Stephanie DeWitt chats with Robert Whitaker
Words By Stephanie DeWitt Photography Julian Portch
What are your earliest memories of riding?
I had a Shetland pony called Bobo. My sister, Louise, and I used to gallop around on our ponies, just playing really. Growing up with Dad it was a natural progression to go to shows, first of all to watch him, then starting to compete myself. When I was about seven I started jumping at unaffiliated level and I remember doing a cross-poles class at Hickstead while Dad was competing in the International Arena.
What is the best piece of advice you've ever been given with regard to your sport?
Dad always told me to keep trying and be patient. People seem to think my career path has been easier because of Dad's success, but I can assure you it hasn't been!
You compete all over the world - do you have a favourite venue?
I particularly enjoy competing at home, in the UK. Both Hickstead and Royal Windsor are excellent venues, but I think Olympia has to be the best show of all because it's at the end of the year, just before Christmas, and the atmosphere is amazing.
Of all the horses that you have ridden, do you have a favourite?
It's got to be Catwalk IV because I've had him for more than ten years now. I got him when he was seven and he's eighteen now. He's a Holsteiner, of German breeding. He's always been a good jumper and started off by winning 3* and 4* Grand Prix classes. But last February he won the 5* Grand Prix at the World Cup in Gothenburg, with fences standing at 1.50m. Aged 12/13 he was good but he's just got better and better.
What have been your greatest achievements so far?
That World Cup win, obviously, and a Grand Prix win at the World Cup in Helsinki the previous year. And I'm a bit of a Puissance specialist! I hold the bareback Puissance record after I jumped 2.12 m without a saddle on Waterstone at Stockholm in 2011. I've won over twenty Puissance competitions, thirteen of them consecutively on my chestnut horse Finbarr. You just have to have confidence in your horse, but it's a good feeling when you clear that big red wall!
What would you still like to achieve?
I would like to represent Great Britain at the Olympics and the European Championships. I've never jumped at Aachen, Germany, yet. I've achieved so much, but there's still lots to do.
How has the Covid 19 lockdown affected your schedule?
Well, you can't plan anything, can you? You don't know what's happening, you don't know whether to keep your horses fit or turn them away. The World Cup Final is meant to be happening next month in Gothenburg again, without spectators. I would be happy to attend despite quarantine restrictions. And now there's this outbreak of Equine Herpes Virus. I've just had my whole yard vaccinated against it. (Note: since this interview was held the World Cup meeting has been cancelled)
If you weren't involved with horses, what career path would you have followed?
I don't really know! I've never thought about anything else. My whole life has revolved around horses.
As both you and your wife, Kate, are showjumpers, would you encourage your children to follow the family tradition and be part of the third generation of Whitakers?
If that's what they wanted to do we would support them all the way. But it's a very tough sport, you need to be good at everything, not just jumping. You have to treat it as a business, train people and sell horses to make a living.
What do you do to relax in your spare time?
I tend to follow other sports - horse-racing, especially National Hunt, and football in particular. I support Manchester United.
If you could go anywhere in the world to get away from it all, where would it be?
Somewhere warm, probably the Caribbean. But I expect I'd get bored after a couple of weeks.