British showjumper Donald Whitaker turns 30 in August and has already made an impressive start to this milestone year by jumping a double clear in his first five-star Nations Cup in Abu Dhabi.
Donald – named after his grandfather, the late patriarch of the Whitaker clan – is the son of Steven Whitaker, with uncles Ian, John and Michael Whitaker. Donald’s siblings are Ellen, Joe and Thomas Whitaker and, like much of his family, he’s been winning showjumping classes for as long as he can remember. He enjoyed plenty of success on ponies and has represented Great Britain in Nations Cups, he won the newcomers championship at Horse of the Year Show, shared the puissance spoils there too, and finished runner-up in the World Breeding Championships with the great mare Chilli.
He is now based in Germany at the Dagobertshausen stables of the Pohl family and his girlfriend is German team rider Nicola Pohl.
“We work out the horses between us – we play around with them a bit and ride whichever suit us really,” explains Donald, who enjoyed a stellar 2021, climbing a whopping 1,000 places in the world rankings.
“I took over Di Caprio halfway through last year and he went well immediately and it’s gone from there really. He has everything to be a very good horse,” he says of his Nations Cup ride.
Donald Whitaker and his impressive start to 2022
Donald and Nicola have started 2022 with a trip to the UAE to contest the string of CSI4* and CSI5* shows in the country.
“We’d been trying to get into bigger shows for a while but they were either cancelling or we couldn’t get into them and, with the amount of shows that are out here in UAE, between four and five star, it absolutely made sense to come here,” he explains. “It’s amazing, all very flash!”
On 23 January, Donald teamed up with top horse Di Caprio, an 11-year-old stallion, to jump double clear for Great Britain, helping the three-man squad to finish third to Ireland in the opening leg of the Nations Cup series. He claimed a share of the €50,000 bonus for partnerships who maintained a zero score through the two-round competition.
“It’s the name of the game – jump clear – so I was just trying my best and the horse was more than capable of doing so,” says Donald. “I’d been having a really good show, so I went in with a bit of confidence. It was a nice sort of track – tall verticals, square oxers, and it wasn’t the biggest I’ve ever seen but it was certainly testing and there were only five double clears. So it was big enough – certainly for my first five-star Nations Cup!”
Donald admits to feeling “a bit of extra pressure” as Great Britain fielded just a three-rider squad meaning all scores counted. He was joined on the team by William Funnell and Georgia Tame, finishing on a score of 17.
“I’ve jumped a few Nations Cups before, just not five-star, so I knew what to expect a bit,” he says.
Grand prix mishap: ‘I couldn’t get my stirrups back’
Donald also finished 11th in the five-star grand prix with the 14-year-old Chacco-Blue gelding Veneno – their clear round was only marred by a time-fault after a slight mishap at the water tray.
“I lost my stirrups, so I had to spend a bit of time getting them back before the next fence,” he says. “It was a big class for that horse to jump in, but I just couldn’t get my stirrups back – it was a stupid time fault to have.”
Donald has also been racking up some good five-star results with the 12-year-old mare Feodina (Zacharov x Corland).
“The aim is definitely to try to do more at this level – five-star Nations Cups have been the aim for the past year and it’s what I want to do in the sport. The dream is to compete at the highest level against the best riders so I want to try to push it as far as I can go,” says Donald.
“We have an unbelievable team behind us. So anything is possible I think.”
You may also be interested in…
Credit: FEI/MARTIN DOKOUPIL
Horse & Hound magazine, out every Thursday, is packed with all the latest news and reports, as well as interviews, specials, nostalgia, vet and training advice. Find how you can enjoy the magazine delivered to your door every week, plus options to upgrade your subscription to access our online service that brings you breaking news and reports as well as other benefits.