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That Special Bond – with John Whitaker

Tuesday, 07 April 2020
That Special Bond

Photo © Hippo Foto / Dirk Caremans Legends! John Whitaker and Milton at the World Equestrian Games in Stockholm in 1990, where they won individual silver and team bronze. “Milton had all the ability and he loved the sport," John tells. Photo © Hippo Foto / Dirk Caremans.


Text © World of Showjumping



In World of Showjumping’s exclusive series ‘That Special Bond’ we talk with some of the top names in the sport, to discuss the horses that have shaped their careers, fulfilled their dreams – and sometimes even broken hearts. 

A rider that has brought up one super-star after the other is living legend John Whitaker – one of the most decorated riders of all times. For decades, Whitaker has dominated the showjumping scene with horses such as Ryan’s Son, Hopscotch, Gammon, Grannusch, Milton, Welham as well as Calvaro Z, and later on with Peppermill, Argento and Ornellaia. 

World of Showjumping asked John which horse was the most special for him throughout his career, which one he considers the one that got away and of course which of all his stars was the top money maker.

The Special One

Photo © Hippo Foto / Dirk Caremans "He was a horse of a lifetime,” John says about the magical Milton. Photo © Hippo Foto / Dirk Caremans.

“Ryan’s Son got me to the top and changed our lives,” John says about the gelding that gave him his international breakthrough, winning double silver at both the World Championships in Rotterdam in 1980 and at the European Championships at Hickstead in 1983 as well as team silver at the Olympic Games in Los Angeles in 1984. 

“But, Milton was the special one – he was a horse of a lifetime,” John continues to tell about the grey gelding that came to him in the autumn of 1985, when he was an eight-year-old. Milton had been produced by the late Caroline Bradley, who passed away in 1983. Bradley, who had had much success with his father Marius, believed that Milton would be her horse for the Olympic Games. After Bradley’s passing, her parents kept Milton – despite several big offers – and eventually partnered him up with John. The rest is history. 

“Milton had all the ability and he loved the sport. When the truck left the yard without him, he used to kick the stable door – he wanted to go with,” John smiles. “Milton loved all the attention – the big crowds, the big atmosphere. The more atmosphere and noise, the better Milton was. He won individual and team gold at the European Championships in Rotterdam in 1989, after taking individual silver and team gold the year before. He became World Cup Champion twice – in 1990 in Dortmund and in 1991 in Gothenburg, and was Vice Champion too – in 1989. Milton also won individual silver and team bronze at the World Equestrian Games in Stockholm in 1990. During his career, Milton won over 1.2 million pounds in prize money.”

“Outside the ring, Milton was in general very easy and straight forward,” John tells of the horse that stole hearts all over the world. “He had a really good temperament and he used to love the kid’s Shetland pony called Bobo, he was really attached to him. The worst thing about Milton was that he used to wreck his rugs, pull them off and chew them – totally destroy them,” John says affectionately. “My wife Clare always used to say that ‘It’s a good job he’s good because of all the rugs he keeps wrecking’.”

After an incredible career, Milton retired in 1994 and passed away four years later at the age of 22. He was laid to rest at the Whitaker’s farm in Yorkshire. 

The Money Maker

Photo © Hippo Foto / Dirk Caremans John Whitaker and Grannusch at the Volvo World Cup Final in Helsinki in 1998. "When Milton retired Grannusch stepped up and found another gear,” John tells. Photo © Hippo Foto / Dirk Caremans.

“My biggest money makers would have to be Grannusch and Argento,” John tells. 

“Grannusch took a long time to develop,” John tells about the chestnut that went on to become Vice Champion at the World Cup Final in 1993. “Initially, I used him as a speed horse for a couple of years. I even tried to sell him a few times, as I never thought he would make a top Grand Prix horse. But, when Milton retired Grannusch stepped up and found another gear.”

“Grannusch didn’t have the best technique in the world, but was super careful and very fast. He went on to win seven big Grand Prix classes in one season, including the CN International at Spruce Meadows and the CSIO Grand Prix of Dublin back in 1994,” John tells about the gelding’s impressive record of results. 

“Argento, who I just retired, has also been a big winner for me the last few years. He was an out and out winner, so careful, brave, and fast,” John tells about the stallion that he took countless of big victories with – the CSI5* Grand Prix of St. Tropez in 2016, the CSI5* Grand Prix of Hong Kong in 2015, the CSI5* Grand Prix of Treffen in 2014, the CSI4* Grand Prix of Amsterdam in 2014, as well as the CSI3* Grand Prix of Munich in 2014 and 2013. “Argento nearly always won a class at every show we took him to. Now he is retired and enjoying his retirement at stud.”

The One That Got Away

Photo © Hippo Foto / Dirk Caremans Michel Hecart with Quilano de Kalvarie at CSIO Rome in 2004. Photo © Hippo Foto / Dirk Caremans.

“The one that got away was a horse called Quilano de Kalvarie,” John tells. “The horse was in the UK, I tried him and I bought him – but he failed the vet. Anyway, he went on to be bought by Michel Hecart and jumped at top level for years – in championships, Nations Cups and some of the biggest Grand Prix classes there is – and was never lame!”

“Anyway, I bought another horse instead that passed the vet but that one was never sound!” John laughs. 


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