When your father is a five-time Olympian who’s been on more British teams than he can probably remember, you might think his son Jack Whitaker has an insurmountable mountain to climb to get anywhere near his achievements. Jack Whitaker, however, is well on the way to emulating his father’s successes, going from strength to strength every year.
Michael, younger brother of showjumping royalty John Whitaker, has had a career just as illustrious as his brother’s. Growing up on a Yorkshire farm where their mother, Enid, ran a riding school and father, Donald, a grocery business and a milk round, meant there were always plenty of ponies about. Michael’s first big win came in 1980, at just 20 years old, riding Owen Gregory in the Hickstead Derby. He went on to win this class in 1991, ’92 and ’93 on the wonderful Mon Santa. Michael held the record as the youngest winner of the class for nearly 40 years, until he was pipped by 19-year-old Irishman Michael Pender in 2019.
Twenty-year-old Jack Whitaker, eldest child of Michael and Melissa Whitaker, has already achieved so much and is one of Great Britain’s rapidly rising stars. In 2021 he won his first five-star class at the prestigious Dutch Masters. I am confident his future career will be peppered with five-star success as well as winning Nations Cup, European, World and, no doubt, Olympic medals.
Michael and Jack are based in a small village near Nottingham, about 200km north of London. Michael purchased the 80-acre property over 30 years ago. It boasts a large manège, all-weather gallop, horse walker, indoor school, over 40 stables and lots of turnout – Michael and Jack are great believers in turning horses out every day. We sit in their cosy farmhouse kitchen, adorned with photographs of Michael’s great horses from many championships around the globe. Cards and cake were evidence of a recent birthday – Michael celebrated his 62nd birthday on 17 March and shows little sign of retiring. He tells me: “Riding every day keeps me fit; I don’t need to do anything else exercise wise.” Michael, who has been at the top his game for over 40 years, explains that he enjoys taking a bit of a “back seat” and it makes a nice change to spend more time at home working with the youngsters.