With such a famous husband and brother-in-law it’s easy for Veronique Whitaker’s own achievements to go almost unnoticed.

As a child growing up in Belgium, Veronique did not start riding until she was 10 years old, although her wine merchant parents had their own horses.

When Veronique was 12, her parents bought her a 16.3hh French-bred schoolmaster called Clairon as she loved jumping so much.

“He was fantastic, he used to take me round all kinds of courses, but I must have looked like a little flea on top of him!”

Then, at the age of 14, Veronique was bought Jonas, another French bred with whom she was selected to represent Belgium at the 1975 Junior European Championships in Austria. There, Veronique was a member of the Belgian gold medal-winning team and winner of the individual silver medal in 1976 and 1977.

Most competitive riders admit to being worse than useless at school, but Veronique is an exception.

“I was very good at school, particularly at maths. Being top of my classes was the only way that my parents would let me compete,” she says.

But at 17 she could no longer resist the lure of show jumping and told her parents she was going to leave school.

“They eventually realised it was what I really wanted to do. I think they would have preferred it if I’d become a vet or something.”

Dedicated

“Show jumping is all I’ve ever wanted to do. I didn’t care if I ended up as a groom, I just wanted to ride.”

Then, at 17, Veronique met Michael at the 1976 Junior European Championships and the rest is history.

“My parents didn’t think it was such a good idea, but when they met Michael, they liked him and they thought I’d made theright choice.”

In December 1980, Veronique and Michael got married in Belgium and then spent their honeymoon at the Olympia International Show Jumping Championships in London!

After selling all of Veronique’s horses to get enough cash together to buy Michael a string of novices, the couple set about establishing a yard near Stockport in Cheshire, where they stayed for 10 years. Veronique used to help Michael with all the schooling and the marriage was very much a team effort both in and out of the ring.

Eventually Veronique persuaded Michael to move to Whatton near Nottingham so they would be nearer Dover and the ferry terminal.

Separation

But after 16 years of a partnership dedicated to horses,it all became too much. Veronique left their home near Nottingham and moved to Nigel Goddard’s yard in Aldworth, near Pangbourne in Berkshire.

“I needed a break,” she sighs. “It’s a difficult life. Michael¨s always away and it all got a bit toomuch.”

Since the couple split up, Veronique’s fortunes in the ring have been mixed.

She was lucky to get the ride on Eldorado as the gelding was originally bought for Michael as a possible Derby horse.

“We got him just before Michael went to the Olympics in Atlanta in 1996, and I was allowed to ride him while he was away. We came second in the Queen’s Cup at Hickstead and after that Michael said, ‘you’d better carry on’, so I did!” she laughs.

Future hopes

Veronique made big personal and professional sacrifices to build a life in England, but looking back she says, ” I would never go back to Belgium now. I’ve got no regrets, none at all. I’m very pleased with the way my life has turned out.”