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The Next Generation: Jack Whitaker

Thursday, 14 September 2017
The Next Generation

Photo (c) World of Showjumping Jack Whitaker is one of showjumping's upcoming stars, and has already won two gold medals at the Europeans for ponies - now he jumps two-star Grand Prix classes and has his eyes set on the big stuff. Photos (c) World of Showjumping.

When Jack Whitaker was crowned Leading Rider of the CSI2* Super Cup at Brussels Stephex Masters earlier this month, he followed in his famous dad and uncle’s footsteps when receiving a little something to drive around in. Together, his dad Michael and uncle John have won so many cars we gave up trying to count them for this article and at Stephex Masters Jack helped expand the family-collection of vehicles with a STX 2 Horse Truck. There was only one problem: Jack is not old enough to drive it… Mind you, he did a little test spin anyway at the award ceremony!

Although Jack is only 15, he has already won two gold medals at the FEI European Championships for ponies and a team silver at the FEI European Championships for juniors. And, despite his young age, he is still beating far older and more experienced competitors at two-star Grand Prix level. The Whitaker-dynasty definitely has another star coming up.

No wonder: Jack is certainly similar to his father Michael. Laid-back, funny and loves a challenge. “I was never pushed to ride, but I was always around the horses and it just seemed like the right thing to do I guess,” Jack tells. “My first memory of riding is on a small Shetland pony called Sotty, and it always used to throw me off. I think that was the beginning of making me harder as a rider,” he laughs. “Later on, when I was seven, I got a really good bigger pony that taught me a lot and that kicked it all off.”

“When I was 9 or 10, I started competing a bit. Then I got a 5-year-old pony called Zodianne van de Doevenbree that I produced myself. In 2015, when Zodianne was 9, we won team gold at the European Championships. That was a great feeling! After that I got some more good ponies, one that I won gold on last year: Elando Van De Roshoeve. That was a really good pony that,” he smiles – making it sound like it was years ago already.

When he was 12, Jack started making the switch over to horses. “You can be taught more on a horse, and also you can jump bigger jumps I guess,” he laughs when talking about how he prefers horses over ponies. “Horses are also easier, ponies tend to be a bit hot-headed.”

Photo (c) World of Showjumping "I love training with my dad, and also my mum has helped me a lot!” says Jack about his parents, here together with his father Michael.

A normal day for Jack consist of school and riding. “I ride about six-seven horses a day. If I have a lot to do, and need to get started early I get up around 5 o’clock and ride whatever needs riding. I have to leave for school at 7.30, do my school day and then back to ride more after that. But, that does not happen too often. Normally, I would ride after school and then in the weekends I go to the shows. As to school, it seems to work as long as I keep my scores up and get my work done while I am away. I have not had any complaints yet anyway,” he smiles.

About his choice to become a professional rider, Jack has no second thoughts. “I want to be doing this. It is a very appealing sport to me. I like the pressure of it, the adrenaline: I like going into a big class with a lot of atmosphere, jumping clear – that is such a good feeling,” says Jack. “I also used to play football and rugby, competitive sports – so I definitely think I am competitive as a person. I get really upset with myself if I don’t ride good… My dad, he does not give me much sympathy either – he just leaves me to figure it out myself, he never pushes me to anything. Although, he likes me to win as well!”

Which is obvious when spying on Michael watching Jack in the ring. “He likes to watch from his own little corner, doing his leg movements,” Jack laughs about his dad riding with him from the side line.

“At home, he does not say much,” Jack tells about Michael. “It is just if something needs a drastic change. He will watch me, but if I do everything right he will not say anything. I love training with my dad, and also my mum has helped me a lot!”

Michael can indeed confirm that a minimum of interference is needed when it comes to Jack’s riding. “He’s been around at all the shows since he was very little, so I guess he’s seen how the good riders ride and learned a lot from that. He is very interested, very easy to teach – you don’t have to tell him anything twice. He is always observant when he rides, watching everything. As long as he is doing it right, I don’t say anything. If he does something wrong I’ll tell him. So, at the moment I’m not saying much,” Michael laughs. “Jack is a very laid-back type, he does not get too excited. I think he has a lot going for him,” his father continues. “I am very happy and proud that he is following in my footsteps!”

“I would not be where I am now without my parents,” Jack says. “Having the horses, getting to the shows – I would not be able to do this without them. And I’m really close to my dad!”

Photo (c) World of Showjumping “We are a close family, there is always somebody there to help: It’s hard to find a show a Whitaker is not at," Jack says - here with William and his groom Cynthia.

According to Jack, the most important thing he has learned from his famous father is to always stay calm. “Don’t worry about it, just keep going – that’s what I have learned. I don’t get stressed, but I do get nervous. I try to not let it take over though – just keep it in there. Usually, I go in the ring and I am nervous, I canter around, I’m nervous, then I jump the first jump and it all goes away. Then it turns into concentration, focus – a drive,” Jack says.

How is it to grow up a Whitaker we ask him? “I guess a few more people are watching you,” he laughs. “But, I don’t feel the pressure. I prefer to be in this family than not,” Jack jokes. “We are a close family, there is always somebody there to help: It’s hard to find a show a Whitaker is not at.”

Now, Jack has one – “long” according to himself – year left in school. Then, it will be all about the riding. Short term goals included the Europeans for juniors and young riders, long term goals are Nations Cups – one day perhaps jumping in Aachen and at the Olympics.

If it was up to himself, he would already be jumping bigger though – but he has to wait until he’s 18. “It is a bit annoying, I know I have the horses to go and do it. I know the rule is there for a reason, but they could maybe open up for us to prove ourselves and if we could do that we could be allowed to jump at a higher level. But, it is a good rule really,” Jack says.

Did he ever want to do anything else than showjumping we ask? “Football perhaps, when I was younger – but maybe more because my friends were doing it. Now, this is all I want!”

 


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