Following William Whitaker’s recent return to the UK, H&H’s magazine editor Pippa Roome caught up with the top British showjumper on episode 10 of The Horse & Hound Podcast to chat about life back in Britain, his recently increased admiration for those working in the education sector, special memories from his childhood and saying a sad farewell to an exceptional ‘family horse’, among many other topics.
“It’s very nice being based back at home in Huddersfield with my family, because the last five years I’ve been here, there and everywhere between Belgium, Germany and the US so it’s really nice to be back home permanently and building up a new string of horses,” says William.
Having arrived back from the US shortly before the coronavirus pandemic reached its height, the father of three found himself having to juggle establishing his new stable alongside home schooling his two older children, Bella and Oliver, with his wife, which he described as “very stressful” at the start, but admitted he got to enjoy it.
“I took my hat off to the teachers before, but now it’s beyond all imagination – I just do not know how they cope with so many children and do such a good job,” he says.
“It took a couple of weeks for the kids to get used to it. I felt once they got into the routine of a couple of hours a day, they settled into it and I think they got to quite enjoy it and so did I — watching them work and watching them learn.
“With me having been away it was nice that I was almost forced into spending so much time with them. When you’re starting up a new team of horses, you can get submerged in what you do, but with all the shows stopping, it opened up that opportunity for me to spend time with the children to concentrate on their schoolwork and after a few weeks, when I looked back, I really appreciated it.”
Among William’s career highlights to date was winning the World Cup at Olympia, which was his final ride on his brilliant partner Utamaro D’Ecaussines, but the personal significance of the win went much, much deeper than that.
“It was our family Christmas treat every year when we were kids to go to Olympia to watch John and Michael jump. I used to look forward to that — as soon as we’d left the year before, I’d look forward to it the year after. All my cousins were there and we’d been down for the week watching all the classes and most importantly the World Cup. I’d go to Olympia and then I’d come home and I’d be practising jump-off turns on my ponies just like I’d watched John and Michael all week. That’s how I grew up,” he says.
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Moving on to talking about another special horse from his past, the Hickstead Derby winner Glenavadra Brilliant, William explains why he holds such fond memories of the big chestnut, who was put down in June.
“It was really sad when he had to be put down,” says William. “He’d been part of the family for 10 years and he really was a family horse: me and my two brothers George and James had all rode him and had success on him.
“He was that larger than life character in the stable — one that really had a presence and all the staff looked out for him. He gave me and Jim massive career victories; me the Hickstead Derby and Jim the Queen’s Cup and just for those two things alone, never mind everything else he did for us, we’ll be for ever grateful.”
If you’d like to hear more from William, including why he decided to move to Belgium and whether he thinks Belgium, Germany, the US or Britain is the best place to produce a string of horses, listen here to episode 10 of The Horse & Hound podcast or search “The Horse & Hound Podcast” in your favourite podcast app.
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