‘My rock through cancer’: how horse helped his rider during treatment and other inspiring stories from the RoR Heart Awards

The 2018 Retraining of Racehorses (RoR) Heart Awards saw 24 former racehorses, from over 300 nominations, reach the shortlist. Over 3,000 online public votes were counted to pick this year’s 12 finalists in the four categories.

Here are the winners...

Native Caption

This versatile 23-year-old (aka Donald) was triumphant in the 2018 RoR Healthy Heart category for owner Karen Harrison — an award given to the best all-rounder.

Native Caption was trained by Tom Tate, running unsuccessfully in hurdles under Rules before going point-to-pointing.

Cheshire-based Karen was diagnosed with cancer 12 months ago and she describes Donald as her rock, who made her treatment more bearable. Karen has had Donald for 16 years and together they have successfully competed in British Eventing (BE), winning 15 times and placed a further 38 times.

Donald also has British Dressage (BD) points and British Showjumping (BS) prize money under his belt. He has also taught Karen’s partner to ride.

“During my chemotherapy, I felt so ill and was completely bald. My treat before each session was a ride on Donald around the local farm,” said Karen. “He was so good with me, my balance and strength was at an all time low and he always behaved perfectly. I don’t think I will ever find such a versatile horse again — he is my horse of a lifetime.”

Elsie’s Star

The 10-year-old is owned by County Durham-based Helen Corner and was crowned the 2018 RoR Biggest Heart Award winner, which is awarded to the horse that has shown the best temperament.

Elsie’s Star raced once on the Flat in 2010 for trainer Tim Easterby.

Following a riding accident earlier in the year, Helen credits the mare’s calm and trusting nature for rebuilding her confidence in the saddle.

The pair went on to win at the NAF Riding Club national showjumping championships, described as a “dream come true” by Helen.

“Elsie’s Star is loved by everyone who knows her — she lets my 11-year-old daughter ride her,” said Helen. “She has excelled in showjumping, dressage and cross-country and brings home the ribbons. I honestly can’t put into words what she has done for my confidence, I wouldn’t have jumped 70cm before.”

Stilo Blue Native

The eye-catching dappled grey topped the 2018 RoR Heartthrob category for owner Samantha Osborne.

The 10-year-old ran under Rules for trainer Rebecca Menzies and only finished his racing career in summer 2017. His retraining started in 2018 and he qualified for the Aintree novice final at Doncaster on his first outing. He followed this up with multiple red rosettes, including three wins at NCPA Pony of the Year Show (POYS) Championships.

He has become a heartthrob on social media and with the judges, earning him the name “Blunicorn.”

“He has blossomed in the past 12 months going from a severely lean and distant 16.2hh frame to a loving tank, who adores cuddles, grooming and friendship,”said Samantha. “He is beautiful both inside and out, and I couldn’t imagine life without him.”

Danish Blues

The 15-year-old won the 2018 RoR Heart Stopper award, which is given to a horse that has overcome adversity.

“Blue” was brought from a field five years ago and has slowly been nurtured back to full health thanks to his rider Stacey Barr, who loans him.

Described as underweight with abscesses and rain scald, Stacey took time to build and gain his trust before working on his confidence under saddle.

Five years on, Blue and Stacey have qualified for area festivals, the BD Championships, the Thoroughbred Championships and RoR Championships. This year, Blue achieved a second and third at the RoR Championships for both prelim and novice level.

“Blue has grown from rescue to reserve champion — he is an amazing horse with lots of grit,”said Stacey. “He constantly raises the bar to new heights with each new challenge.  He really is a diamond in the rough.”

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