To celebrate H&H’s siblings special issue this Thursday (17 November), we caught up with the legendary John and Michael Whitaker at the final of the Longines Global Champions Tour in Doha, Qatar, for a trip down memory lane. You can read the full interview in this week’s magazine but, as a taster, here are seven things you may not know about the pair…
1. As boys they did a milk round on a horse and cart
“We did it for about four years — it felt like a long time when we were doing it,” says Michael.
“I did it until I was 16 and left school and did showjumping properly,” says John.
2. They are each other’s biggest supporters
The two are always on hand to offer each other advice if needed and in a jump-off in Doha, Michael was on hand when John didn’t realise he was running out of time before the start.
“Michael can’t whistle, and if I’d heard someone whistle I’d have known, but he was shouting ‘Start, start!’ instead,” says John.
“I could hear shouting but thought there was something wrong with a fence or something, so I stopped and looked. I couldn’t see him anywhere and the clock was going five seconds four seconds… So I had to go full gallop to the first fence to get through the start in time — I had one second to spare! It probably helped me to win though. So it was a good thing Michael noticed and shouted. People you’re riding against are not going to shout are they?”
3. They sometimes swap horses
Several times over the years, the brothers have exchanged horses.
“I got the ride on Gammon in the Hickstead Derby,” says Michael. “John was away somewhere else and I was at Hickstead and John’s wife Clare just happened to see me and said ‘If I’d known you were coming you could have ridden Gammon’, who was jumping in the smaller classes with John’s daughter Louise. I said well I still can because I’ve only got two horses.”
“I don’t think anyone actually asked me!” says John.
“It nearly worked, too, I just had two stupid fences down and finished second,” says Michael. “Four faults won it that year. It was bigger in them days!”
4. One of their most memorable moments together came in 1984
“Winning the team silver medal at the Los Angeles Olympics was pretty special,” says Michael. “By the time Rio came around, we’d done loads of championships together so it didn’t feel different. But we all wanted John on the team — he wasn’t reluctant exactly but he wanted to make sure his horse was on form before committing himself.”
“A few weeks before, Ornellaia upped her game and was jumping very good, so we decided to go for it — it was good that we made another Olympics together,” says John.
5. They are always getting mistaken for each other
“Just the other week in Lyon, they gave me a pass which said John Whitaker but it had Michael’s picture on it,” says John. “So I’m walking around with Michael’s picture on my pass but nobody stopped me.”
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6. Each has competed while pretending to be the other brother
“In a young horse class in Hamburg, it was the day before the big classes started and John wasn’t even at the show yet so he said ‘Just ride my horse as well will you?’,” recalls Michael. “So I rode his horse, as John, and not one person said a word. Not one. I jumped clear and then John rode it for the next two days of the competition.”
7. They’ve never fallen out with each other
“We don’t really argue that much and I don’t think we’ve ever had a big falling out,” says Michael.
“We do appreciate each other,” says John.