‘She exceeded all expectations’: John Whitaker pays tribute as his Olympic mare retires

  • Ornellaia, the Princess Haya-owned mare who took John Whitaker to the 2016 Rio Olympics and Sienna Charles to the European Young Rider Championships, has been retired at the age of 17.

    The For Pleasure mare has been ridden by Sienna for the past two years and the 20-year-old Hampshire rider announced Ornellaia’s retirement by saying she was “so grateful for the opportunity to have had [Ornellaia] as my partner over the last three years”, describing her as “one of a kind”.

    The pair represented Great Britain in Nations Cup teams this year, as well as winning the prestigious “Les talents Hermes” young rider class at the CSI5* show in Paris.

    The German-bred mare was produced in her early years by US rider Maggie McAlary and Belgium’s Francois Mathy Jnr, before Princess Haya sent her to John Whitaker in 2015.

    “She was a really positive mare, always with you in the ring, and you could turn back to fences knowing she was going to get to the other side. She was great,” John told H&H.

    “She far exceeded my expectations — I thought for sure she’d be a really good second horse, but she came at a brilliant time for me when Argento was starting to come towards the end of his career. Ornellaia took the pressure off him a bit, but she actually ended up jumping the biggest classes.

    “She just got better and better with confidence, she kept finding more. She probably achieved more than she was capable of really. She was always a trier, a real fighter, and very consistent. She was a really nice horse in the stable, too.”

    The pair won five-star classes at Paris, Monte Carlo and Olympia, as well as representing Great Britain at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio. John pinpointed jumping double clear in the Nations Cup of Rome in 2016 as one of his standout moments with the mare.

    “We were last to go and had to jump clear in order to win the Nations Cup – it was serious stuff,” John said. “She jumped brilliantly and we pulled it off. That was exceptionally good.

    “She also finished second in the grand prix in Basel, which was big and difficult with a very fast jump-off and I was only a fraction behind the winner. It was a really good class and she jumped unbelievably well. I was leading rider of the show as well.

    “I’ll look back fondly on our time together, it was a really good time.”

    After leaving John’s stable in 2018, Ornellaia went to Finnish showjumper Anna-Julia Kontio followed by Ireland’s Peter Moloney, before Sienna Charles took over for her final seasons.

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