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Meet John Whitaker

John Whitaker competing at Olympia

The star showjumper answers PONY mag’s burning questions

If you ask anyone to name a superstar showjumper, John Whitaker’s sure to be the first person who springs to mind! One of the most successful riders ever, he’s been at the very top of his sport for over 40 years, and he’s still winning major classes around the world today. John’s also a member of the most famous family in showjumping, which includes his brother Michael, son Robert and niece Ellen. He took time out of his busy schedule to answer PONY mag’s questions about his career in the saddle!

Did you know? John has won 21 Olympic, World and European Championship medals.

What’s the most embarrassing thing that’s happened to you at a show?

I used to do a lot of fancy dress showjumping classes and I’ve worn quite a few embarrassing outfits! More recently, something happened that was more annoying than embarrassing. I was riding Argento in a speed class at Bolesworth Horse Show, and I tried to make a really tight turn inside the double to get to the last fence. But Argento jumped the first part of the double by mistake and we were eliminated! We were so quick, I’m sure I’d have won the class if we hadn’t gone wrong.

What’s your best tip for young showjumpers?

In this sport you lose more than you win, and you need to learn to cope with that. You have to be able to pick yourself up and come back and try another day. My other tip is to watch top riders and learn from them. It’s something I did when I was younger, and I still love watching the best riders today. If they do something that looks really good, I’ll try it myself!

Is there any sibling rivalry between you and Michael?

Michael and I have spent our lives competing against each other. We don’t hold back if we’re in a jump-off, and we’ll both try to win. But if only one of us is riding, the other will be helping and supporting them. It’s actually nice to have someone there all the time, and we’ve given each other confidence over the years, too. Also, if you’re going to be beaten, it might as well be by your brother!

What achievement are you most proud of?

Winning the individual European Showjumping Championship in 1989, riding Milton. It was even more special because Michael was second. Before this I’d won lots of major classes, and I’d been second and third at the Europeans, but this was my first ever championship win and a huge milestone for me.

Who’s the best horse you’ve ever ridden?

Without a doubt that’s got to be Milton, who was very special. He was a brilliant jumper and so careful. But I’ve also been lucky to have had some other amazing horses that have kept me at the top over the years, including Grannusch, Gammon and Peppermill. 

Is it true you’ve won nearly 100 cars and, if so, did you keep them all?

I’ve won 93 cars! Lots of shows used to give cars away as prizes, so they were fairly easy to win, but it’s not so common now. I kept some of them, some were sold and others went to the horses’ owners. The best car I ever won was a Maserati, from a show in Italy. I kept that one for a while! I’d love to win 100 before I retire, but Argento and I just missed out on one at a show in Holland.

John Whitaker

Do you have any horsey ambitions you still want to achieve?

Before I hang up my boots and retire, I’d like to get back to number one in the showjumping rankings. It’s a bit of a long shot as these days you need three or four Grand Prix horses to win enough classes. Also, there are so many shows each week that the rankings change
all the time.

Did you know? John has won the Hickstead Derby four times and the King George V Gold Cup three times.

Apart from yourself, which Whitaker is the best rider and why?

The best one hasn’t been born yet! I’m just happy that so many members of my family are riding and doing so well. Did you know there are 13 of us competing internationally? The most difficult thing is finding enough good horses for everyone!

What’s your fave show?

I like the ones I’ve won prizes at! It’s hard to choose, because there are some brilliant shows. Spruce Meadows in Canada is an amazing venue, and has the most prize money. I was lucky enough to win there on Milton. I also love Aachen in Germany, where there’s thousands of spectators watching you ride. For indoor shows, our own Olympia is special and hard to beat.

Thanks to Dodson & Horrell for their help with this feature, dodsonandhorrell.com

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