Monday, April 28

John Whitaker: ‘Someone has to breed!’

John Whitaker is a famous show jumping rider, and an AES breeder. His stallions all were graded by AES. The foals are registered here aswell. Logically he uses his top stallion Argento mainly for the breeding nowadays. Hopefully one day the eldest Whitaker (58) will ride one of his own foals in the Global Champions Tour. So far it didn’t turn out that way. ‘The ones I bred never reached the level of the horses I bought, but British breeding is improving. We keep on trying, because someone has to breed them!’

Not many people know you are breeding?
I’ve always been breeding a little bit, but now I have this stallion Argento, and my daughter is motivated to help me with it, I’m starting to be more involved. People are interested to use him. Nevertheless I realize the breeding in Great-Britain is small scaled compared to Europe. People are breeding thoroughbred mares to get show jumpers and eventing horses. There’s still a long way to go, but you have to start somewhere. Some breeders are getting bigger, like William Funnell and some others. I have six foals this year. Maybe it doesn’t make a big difference when you compare to Belgium, Germany, Holland and France, but someone has to do it.

Which mares you use? Former sport horses?
I mainly rode stallions in my carreer, but one mare I’m breeding with, jumped the World Championships at Aachen, not with me, but with Cassio Rivetti. Her name is Olona. She’s by Indorado x Nimmerdor. The mares I ride myself most often are quite old when they stop jumping, so after their career we don’t get too many foals out of them anymore.

Besides breeding your own mares, you focus on selling semen of your stallions at Heyside Farm in West Yorkshire, I see on your website. You do quite some effort to commercialize the semen?
Yes that’s true. We’ve always been selling semen, but before 2004 we didn’t have a website. Now my youngest daughter Joanne is involved, we can give the breeding all the chances. The breeding is a good income next to prize money now. She’s pushing the business a lot by promoting the stallions. We sell quite a lot of semen of Argento. He’s only a few weeks a year available to fresh, when they are freezing semen. The rest of the year I don’t want him to breed, because I have the experience stallions get crazy when the combine sport and breeding. Of course we always have frozen semen in stock.

What about the Argento offspring?
I cannot say anything of them so far. I just know they are beautiful and big, however he’s smaller himself. The eldest are five and starting to go under the saddle. Then there’s a gap of a few years and we got bigger numbers of foals born last year. As soon as he started to become successful in the sport, people wanted to use him. Now we have thirty mares a year pregnant. That’s a lot in Great-Britain, but not in Europe. So it would be nice to also break in the European market this year. He is a good breeder and he has an interesting bloodline with Arko III as the father and Jasper as the father of his dam’s father.  I hope Argento gets chances in the breeding, because when you don’t get the chance, it’s hard to succeed. You must have the chance and get good mares to produce good offspring. When other breeders notice the children are jumping good, they also start using him. It’s like a snowball effect. The more you roll, the greater you become.

When did you buy Argento?
I got him when he was four years old and we broke him in by ourselves. My daughter Louise rode it for two years. I took him over when he was seven. We’ve had him for seven years now and he has never disappointed us. He looked promising as a four-year-old and he turned out to be super careful, but also brave and honest. He’s always trying hard.

He’s a real winner as well. Did he also win a lot as a young horse?
We didn’t push him too much to win as a young horse. Because he was always so careful, I tried to give him nice experiences. Until today I focus on keeping him happy and confident, because he’s so careful.

You’ve been hesitating about the last scope of Argento. Now he’s won some big GP’s in Germany and the CSI4* in Amsterdam, would you believe he could be a championship horse?
He’s always developed and today he’s jumping a big Grand Prix, so who knows? I’m not saying yes and I’m not saying definitely no. I just try to do the right thing for the horse and see what’s happening. When I keep him happy and confident, we don’t know where he will end.

What’s your short term schedule for Argento?
We do Hagen again, where we won the GP last year. After that we do Global Champions Tour in Madrid and after that maybe Hamburg. For sure I use him as my first horse this year. And next to him I’m developing Lord of Arabia as a second Grand Prix horse. I need certainly something to take some pressure away from Argento.

One thing is sure. You don’t sell Argento!
Indeed. All the time people keep asking a bit if I would be interested to sell, but that’s not the meaning. It’s difficult to do this sport without a horse and this is what we do in life, so I need a horse like him. It’s nice to have money, but money is not everything. This is my life. I still enjoy doing the shows and I like to win classes now again with this horse. He’s earning money, so we just continue like this.

Which other stallions you offer the breeders?
One of my former jumpers Cornetto King (Cornet Obolensky) is still available. I don’t ride him anymore because of his strong character, but he breeds very nice. Also Catwalk (Colman), my son Robert’s top horse, is available. I still have semen of my former grey top stallion Randi (Ramzes), which already died. All the stallions are fully AES approved.

And when the mares have to be inseminated, you play the helping hand?
Yeah, if I have to, I do that. I’m qualified to inseminate the mares, and when Joanne is not there I sometimes do it. As I mentioned we’re all very interested in the breeding. The whole process happens at home, except for freezing the semen.

Does Michael breed?
Yes he does. Not so much like me, but still he has four or five foals a year.

What’s the best foal you ever bred?
That’s a difficult question. I think it’s everybody’s dream to breed a superstar, but that’s no evidence. You have to accept what you get. We bred some nice ones, but up to now we’re still looking for that superstar. We still didn’t succeed in breeding, I admit that. But someone has to breed them, so hopefully one day we get that one top horse from our own breeding. We just try to keep crossing top mares and stallions and we wait for the result.

It’s easier to buy them?
Yes, then you buy what you like. When you breed, you have what you get. But still it’s so interesting. Really a lot of fun to see them grow up. We have own stallions, mares and a lot of fields, so why wouldn’t we do it?

You like the breeding! That’s why you also breed cattle?
I just have thirty. it’s more of a hobby. I like to see the animals in the fields around the stables. The farm is set on the hill above 140 acres of land, so it’s perfect for breeding at home. I like breeding and I always will.