The 2023 Nations Cup showjumping series kicked off in Abu Dhabi, UAE, where Great Britain finished runner-up to winners Austria after the five-star competition went right down to the wire, forcing a jump-off to decide top honours.
Among the quartet flying the British flag in tremendous style were brothers Joe Whitaker and Donald Whitaker, who were jumping together on a five-star Nations Cup team for the first time, a moment 35-year-old Joe describes as “meaning the world”.
“To be on the same team as my brother for the first time and for us to get the same score [four faults] was really nice, and at a really prestigious five-star event as well,” says Joe, of his younger brother Donald, 30, both of whom are, of course, part of the legendary Whitaker clan.
“It meant the absolute world to us and Mum and Dad were so proud. They couldn’t make it to Abu Dhabi as they were too busy looking after the yard and the horses at home, but they were glued to the livestream!”
Joe was riding the 11-year-old Hulahupe JR while Donald teamed up with new ride Millfield Colette. They were joined on the squad by William Funnell with his home-bred mare Equine America Billy Picador, while Tim Gredley was riding the 11-year-old gelding Medoc De Toxandria.
“It was really nice to be on a strong team like that – William’s experience was great for us all and that showed in his second round when he jumped clear after his horse spooked in the first round, which was a bit unfortunate,” says Joe. “The way he came back was amazing, and what you need in that situation.
“My brother Donald had a new ride and rode out of his skin, which makes me very proud.”
Joe was selected as team anchorman and stepped up to go head-to-head with Austrian rider Christoph Obernauer (Kleons Renegade) in the jump-off.
“Being put as fourth rider by Di Lampard was a huge honour,” says Joe. “Hulahupe jumped a fabulous clear in the first round to keep us in the competition. We didn’t have much leeway, so I’m proud of him jumping the way he did.
“Then we had a good second round too – I had to jump clear to win, which didn’t happen, but we still finished second, which is a great result. We were very unlucky. For Hulahupe to jump clear and four in his first five-star Nations Cup, I would have taken that with open arms. When it comes down to the wire, we’re all desperate for it, to jump that double clear.
“Di said when we went to jump-off ‘Your horse looks good, he’s jumping well’ and he’d won the grand prix the week before against the clock, so we had to go in. And I wanted to – I felt confident.
Joe Whitaker: ‘I had to take that risk’
“I have to give full credit to the Austrian rider Christoph Obernauer because he did an amazing round,” added Joe. “The fences were really big, so he not only jumped clear, which is tough enough, but he did such a good round that was really hard to beat, he didn’t leave anything. I had the last fence down trying to catch him. I had to take that risk as I didn’t have the same length of stride. He opened his horse right up and did an amazing round. So you have to give him full credit, it was very much deserved. It was great fun for us guys and it made a good class of it.
“But it’s a big thank you to the Bullock family, John and Jan, and Jess Crane, who owned Hulahupe JR until I bought him last year. They always believed he was a good horse and he put their belief in me. So it’s a big thank you towards them for everything. Without them we wouldn’t be here at all.”
Donald Whitaker, who is based in Germany at the Dagobertshausen stables of the Pohl family with his girlfriend Nicola Pohl, travelled to compete on the UAE circuit for the first time last year, jumping a double clear on his five-star Nations Cup debut in this competition 12 months ago, saying: “We’d been trying to get into bigger shows for a while but they were either cancelling or we couldn’t get into them and, with the amount of shows that are out here in UAE, between four and five star, it absolutely made sense to come here.”
He recommended that his brother Joe joined him on the circuit this year.
“Donald had a lot of good things to say about it,” says Joe, who has also been jumping Kathy Tansey’s mare Icaterina and new ride Dream Roller for Paul Sims.
“There are a lot of big competitions, a lot of 1.50m jump-off ranking classes, so it’s great for the horses to get used to it. It’s not often you get to do so many shows with the consistency of these big classes. So it’s really good for a horse that can jump that big to learn from it. It really raises their game. If you have the odd fence down, you’d like to think they only learn from it so it’s a good way to start the year.
“Donald said if you’ve a horse that is able to jump that big it would be a good experience and a good opportunity to go there and it couldn’t have gone better so far!”
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