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From Yorkshire farmers to the Royal Family: top five equestrian dynasties

Tennis has the Williams sisters, soccer had the Charlton brothers and Formula One has the Verstappens....

Posted: Dec. 4, 2018 11:53 AM
Updated: Dec. 4, 2018 11:53 AM

Tennis has the Williams sisters, soccer had the Charlton brothers and Formula One has the Verstappens.

When it comes to competing in international sport, it helps to keep it in the family, perhaps nowhere more so than in equestrian sports, which can be expensive at the highest level.

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Although Edwina Tops-Alexander and Scott Brash -- the only riders to have won elite show jumping's Longines Global Champions Tour (LGCT) twice -- didn't come from an equestrian background, it does help to be born into a horse-mad family.

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Here are the top five equestrian dynasties:

The Whitakers

One of the most successful families, not just in showjumping, but perhaps across all international sports, the Whitaker dynasty can be traced back to a dairy farm in Yorkshire, northern England, where brothers John, Michael, Steven and Ian Whitaker were taught to ride by their horse-mad mother Enid when they were young children in the 1960s.

Fast forward to 2018 and there are now more than 15 members of the Whitaker family competing internationally in showjumping. They range from the 63-year-old John, a six-time Olympian, to the 17-year-old Jack, who won a silver medal at the Youth Olympics in Buenos Aires in October, 34 years after his father Michael did the same at the Los Angeles Summer Games.

"It's unusual that everybody does it," John Whitaker, the most successful rider of the lot with two dozen medals at Olympic, World and European championships, told the LGCT website in 2015. "They've been going to shows since they were born. The biggest problem is finding the horses."

The British Royal Family

With her 92-year-old grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II of England, a long-time horse rider in the grounds of Windsor Castle, and with two former Olympians as parents, it is no surprise Zara Tindall has carried on the family tradition.

The 37-year-old Tindall is the daughter of British Captain Mark Phillips, who won Olympic team gold at the 1972 Munich Games, and Princess Anne, the Queen's only daughter, whose triumph at Burghley in 1971 made her first British royal to win a European championship.

Tindall, who rode under her maiden name Zara Phillips until she married former England rugby captain Mike Tindall in 2011, is a brilliant equestrian in her own right, winning the individual and team titles at the 2005 European championships.

In the London Games of 2012, Tindall became the first member of the British royal family to place in the Olympics when she took silver in the team eventing.

Tindall, who had her second child in June, was back in the saddle competing in August as she targets a second Olympics.

"To be in London, the crowd, the whole Olympic experience, I can't tell you, it gives me goose bumps talking about it. It is incredible," she said in a video shot by her sponsor, Land Rover, this summer.

The Pessoas

One of the most successful father-son combinations in show jumping, Brazil's Nelson and Rodrigo Pessoa have represented their country 11 times at Olympic level between 1956 and 2012.

Known as "The Wizard" for his riding style, Nelson Pessoa was the first civilian to excel in a sport that until the 1950s had been dominated by the Brazilian armed forces.

Having competed at the 1956 Olympic Games in Stockholm, Nelson moved to Europe in 1961 to advance his riding career. Although the now 82-year-old Nelson, a former European champion and the winner of more than 150 Grand Prix in Europe, no longer rides, he has successfully guided teams in Europe, the Middle East and in Brazil.

Growing up as the son of a Brazilian icon was "a double edged sword, because it came with a lot of responsibility and pressure," Nelson's son Rodrigo, who was born in Paris in 1972, told worldofshowjumping.com. "At the same time, it developed the will in me to really get it right."

At the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, the then 56-year-old Nelson was the oldest rider in the event, while Rodrigo was the youngest at 19.

Rodrigo celebrated his biggest triumphs with a horse given to him by his father -- the fiery stallion Baloubet du Rouet. The pair dominated the sport for years, winning the World Cup finals for three consecutive years in the late 1990s and taking the individual gold medal at the 2004 Athens Games.

The Philippaerts family

When four-time Olympian Ludo Philippaerts quit riding in 2015, the 2006 overall LGCT winner did so in the knowledge his four sons would carry on the family tradition.

Although his children were given the opportunity to compete in other sports, such as soccer, swimming and tennis, they were all bitten by the horse bug.

Nicknamed the "Justin Biebers of show jumping," his oldest sons, twin brothers Nicola and Olivier, have already made a name for themselves both in and outside the ring.

In 2015, the pair struck a long-term deal with Swedish clothing brand H&M, and have featured as models in some of their campaigns.

This season, Nicola won Chantilly and Cascais to finish third in the 16-leg Longines Global Champions Tour. The brothers also teamed up to win the Longines Global Champions League title with London Knights.

Inspired by their older brothers, the 17-year-old Thibault and 15-year-old Anthony Philippaerts are also climbing the ranks.

Will we one day see an entire Belgium squad of Philippaerts at the Olympics? Time will tell.

The Gulliksens

Geir Gulliksen has been a member of the Norwegian showjumping team for more than four decades, and now his children, 26-year-old Victoria and 22-year-old Johan are carrying on the family tradition.

Although Geir, 58, only started riding when he was 12, Victoria and Johan took up the sport from an early age.

"They didn't have to do it," Geir Gulliksen told Equestrian World this month. "Johan was a very good skier until he was around 12 years old. He was one of the best in his age in Norway."

Still, Johan feels he has made the right choice.

"I was more interested in football and skiing but at one point I had to make a decision and chose riding - I'll never regret that," Johan said.

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