A competition launched to prove the versatility of ex-racehorses has revealed its winners in a star-studded ceremony at London’s Olympia Hilton.

Racehorses to Riding Horses was devised by South Essex Insurance Brokers and QBE International Insurance in an attempt to prove that there is life after a racing career.

From an initial entry of hundreds just six category winners were selected. Their owners attended a presentation ceremony last Saturday (11 January), at the British Horse Foundation Breeders Awards Dinner at the Olympia Hilton Hotel.

Winners included a mare who helped her rider regain confidence after a bad fall, a horse that raced in Ireland and now competes internationally in eventing, as well as one that was saved from the slaughterhouse.

The competitiongained the backing of leading riders and commentators, including BBC television’s Clare Balding, trainer Mark Johnston and showjumper William Funnell.

Subsequent support also came from the Rehabilitation of Racehorses (RoR). Director Di Arbuthnot presented rosettes and individual Wetherbys horse pedigrees to the winners.

To qualify for entry into this competition horses had to be registered with Wetherbys and to have been in training for either flat or National Hunt racing. Points were accrued during the 2002 season in affiliated competition or unaffiliated classes run by recognised organisations.

“It has been an unqualified success and will certainly attract an ever greater number of entries in future years,” said Barry Fehler, managing director of South Essex Insurance Brokers. “The results prove conclusively that with sympathetic handling, racehorses can go on to fruitful and successful new careers.”

David Ashby, QBE’s head of Bloodstock and Equine said: “Thoroughbred racehorses can make the most delightful, confident and successful horses in another career and this competition is conclusive proof of this.”

The winners were:

Showing Section

Claire Haddock from Durham who almost gave up riding after breaking her neck in a riding accident. In March last year she was persuaded to sit on Red Mimosa who had been in training on the flat and over hurdles until September 2001. “She did everything I wanted and helped me get mynerve back. Now I hack and compete, including sidesaddle classes.”

Eventing Section

Kitty Boggis from Bampton, Oxon, and Five Boys now compete at international level in eventing. The gelding was trained in Ireland and ran in bumpers until 1997. Together they were part of the silver medal winning British team at last year’s European Young Rider championships. Other wins include the Punchestown three-star event in Ireland. “He is very intelligent, thrives on work and hatesholidays,” said Kitty.

Dressage Section

Claire Lee from Boreham in Chelmsford, Essex, is the proud owner of Zada, who competes in dressage. Zada was “too slow and too idle” to race and didn’t like. Claire first saw Zada afterher husband Jonathan who is a vet, recommended him because of his temperament. The day after she saw him and while still making up her mind, the owner delivered Zada to her husband’s surgery. She subsequently bought him competed the following yearin the South Essex Insurance Brokers Search for a Star competition and reached the Wembley final.

Unaffiliated Competition Section

Trish Williams, from Worcester own former National Hunt horse Highland Brave, and now competes in most disciplines at unaffiliated competitions. He raced for five seasons. “He was never successful in National Hunt racing, but now at 15 has found his niche in riding club and unaffiliated events,” said Mrs Williams. “I used to compete him myself but now being a senior citizen have someone else to ride him.”

Showjumping Section

Jonathan Martin from Bognor Regis, owns Swift Alliance and competes at Foxhunter level. Swift Alliance won one race but did not have thespeed for flat racing. He has recently started a third career in horse trials.

Endurance Section

Caroline Noble from York competes her horse Scartho Top in endurance rides. At one time Scartho Top was labelled as “untrainable” and with suspect legs his future looked bleak. Caroline now competes in endurance competition rides of up to 44 kilometres and Scartho Top can be groomed by Caroline’s four-year-old daughter, Kendall. “The horse was a hat rack and terrified when I got her,” said Caroline. “The turning point came when she was stung in the eye and had to be in a darkened stable for four weeks. The constant handling helped her to calm down.”