Showjumper Joe Whitaker has been a familiar face on the international circuit since his days on ponies. However, at the age of 32, he has decided to fulfill a childhood dream to become a National Hunt jockey and is set to make his racecourse debut at Newcastle on Tuesday 28 January.
“It’s something I’ve always wanted to do but never had the chance because I’ve been so wrapped up in the showjumping,” Joe told H&H. “I thought if I don’t do it now, I wouldn’t do it all — there’s no time like the present is there?”
South Yorkshire-based Joe is, of course, part of the famous showjumping family dynasty, a son of Steven Whitaker, alongside sister Ellen and brothers Tom and Donald. Joe enjoyed a great career on youth teams and has gone on to represent Great Britain in senior Nations Cups and won at the Hickstead Derby meeting in 2018 and claimed victory in the British Speed Classic at the Royal International in 2017.
He’s the first member of the Whitaker family to venture into the racing world, and the showjumping crossover began when he started riding out for Sue and Harvey Smith in August.
“I’m a good friend of [Harvey’s grandson] Joel Parkinson and that’s how it all came about — he asked if I knew someone who would help them ride out,” says Joe. “I thought there and then that it was a great opportunity for me to go and get stuck in.
“There’s been so much to learn — it’s such a different sport and a completely different way of riding, with a different body position, different balance, different control, a different type of horse… It’s a totally new game all together, so it’s taken me a while to get my head around it all.”
Joe gained his amateur license from the British Racing School in Newmarket and is now booked for his first ride under rules at Newcastle for Tjade Collier, who is also new to the training ranks.
“Tjade is hoping for his first winner, it’s my first race and the horse hasn’t won yet either, so we’re hoping for the treble!” says Joe. “He’s a very good trainer and horseman and I’m very grateful to him for putting me up and giving me the opportunity to ride this lovely horse.”
Joe will be riding the six-year-old Ladronne, who will be stepping up in distance in a 2m6f race over hurdles.
“He’s relatively green himself — he was second at Sedgefield under Danny Cook,” says Joe who will be joining his friends Harry Skelton, Henry Brook, Sam Coltherd and Danny Cook in the weighing room, many of whom have also come from showjumping backgrounds — although most haven’t left it quite so late.
“It’s a bit different — it’s something you don’t see very often, especially at the age of 32!” says Joe.
According to Joe, the top tips he’s received so far have been “Keep going, don’t pull!” and “Backside on the back seat, feet on the dashboard”.
“So we’ll see how it goes really – it’s the same with anything new and we’ll know more after Tuesday,” he says. “If we have a good run and everything goes OK, obviously we’ll keep it going.
“But the whole family will be there to watch me, a couple of busloads at least — everyone who’s not at a show, anyway. It’s probably usually quite quiet there on a Tuesday!”
- See an interview with Joe on ITV News from 6pm tonight
You may also be interested in…
Ireland’s riders dominate the Unex Masters show at Towerlands, but they have to give way to young British talent in
A Grand National-winning jockey, Olympic eventers and a Speed Derby championwill be lining up in this afternoon's (Thursday 19 July)
Nick's had a busy summer showjumping and judging at the Royal International Horse Show in between racing
The jump jockeys triumph over their Flat racing rivals in a thrilling — and highly competitive — head-to-head over the
The Grand National-winning jockey returned to his showjumping roots to triumph in the LED Sport Europe Speed Derby
BBC Sports Personality of the Year AP McCoy is to join the line-up of top former and current jockeys taking