Legendary showjumper Milton, this week’s cover star (11 June 2015), became one of the best known horses in the world during his heyday, collecting fan clubs wherever he travelled.
Ronnie Massarella, Britain’s chef d’equipe during that golden era, recalls: “Milton gave me my greatest years in the sport and he and John [Whitaker] were the perfect ambassadors for British showjumping. Milton had something no other horse had.”
12 things you need to know about Milton
1. Milton was bought in 1977 by the late Caroline Bradley. Caroline’s mother Doreen described him as “a funny-looking thing — ugly, and no bigger than a 13.2hh pony”. Little did she know that he would grew up to become showjumping’s first millionaire…
2. Milton was a rarity. He was the product of careful selection by John Harding-Rolls at a time when British sport horse breeding was in its infancy. Caroline bought him because he was by Marius, a Dutch-bred stallion she had partnered to many successes, out of a part-Arab mare from whom he inherited his coat colour and tremendous presence. He also ended up much bigger than his sire, standing 16.3hh in his prime.
3. He impressed many people throughout his novice career, during which he surprisingly failed to qualify for the Foxhunter final after spooking at cars parked around the ringside. “He was green and his front legs were dangly, but he had star quality,” remembers John Whitaker, with whom Milton was eventually to forge a dream partnership.
4. John was given the ride in the autumn of 1985, when Milton was an eight-year-old. He jumped the horse at a couple of small shows and then took him to Berlin indoor show, where he finished third in the small grand prix. And that was the beginning of a great partnership that swept all before it…
5. Milton and John became the mainstays of Britain’s all-conquering team, jumping seven consecutive double clears in Nations Cup.
6. But Milton missed the Olympic gold he so deserved. The Bradleys did not want Milton to travel to Seoul in 1988, fearing that the journey would be too much for him and, despite much pressure — including the banishment of the horse and rider from Nations Cup teams for a season — would not budge.
7. When Milton finally got his chance, in Barcelona in 1992, he was past his prime. He hated the Spanish going and heat, but such was his class that he was in the lead coming into the final round. But a stumble in the deep sand after jumping into a double left him with no option but to stop, and a medal slipped away.
8. When Milton retired at Olympia in December 1994, it was as showjumping’s first millionaire, with winnings of more than £1.25m.
9. But John must also take great credit, because the “wonder horse” did have a flaw. His long stride made it difficult for him to clear verticals and John had to change his own style by shortening his stirrups and standing Milton off.
10. Milton retired to the Whitakers’ Yorkshire farm. He made some public appearances, but after he survived major colic surgery in 1998, the decision was made to let him live out his life in happy retirement with his best friend, Hopscotch.
11. The following year, the colic returned and this time, the old horse could not fight it off. He died in July 1998.
12. Milton may have been a superstar, but he was also a typical horse. “He often had a battle of wills with our grooms and would push them as far as he could by rooting to the spot or refusing to go into his stable. He also used to take his rugs off and shred them, and if he didn’t fancy doing something, he would blow raspberries,” says John.