ever had, and from whom I have learned the most, wasn't a schoolteacher but my trainer, my mentor and my friend, Ruth McMullen. We met through my mother, who is also a keen horsewoman. Mum was working at the Horse of the Year show when Ruth was competing. Whenever I watched Ruth ride, she always won. After she retired from showing, she began producing and training horses, and she lent me her ponies and her horses.

When I left school I went to live and work with Ruth and her team at her Norfolk stables and was completely inspired by her. I was with her for seven years, until I met my husband (the international show jumper, William Funnell). Through Ruth I got experience riding many different types of horses.

Ruth is a perfectionist and so am I. Several times I remember being quite pleased with my performance in a competition, and she would point out where I had gone wrong and what I could have done better. I might have felt a bit flat for a few days, but looking back now I see that was what set my standards so high. Looking at the video of my performances in the Olympics, I don't think: "Great, I got a medal." I analyse what I could do better.

It was a great honour to be asked to carry the Olympic flame. My mount was kindly lent to me by the Household Cavalry. (Pippa was the penultimate of the 140 torchbearers who participated in the London leg of the torch relay on June 26.) I have enormous respect for Ruth. She is an incredible lady who has done so much to help so many people. She's seen me through the Olympics. She was delighted when I won bronze and silver in Athens, but I know she knew how much I wanted to go for gold. I'd like to have another try in four years'

time - if I have the right horse.

I only enter competitions I think I, and the horse, can win and an awful lot of that attitude is due to Ruth.

Olympic equestrian Pippa Funnell was talking to Pamela Coleman

The story so far

1968 Born in Crowborough, Sussex

1973-77 Mark Cross primary, near Wadhurst

1977-84 Wadhurst college, East Sussex

1985-92 Lives, works and trains with Ruth McMullen in Norfolk

1991 Wins British Open championships at Gatcombe Park

1999, 2001 Wins gold medal at European championships

2000 Wins silver medal at Sydney Olympics

2002, 2003 Wins Badminton trials

2003 First woman to be eventing's number one rider (winning grand slam of Badminton, Burghley and Kentucky); Sunday Times sportswoman of the year

2004 Wins individual bronze and silver team medals at Athens Olympics September 9, 2004 Autobiography, My Story, co-written with Kate Green, published

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