JOHN WHITAKER has his sights set on competing in the London Olympics but admits he is going to have to work hard to earn a place in the British squad.
He competed in his first Olympics in 1984 riding Ryans Son, helping the team win silver.
London would be his sixth Olympic Games if he is selected. But the competition is tough and John is also without his top horse, Peppermill, out of action for a year after suffering another tendon injury last year.
John’s hopes rest on preparing his younger horse, the 10-year-old stallion Argento, in time for selection in June.
“Last year at this time, Argento didn’t look like being in contention. But he jumped so well last year and improved so much, I think I have a chance. I have purposefully held him back, I want him to peak at the right time.
“We are starting off in Spain next week and hope we can get a few results and see what happens,” said John.
He has plenty of confidence in the horse, who has been with the family since he was four but he has yet to prove himself in big competitions.
Getting a place on the team will be a challenge, however, as there is a greater depth of talent available than ever, says John.
Among those aiming for a place are Nick Skelton, Ben Maher, Scott Brash, Guy Williams and Tina Fletcher. And that’s not counting other members of the Whitaker family. John’s brother Michael will be bidding for a place with GIG Ami and John’s son, Robert, has high hopes of his horse, USA Today.
Unfortunately, his niece, Ellen, has had injury problems with her top two horses.
While he may be the elder statesman of British showjumping at the age of 56, there is no doubting John’s commitment or his ability.
“I feel good; I can still do it; I can still beat them. It’s just having the right horses at the right time. But I’ll have a good shot at it.”
In a long career, John has been to four World Championships, winning three bronze and two silver medals. He is a regular member of the British Nations Cup teams and was part of the bronze medal-winning team at the European Championships last year.
Peppermill’s injury – his fourth tendon injury – was disappointing but John tries to be philosophical.
“Things can go wrong with horses. You have to stay positive.”
Peppermill had only returned to competing in June last year following nearly a year off due to a previous injury.
We watched Argento being put through his paces by John in the indoor arena at home. Next week, the family will be exchanging the windswept conditions of Upper Cumberworth near Huddersfield for the kinder climate of Spain.
John, with his wife Clare, daughter Louise and Robert are taking a total of 22 horses to compete in the Sunshine Tour.
These are a combination of youngsters and experienced horses and the aim is to get some good results in competitions there and then aim for Nations Cup teams when they return.
Britain’s show-jumping team manager, Rob Hoekstra, will select the Olympic squad in June and his choice will be announced at the beginning of July. John believes Britain has a strong chance of winning a medal and doing this on home ground would be a dream come true.
“It’s something you work all your life to achieve. A gold medal is the pinnacle of your career. To win it in your own country would be unbelievable.”
There is a way to go yet but fingers are crossed that there will be a Whitaker on the team for London 2012.
The Sinnington Hunt was hoping that its point-to-point would take place at Duncombe Park tomorrow.
However this was not confirmed at the time of writing and the course was being inspected, so to check please go to www.pointtopoint.co.uk or www.jumpingforfun.co.uk.