If anyone questioned whether or not, aged 66, John Whitaker was nonetheless capable of reduce it at the high then such doubts had been shortly dispelled at final weekend’s London International Horse Show. In an occasion that includes a few of the world’s greatest riders, he had landed his first victory by the second day of competitors at the Excel and got here inside a whisker of occurring to win the FEI World Cup, one in all equestrian’s most coveted prizes.
In the finish, he was narrowly pipped into third place in the latter occasion, however solely after beating an Olympic champion and 4 of the world’s high ten. The efficiency helped to elucidate why the grandfather-of-four has no intention of hanging up his boots anytime quickly, even after 5 many years at the high.
‘I nonetheless assume I can trip properly and at most reveals I make cash,’ says Whitaker, who competed at his first London International Horse Show in 1976. ‘So I simply assume I would as properly preserve going so long as I can. I do not really feel intimidated by my age – to nonetheless be going at this age, with the ability to compete towards all these good younger riders and be capable to maintain my very own is one in all my proudest achievements.’
John Whitaker is defying the doubters to show he nonetheless belongs at the high degree of showjumping
Showjumping, with its glamour and razzmatazz, now attracts the offspring of a few of the wealthiest individuals on the planet, together with Springsteen, Jobs, Gates and Spielberg to call a couple of. Whitaker, a straight-talking, hard-working (*66*) is nonetheless maybe the sport’s largest icon and the final of a dying breed. He grew up on the household dairy farm and from the age of 12 would ship milk on a horse-drawn float till he was sufficiently old to drive. He has lived close to Huddersfield for his complete life and nonetheless relishes the graft. Every yr most of Christmas is spent taking care of horses and livestock, as his employees take time without work. He can not recall when he final took a day’s vacation nevertheless it doesn’t appear to trouble him.
The Whitaker household is one in all the most profitable dynasties in equestrian sport. There are 14 members of the family competing at worldwide degree, and lots of of them have been on British groups at youth and senior degree. John is the most senior brother Michael featured on a lot of groups with him, and himself received 15 championship medals, while Steven rode internationally and is now primarily based at the unique household farm in Huddersfield along with his son William Whitaker. Michael’s son, the 20-year-old Jack Whitaker, competed at Excel final week.
Whitaker has fond childhood reminiscences. ‘We had been and nonetheless are farmers. My uncle used to take advantage of the cows. We would accumulate the milk in the morning, on the milk float pulled by a horse. My mom used to do the deliveries that had been additional away however Michael and I’d do all the native ones earlier than faculty. Every morning, in all weathers, and I did that from till I used to be 17.’ After faculty they might trip their ponies, practising what they realized from avidly watching showjumping greats like Harvey Smith and David Broome.
Whitaker, 66, impressed at the London International Horse Show, putting outdoors the high three
The Yorkshire farmer made his debut in 1976 and spent twenty years in the world’s high 20
In 1979 Whitaker married his present spouse Clare and purchased his personal farm, 10 miles from the household farm. As properly as 40 horses, he retains a herd of fifty beef cattle. ‘It’s in my blood – we’re Yorkshire farmers actually, as a lot as showjumpers. We make our personal hay and the cows preserve the land a bit more healthy, I take pleasure in doing it.’
In 5 many years at elite degree, he has competed at almost 2,500 worldwide competitions worldwide, with simply shy of 100 main wins and 24 medals at Olympic, World and Europeans Championships.
He is presently ranked 93rd in the world, however for greater than twenty years he was by no means out of the high 20 riders. In order to remain amongst the elite few who’re allowed to compete at prestigious reveals with large prize cash, he should preserve performing properly nearly each week.
Whitaker (L) hails from a showjumping dynasty. (Pictured: brother Michael (R) and youngsters Louise (2L) and Robert (2R))
‘I would not wish to do it if I used to be driving dangerous horses and I like competing at the large reveals like London. Jumping in World Cups and Nations Cup courses is the type of factor that retains me going.’ The British group selectors nonetheless fee him too, he was lately chosen for the group at the FEI Nations Cup Final in Barcelona.
