A horse beleaguered by health issues ticked an item off his owner’s bucket list this week when he was placed at the Great Yorkshire Show.
Sixteen-year-old Dutch warmblood Whitaker bounced back from a split in his tendon, colic and a navicular diagnosis to collect a rosette in the novice ridden hunter line-up.
His owner, 22-year-old vet nurse Danielle Burke, said she had “always dreamt” of riding at the show and getting a photograph “galloping down the long side of the arena”.
But her former showjumper exceeded expectations when he finished eighth of 18 entries in the class.
“It was amazing,” said Danielle, who has owned Whitaker for six years. “I was so nervous for weeks before thinking ‘have I done the right thing in entering’, but as soon as I got in the arena I knew I had to make the most of it no matter what happened, as it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for me.
“He didn’t put a foot wrong, he’s always well behaved and knows his job but he warmed up lovely, did our go round and stood really well,” she said. “He also went amazingly for ride judge which wasn’t something I had experience with before, so I got anyone who I could to ride him in the last few months!
“When we got pulled eighth I was so shocked I felt like I’d won, especially as he was the oldest in the class.
“I owe a lot to my riding instructor Ruth Baxter, who has taught me since I was young, as she encouraged me to go for it,” she added.
Danielle has little previous experience of showing, although she has campaigned Whitaker in SEIB Search for a Star classes, “narrowly missing” out on Horse of the Year Show (HOYS) qualification on two previous occasions.
She was originally planning to affiliate Whitaker British Showjumping (BS) but a year after she bought him, he injured his deep digital flexor tendon.
“He was on box rest for four months and then had another six months off, but he recovered from it fine — only then, when we’d just been given the all-clear, he developed navicular,” she said.
“We have managed it with medication and he is 100% sound and has been signed off by the vet.”
But Whitaker’s problems weren’t over when last November Danielle found him suffering with colic in the field.
“He’d never had colic before and he looked to be in a lot of pain — we spent a very scary 90 minutes waiting for the vet,” Danielle said.
“Fortunately it turned out to be a spasmodic colic, but I had to spend the night sleeping outside his box keeping an eye on him. He didn’t poo for 16 hours and I spent the most stressful three days of my life trying to get him to drink.”
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She said that the 16.3hh gelding, who is gentle enough to be ridden by her six-year-old niece, is doing “so well at the minute” that she hopes to try for HOYS qualification again this year.
“We’ll try for Search for a Star from August and see if we are third time lucky, but if not then I’ll just enjoy him — he’s great to hack, we’re starting to do a bit more dressage and we still go jumping on and off.”
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