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Still going strong – Robert Whitaker’s Catwalk IV: "The best with Catwalk is that he has taught me so much"

Tuesday, 29 June 2021
Still going strong

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping. “He has meant everything to me, really,” Robert says about the now 18-year-old Catwalk IV. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

 

Text © World of Showjumping

 


 

In our new series ‘Still going strong’, we get to know more about the oldest four-legged super-stars that are still active in the sport as 17- and 18-year-olds. What does it take to keep these seniors fit to compete at the top of the sport, and what program have they had throughout their careers? In this third part of the series, WoSJ speaks with Robert Whitaker about his long-time partner Catwalk IV (Colman x Corleone – bred by Lothar Völz), as well as with Uwe Carstensen – who rode Catwalk from he was four to he was seven – and Steve Guerdat – who matched Catwalk up with Whitaker. 

Uwe Carstensen: “The jump was always good!”

At the time that Carstensen got the ride on Catwalk, he was owned by Haupt und Landesgestüt Marbach – which is a national stud in the south of Germany. “Catwalk had been breeding a bit when he was three, but then he did the 14-days test and got really bad scores so after that nobody used him. That was kind of the end of his breeding career,” Uwe tells.  

Photo © Olaf Krenz. Uwe Carstensen with Catwalk IV. "From the moment I got the ride on him it was clear for me that he had the potential to become a top horse," Uwe tells. Photo © Olaf Krenz.

“At that time, Astrid von Velsen started at the Haupt und Landesgestüt Marbach and she asked if I had an idea for Catwalk. So, in the summer when he was four, he came to our stable – I remember him being totally mixed up and quite hysterical. Back then, I was riding more stallions for the stud and normally it was always an older guy bringing them to my stable. However, when Catwalk arrived it was two younger guys; one led him on the right side and the other on the left side. They put him in the box and left immediately without saying a word. My groom and I just looked at each other, laughing, and understood that we had to pay a bit attention when we would start to ride him."

Catwalk was a stallion, and he knew it, but he was definitely not bad in any way. You just had to know how to handle him.

“From the moment I got the ride on him it was clear for me that he had the potential to become a top horse,” Uwe continues. “The jump was always good! When he was five and we started showing he had some problems with other horses though, as well as with things happening around on the showground, but the jump itself was always fantastic. At six, he was already a top horse and he won a qualification for the Bundeschampionat (the German Championships for young horses) with an impressive score.” 

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping. “Catwalk was a stallion back then and was a bit difficult in the beginning; he was spooky and got easily distracted. He was certainly not the easiest horse in the world…” Robert says about his early days with Catwalk IV. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

It was when sitting down to talk with Thomas Fuchs after riding at a clinic, that Uwe showed him – as well as Steve Guerdat – a video of Catwalk.  “It didn’t take long before they came to try him, and they bought him straight away,” Uwe tells.  

“I’m not at the top level of the sport – my job is to educate young horses and then sell them. However, I have been watching Catwalk with Robert and it has been really nice to follow his success. I have not had any contact to Robert, but when Catwalk was around 12, I visited him at an international show in Salzburg. I just spoke a bit with Robert’s groom and gave Catwalk a hug and a carrot,” Uwe smiles.

Steve Guerdat: “Luckily for Rob, I never really got to ride him!”

Steve Guerdat and Thomas Fuchs bought Catwalk with the opinion that he would become a horse for the top sport. “Catwalk had quite a bit of character, but the feeling on him was unbelievable,” Steve recalls. “Luckily for Rob, I never really got to ride him! Catwalk came to our stable just before I left for the Sunshine Tour, and it was not time enough to get all the paperwork done to bring him with me. At the Sunshine Tour, I met Rob (Robert Whitaker) and Paul Mcateer – I told them I had a very special horse and showed them a video of Catwalk. Rob flew from the Sunshine Tour to our place to try him and bought him.” 

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping. "The older Catwalk got, the easier he became. It also helped me that I got to know what kind of shows he preferred and aimed him for those,” Robert tells. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

“Catwalk’s quality was very special, the only question we had was about his character,” Steve says. “He was known for being a bit difficult and I think that is why Uwe got the ride on him.

Uwe had done a great job with him though, but we knew Catwalk was not a horse for everyone – he needed a professional rider to handle him.

“It has been very nice to see Catwalk for so long with Rob, who is a very good friend of mine. So is Paul, who bought him together with Rob. It has been a great story with Catwalk, and even if I didn’t get to ride him myself, he has given me a lot of good moments,” Steve smiles. 

