Whitakers lose sponsorship deal

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The Whitaker brothers and Geoff Billington will be seeking new sponsors following the closure of the computer company, Virtual Village, which had supported them since 1996. This follows the demise of Traxdata, another generous sponsor of show jumping, which was put in the hands of the receivers at the end of June.

Ironically, Virtual Village had helped to plug one of the holes left by Traxdata when it agreed to the last-minute sponsorship of two classes at Hickstead's Royal International Horse Show in July. David Heap, Chairman of Virtual Village, which specialised in teaching computer skills, said that the closure of his company last Friday was "due to a totally unexpected failure in a funding source from America."

"They've been very enthusiastic supporters, who never put any pressure on us," John Whitaker said. He received £100,000 a year from the company and may have to scale down on the number of horses in his Yorkshire yard if he cannot find a new sponsor. Ideally he would like to sign up to a package deal which would include his brother, Michael, and two of his children, Louise and Robert.

These four riders, who represent the best-known family in show jumping, formed their own Nations Cup team for the first time when they competed at Drammen in Norway this year.

This is bound to be used as a selling point when the Whitakers go in search of new backers. They may find themselves following in the same footsteps as Billington and the four Traxdata riders – Peter Charles, Tim Stockdale, James Fisher and Philip Spivey – who have also been forced to embark on the sponsorship trail.