The myth that Thoroughbreds cannot be retrained to compete successfully as competition horses after a career on the track has been happily debunked once again by the six winners of the South Essex Insurance Brokers Racehorses to Riding Horses competition.

Now in its second year, SEIB’s Racehorses to Riding Horses scheme celebrates former racehorses that have successfully turned their hooves to a new challenge after their careers on the track came to an end.

“We wanted to prove to people that these lovely horses are perfectly capable of doing more than gallop and jump at speed,” says SEIB managing director Barry Fehler.

This year’s winners include Leap in the Dark, a 15-year-old Irish-bred Thoroughbred who raced as a stallion from the age of 2 to 11 years, never missing a season. During his racing career he won three hurdle races and was placed over fences, before undertaking a complete change of pace two years ago to compete in affiliated dressage competitions, with his owner Anne Parkinson.

The partnership has amassed an impressive 90 British Dressage points in less than 18 months to win the dressage Racehorses to Riding Horses award.

“Leapy was very institutionalised when I bought him,” explains Anne. “Slowly but surely his character and confidence has developed. He has a very good temperament and is very professional to handle and take to competition, but it has taken him quite a while to relax enough to hack.

“He has very good manners and has responded really well to retraining. We have built up a really close bond. He is mentally very tough and loves his sessions in the school.”

Anne is a keen supporter of ex-racehorses and believes that the key to whether they make it as riding horses is their temperament, as they can be high maintenance at times.

“I have always had former racehorses,” she explains. “They make wonderful riding horses. I feel that as long as the horse is temperamentally sound they have a good chance of a second career in the right hands.”

Last year’s showing and endurance winners proved unbeatable once again in 2004. Former Search for a Star winner Milliemeter took the showing title once again, while endurance specialist Rostreamer, who has now amassed in incredible 2,000 competitive miles, is still going strong aged 22 following a nine-year career on the racetrack.

New faces of the awards include the eventing champion, The Rising Scot, who is by the well-known event stallion Primitive Rising, and Swift Alliance, who has competed successfully as an event horse and a show jumper since retiring from racing. He has now won more than £300 BSJA and is competing at Foxhunter level.

The unaffiliated champion is New Zealand-bred thoroughbred Papatuu, who is a regular member of riding club teams and competes in all disciplines.

Nicolina MacKenzie of SEIB says: “All our winners seem to be adamant in their belief that racehorses can have a second career — and that when they are good, they are very good.”

The winners were presented with their awards at the British Horse Foundation’s Supporters of British Breeding dinner at the weekend.