To celebrate John Whitaker taking charge as the guest editor of Horse & Hound this week, we’ve put together 14 of his greatest career moments — and added some he may wish were lost in the archives…
1. Everyone’s favourite: Milton
The first horse to win £1m in prize money, the amazing grey also helped John to two World Cup finals and six championship medals. We all fell in love with Milton.
2. 90 cars and counting
John estimates he’s picked up the keys to nearly 100 cars in his career. Back in 1981, he drove off in this quality VW Polo.
3. Four Hickstead Derby wins
Here in 2000, John partners Welham to victory. John also won in 1983 on Ryan’s Son, 1998 with Gammon and 2004 on catch ride Buddy Bunn.
4. Team Stalwart
Hopscotch, pictured here in Rotterdam in 1988, was a team regular with John during the eighties. The pair rode to success in Nations Cups and collected medals at the World and European Championships.
5. Olympic Odyssey
Did you know that John and his brother Michael have been on five Olympic teams together? Here in 1996 the siblings are causing all sorts of mischief with a youthful-looking Geoff Billington and Nick Skelton. John’s best result came at the alternative Olympics in 1980 when he won both team and individual silver.
6. Fan club
The ever-popular John has attracted legions of fans — of all ages — over the years. Here he is signing autographs in 1981, aged 25.
7. Even the greatest John Whitaker gets it wrong occasionally
Riding Utah Van Erpekom at the Global Champions Tour Final in Rio De Janeiro 2011
8. The horse that made me
John credits Ryan’s Son, who came to him as a five-year-old when John was 17, for putting him on the map. “He changed all our lives,” says John. “He was the top money-earner in the UK several times and won about £350,000 in his career — that was unheard of in the 1980s.”
9. Powerfull Peppermill
John finished fifth individually at the 2008 Olympics at Hong Kong with Peppermill but was once jumped clean out of the saddle on the great stallion, landing on his feet but breaking his ankle.
10. He’s my brother
John (on Ryan’s Son) and Michael (Owen Gregory) at Hickstead in 1986.
11. Look no hands
At ’s-Hertogenbosch in 2000, John describes his puissance attempt with Helsinki as “just trying to survive”. Miraculously, they landed in one piece and the pair jumped two more rounds to finish third.
12. If the coat fits…
John’s Puffa jacket is put firmly in the shade by Nick Skelton’s woolly mammoth outfit.
13. Hanging out with Eddie
What these two don’t know isn’t worth knowing — John and Eddie Macken at Royal Windsor in 2014.
14. The next Whitaker generation
John is father to Louise, Joanne and Robert — and now a grandfather. Here Robert, then aged seven, is joined by Matthew and James Broome, enjoys some Christmas spirit at Olympia in 1990.
15. The king of fancy dress
Give John an excuse to dress up and there’s no stopping him — his antics at shows such as Olympia are legendary.
16. So many top horses
Grannusch is right up there as one of the best John has ridden over the years — and it’s quite a list. Here they are competing at Berlin in 1994 but one of their biggest wins was the hugely valuable CN International grand prix at Spruce Meadows in 1994
17. Best friends
We’re back with John and Nick again — this time enjoying 40 winks together in the Aachen sunshine!
John’s latest star, the 13-year-old stallion by Arko III, means John is still a regular sight at the top of the prizegivings. “Having a horse like Argento makes it pleasurable. So I’m doing what I enjoy and I’ll keep going for as long as I can,” says John.
19. Milton again
Just because we can never look at enough Milton pictures. The pair are competing here in Brussels in 1986.