I paid my first visit to Al Shaqab in Doha, Qatar, last week and what a fantastic show it is — as riders we couldn’t ask for better facilities. The arena is huge and the surface is perfect — that sand and fibre mix works very well. We can ride on the gallops as well as in the various rings, and the stables are fantastic — air conditioned and really big. It makes such a difference not having to worry about the horses staying in rickety, older stables.
I’d seen videos of the venue before I came here, and my father Michael Whitaker had told me about it, but it was still different to what I expected — the stadium is massively open. There’s not so much atmosphere in the arena here though; you have to remind yourself that you’re jumping for quite a lot of money!
I brought my current two best horses to Al Shaqab. Scenletha is very new to this level and Friday night’s 1.55-1.60m class was the biggest she has ever jumped, but she took it in her stride. My other horse, Elucar V E, is probably my best horse at the moment and is a bit more confident, so I saved him for the grand prix, which was very big.
‘What I’ve been aiming for’
Being here and competing in my first Global Champions Tour next week at the same venue is a massive step in my career. I was quite nervous when I was first selected to ride in the Globals, where I will be representing Cascais Charms in the Global Champions League, but it soon turned to excitement. It’s what I’ve been aiming for since I first started riding — to get to the top of the sport — and I’m just hoping I can prove myself.
Everyone knows me because of my name, but being a Whitaker doesn’t put any extra pressure on me — unless I let it! I’m very lucky to have been born into this family and it’s a great advantage for me.
It’s nice to have my father with me in Doha. He doesn’t give me too much advice just before I go into the arena, but reminds me to stay focused. Our groom, Amanda Steele, is great to have with us, too. It’s actually very nice to have just the two horses here, as ordinarily at a show at home I’d have seven or eight. That said, I haven’t had a chance to see much of Doha yet, although I have been jet-skiing.
I’ve already spent a few weeks in this part of the world this year, jumping in the UAE — these events are great for the sport in the Middle East. Next up for me is Miami and Mexico; I’m so lucky to be able to travel to and compete at all these places and I’m very thankful for the opportunity.
Ref Horse & Hound; 5 March 2020