The co-founder and chairman of Finest Brands International and Champion Manufacturing has died aged 60.

John Ayres started his first mail-orer saddlery business with his wife, Bridget, more than 40 years ago, and has since established several equestrian businesses, including helmet brand Champion.

Mr Ayres had been a driving force in the design and development of protective riding gear for more than three decades. He was passionate about his job, working through his treatment for cancer up until the day before he passed away.

A spokesman said: “John’s knowledge and passion for horses was immense, his love of racing, equestrian sports and genuine affection for the animals themselves was at the heart of everything he did. He was a true gentleman, loved by everyone who knew him and had the pleasure to work with him.”