Finding good horses is one in all the largest challenges he says however he relishes it. The pleasure that comes from discovering and coaching what might be his subsequent equine famous person. ‘What has modified is, there are such a lot of good riders round now. 30 or 40, even 20 years in the past, there have been solely about 10 riders who might win. Now each single one in all them in a category of fifty might win. The customary is excessive and the customary of horses is so excessive. That’s the subsequent downside, a great horse now prices thousands and thousands and everybody is in search of them these days. I am unable to spend that so I nonetheless have to purchase them younger and convey them on. To keep at the high, you want a good variety of good horses.’
He cites Milton as the better of these horses. The memorable gray had a novel leaping motion and with a lesser rider he could have amounted to nothing however Whitaker is famend for his horsemanship and innate means to get the greatest out of any horse. Some imagine he is nonetheless the best ‘horseman’ of all time. Milton gave Whitaker a milestone victory by profitable the European Championships in Rotterdam in 1989. He additionally grew to become the first ever showjumping horse to win a £1million in prize cash. ‘Now you possibly can win one million in a yr, however that was a giant deal at the time’ he says.
Whitaker pictured along with his favorite horse, Milton, and Princess Anne at the World Equestrian Games in 1990
He has no plans to retire simply but and is out to show the younger up and comers a factor or two
Despite collaborating in six Olympics, (most lately in Rio 2016), the medals he might need deserved, have eluded Whitaker. As properly as his group silver in 1984, he received group and particular person silver at the alternate Olympics in Rotterdam, when Moscow was boycotted. Whilst it was nonetheless an enormous achievement towards the world’s greatest riders, it won’t be written in equestrian lore. Instead there have been a lot of close to misses. ‘I feel Seoul would have been my greatest alternative to win a gold medal in my whole profession. Milton would have been in with a very good likelihood however the house owners did not need him to go as a result of it was up to now for the horse to fly. It was a giant factor to fly horses in these days – now you do it each week.’
Competing in Olympics and World Championships is not one thing that Whitaker places in his life plan today. He simply focuses on the day and enjoys what he does. Whether that is coaching horses at dwelling and dealing on the farm, or competing at large competitions like London. He additionally thinks his driving is pretty much as good because it’s ever been and he by no means stops studying. Just as he watched the likes of Harvey Smith as a teenager, he nonetheless observes riders half or perhaps a third of his age as we speak.
‘I’ve at all times watched different riders and I feel it rubs off with out you realising it. The sport has modified a lot in my time of doing it and to remain profitable it’s important to transfer with the instances. The programs are a lot harder and the instances are a lot tighter. I most likely do not take the dangers I used to as a result of I most likely give it some thought an excessive amount of as we speak. I analyse all of it a bit extra whereas earlier than I’d simply get on with it. But I nonetheless attempt to win and I do know I can win.’
Right now, he has two good horses competing at high degree. ‘Unick du Francport is my World Cup horse and he is acquired a couple of extra years left in him. I’ve acquired some good younger ones coming via and so long as I do not begin falling off, or taking the incorrect course each week, or lose my marbles, I nonetheless wish to preserve going – and profitable too.’
NICK SKELTON: JOHN IS SO STUBBORN… THAT’S WHAT GAVE HIM THE EDGE
‘I watched John in the World Cup. He is amazing and is still as good as anyone. I have travelled the world with John for 40-odd years and one thing that stands out is he never gives up. His top horse Unick du Francport wasn’t straightforward when he took him on however he has made it into a great horse. Only as soon as in my life have I seen him retire, he’ll go on to the bitter finish.
‘He is bloody stubborn and I think that’s what provides him an edge. You inform John Whitaker he can’t do one thing and he’ll exit of his technique to show you incorrect
‘I remember a time at the European Championships in Italy, it was the night before it started and the team was announced but John had been left out. He wasn’t too completely satisfied, so he went up his room after a couple of drinks and threw his driving boots out the window. The subsequent morning, his niece Ellen hitaker’s horse was lame so she was out and so they needed to put John again in. He had to return to the resort and climb on the roof to retrieve his boots.
‘He wouldn’t have costly horses and he has executed properly regardless of that. He’s as tight although. I feel he’s purchased me 4 drinks in 40 years! I’m trying ahead to the subsequent decade as a result of I would get a fifth.
‘John is as good as any of these younger riders today. With the right horse, he could definitely make the British team.’