Robert Whitaker: “He has meant everything to me, really”

Robert Whitaker bought Catwalk from Steve Guerdat and Thomas Fuchs when the gelding had just turned seven. “When I tried him, he jumped very good,” Robert recalls. “The only thing I questioned at the time; was how careful he was. When I jumped 1.30m or 1.40m with him, he found it a little bit too easy maybe. Even now, when he jumps the big tracks, he finds it easy – but he tries a bit harder. My doubts disappeared the bigger the fences got.”

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping. "Catwalk’s ability was never a problem, but he was always fresh, had a big character and was very strong-minded," Robert tells. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

Robert confirms that Catwalk was a handful when he was younger, and that the early days of their partnership were not all that easy. “Catwalk was a stallion back then and was a bit difficult in the beginning; he was spooky and got easily distracted. He was certainly not the easiest horse in the world…” Robert says. “We decided to castrate him, let him have a bit of rest and then started him up again. As a seven-year-old he competed at national level. At the age of eight, he was still a bit spooky and was playing around. 

Catwalk’s ability was never a problem, but he was always fresh, had a big character and was very strong-minded. Probably his strong-mindedness is the reason why he is still going today!” 

“As he got older, Catwalk had a lot of good result in three- and four-star Grand Prix classes. In 2014, when he was 11, he jumped double clear in St. Gallen to win the Nations Cup there and he was also on the winning team in Rome with a double clear the year after. Catwalk was always for sale, but I probably asked too much money for him, so he never got sold. I remember someone interested rang me up and the question came up if Catwalk had ever won a five-star Grand Prix, which he had not. Catwalk was 12 at the time, and it made me question myself a little. While I never doubted Catwalk’s ability, I did have doubts about his mind and temperament. Even at that age, he was still a bit nervous and spooky in the ring – not because of the jumps, but because of the atmosphere. However, not long after, in September 2016, we won our first five-star Grand Prix in Lausanne and from there on I didn’t look back. The older Catwalk got, the easier he became. It also helped me that I got to know what kind of shows he preferred and aimed him for those,” Robert tells. 

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping. “Generally, I learned a lot from my dad about keeping the horses sound,” Robert tells. “We don’t over-jump the horses at home. We ride on the road a lot, do normal exercise and the horses go in the field. During lockdown, Catwalk was out on the field for a month.” Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

While Catwalk is a very kind horse in the stable, Robert says that he is still a handful to ride. “If we hack out, he is spooky and strong-minded – he hasn’t grown out of his old habits,” Robert smiles.

After such a long and successful partnership, Catwalk has a very special place in Robert’s heart. “He has meant everything to me, really,” Robert says.

The last five years I haven’t had many other horses for the big classes, so I have gone to shows with only Catwalk.

"It is very difficult to get a top horse now-a-days and even though I have got some nice ones, I have nothing in his league.”

The now 18-year-old Catwalk is still happy and healthy. “Generally, I learned a lot from my dad about keeping the horses sound,” Robert tells. “We don’t over-jump the horses at home. We ride on the road a lot, do normal exercise and the horses go in the field. During lockdown, Catwalk was out on the field for a month.” 

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping. "The best with Catwalk is that he has taught me so much," Robert tells. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

“For sure, the horses stay sounder for longer if they don’t jump much as youngsters,” Robert points out. “Then some horses just stay very sound and I have been very lucky with Catwalk.”

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Catwalk lost a whole year of competition – just like many other horses. But is a lost year worse for an older horse than a younger one, we ask Robert? “At his age, I think it would have been better for him to keep going,” Robert says. “Catwalk has always been very sound, but over the last year he needed a bit more attention than usual and I don’t know yet if I will keep jumping him after this year. We will take one show at a time, and for the moment I don’t have such a good plan. I hope that the show calendar will improve from the end of May."

Looking back at Catwalk’s incredible career, there are many magic moments to choose from. However, the five-star show in Helsinki in 2019 stands out for Robert. “First we won the Grand Prix and then the World Cup and that is difficult to do – and it was my first World Cup win,” Robert smiles. 

However, the best with Catwalk is that he has taught me so much.

"In the beginning, we weren’t that successful, so from him I learned to be patient. I just kept competing and training, and in the end, we ended up winning a lot.”

 

 

No reproduction without written permission, copyright © World of Showjumping

 



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