The 2024 season for SEIB Search for a Star and SEIB Racehorse to Riding Horse got underway on 27 May at Stoneleigh Park, Warwickshire, with riders securing coveted tickets for the finals at Your Horse Live (8-10 November) and Horse of the Year Show (HOYS).

Impressive entries across the classes included a former Cheltenham Gold Cup winner in his first full season in the show ring, and the first winner of the season was 13-year-old Lexi Eccles riding Shelley Harvey’s part-bred Exmoor pony, Little Miss Flintstone in the Working Pony class (pictured below).

“That’s the best she’s gone in the ring,” said Lexi. “Bam Bam, as she’s known, loves her jumping and its our last year to try to qualify as I’m getting a bit tall for her!”

This pair attended several Search for a Star qualifiers in 2023, travelling the length of the country from Scotland down to Pyecombe in Sussex and just missed out on their HOYS ticket.

“After coming second in the Search for a Star qualifier at Pyecombe last year and just missing out, we’ve been working hard all winter and I’m so pleased we’ve qualified,” added Lexi.

Winning the Working Horse class was Abi Jacobs with her chestnut mare, Auld Flame (pictured below).

“Our winner in this class was in a league of their own,” said judge Richard Ramsay. “They were spot on both in the go-round and their individual show.”

Abi said she was delighted to win and had only started showing this year.

“I entered last week to give it a shot as getting to HOYS is the stuff of dreams! She is such a lovely horse and does anything and everything including dressage, eventing and hunting.”

Merlin’s magic wows the judges

Qualifying for HOYS in the Show Hunters was Jessica Robb and her own bay gelding, Hawksdown Hocus Pocus (pictured above).

“Merlin gave the judge a super ride today, I’m so chuffed with him!” said Jessica, who runs a tyre company with her partner. “I’ve owned Merlin since he was just seven months old. I’d just lost a filly foal and saw a picture of Merlin so off we went to Rita Jennings’ in Norfolk to see him and he came home with us as a weanling.

“We do everything together, jumping, camps, hacking and clinics. We normally do three or four local shows a year and we’ll possibly go to Equifest and Addington now to get a bit of extra mileage before HOYS.”

Taking the second qualifying spot in the Hunters was Heather Warden riding Natalie Farley’s Irish Sports Horse gelding, Merllyns Marconie.

“I am both very pleased and a bit worried to have qualified,” said dairy farmer Heather. “He went well in the class and I’m really chuffed with him, we just need to keep practising standing in line as gets a bit agitated by it.

“We will maybe go out to some In-Hand Search for a Star qualifiers to see if this helps us. I’ve had Benjy as we call him on loan for three years now. He was originally a failed eventer but has now done a bit of dressage and last season we started to go to a few shows.

“The judges today were very helpful, they gave me some great tips including trying to stay relaxed and have awareness of where the other horses are in the ring.”

In the Riding Horse Hack class at Stoneleigh it was a one, two for ex-racehorses. Taking top spot were Katy Llewellyn and her own thoroughbred, Polydamos, known at home as Oliver (pictured top with Native River).

“We’ve worked hard through the winter, Vicky Hesford has been giving us lessons which has been brilliant,” said pet sitter and dog walker Katy. “We came third in the racehorse class at London in 2023 and fourth in the hacks and we are really building on that. I’ve owned Oliver for seven years now, he was in training with Tony Carrol and I bought him from Emily Chambers in Gloucestershire.”

The 2018 Cheltenham Gold Cup winner, Native River took the runner-up spot in the Riding Horse Hack class. Owned by Tom Malone and Garth and Anne Broom and ridden by Emma Vine, Native River looked a picture in the ring at Stoneleigh.

Calm and honest coloured heading to HOYS

Joanne Eldridge and her coloured cob, Biker Tony qualified in the Show and Maxi Cob class.

“He went really well today, he is so calm and honest,” said Joanne. “I bought him unbroken from Ireland as a four-year-old. We came eighth at London International Horse Show last year in the heavyweights, but it has always been HOYS that I have always wanted to do!

“We have been doing lots of lessons in preparation for this qualifier. Tony loves getting out and about, we do showing, dressage and he loves jumping and camps and riding in the forest.”

The winner of the amateur only Racehorse to Riding Horse class was Loti Innes-Parry and her own, As I See It. This 12-year-old bay gelding is by Kings Theatre and was in training with Harry Fry during his racing days, he was bred by Mr and Mrs R Kelvin-Hughes.

“He is definitely going better at each show we go to and gaining confidence with every outing,” farrier Loti said. “I’ve owned him for three years and he came from Sally Taylor’s racehorse rehabilitation yard.

“He has grown so much since then and HOYS has always been our aim. We will get out as much as possible now over the summer to keep improving his confidence in the ring.”

Taking the second amateur only Racehorse to Riding Horse qualifying spot was Madeleine Cantrill and her 13-year-old bay gelding, Robin Roe.

“Robin did me proud in the ring,” Madeleine said. “There was plenty to look at but he took it all in. Robin came to me straight out of the field, looking great.

“He was a completely blank slate and we got going to see what he would enjoy doing. We got going eventing and showjumping until a freak accident in 2022. After a year off he was back riding in the summer or 2023 so I decided we would give showing a go as it would be less pressure on him. Robin has taken to it like a duck to water.

“He’s qualified now for HOYS at the first try and has tickets to Aintree and Hickstead so we’ve got an exciting few months coming up. Robin used to be trained by Dan Skelton, he was a potential top horse before he had injuries and rehab.

“My dad used to be a jockey and then trainer and my grandparents were big thoroughbred fans, I think this love for them has passed down, I would always choose a thoroughbred.”

Hacking cob triumphs in competitive class

Sixteen horses came forward for the traditional cob class at Stoneleigh and Lauren Woodward and her own Beacon St James took first place (pictured above with Splash Supreme).

“This is amazing, HOYS has always been my dream,” said Lauren. “I bought him last August as a five-year-old and this is just our fifth show together. A fiend saw him advertised near Blackpool so off we went to go and see him.

“I feel so lucky to have Jimmy as he’s known at home. We will do plenty of local showing over the summer, he also really enjoys hacking.”

Law student, Jennifer Petza took second place with her skewbald mare, Splash Supreme.

“This is our third year trying to qualify, we’ve always been placed in the qualifiers and have come fifth several times,” she said. “I always wanted a traditional cob and Splash was the first one we saw.

“We have plenty of fun together, she really enjoys hacking and fun rides. I’m studying for a law degree at Bolton University and also have a part-time job in the Co-Op.”

Welsh Section C, Thorneynewside Replay won the ridden Mountain and Moorland class for his rider Olivia Kohl and owner, Louise Kohl, qualifying for the Your Horse Live finals (pictured above).

“He is so consistent for a five-year-old, he always aims to please,” said Olivia. “His show today was great, he went brilliantly. We bought him unbroken as a three-year-old.”

Donna Churchman’s Highland gelding, Tower Prince William and Jade Churchman took runner-up spot in the ridden Mountain and Moorlands.

“We got William in lockdown, we first had him on loan for a year before buying him,” said dog groomer Jade. “He is now a 12-year-old, we’ve had to take it slowly but it has all clicked now. He is so lovely and we plan to have fun competing in dressage and showing over the summer.”

Veterans shine bright

The one SEIB Search for a Star class open to all riders and not restricted to amateurs, the Open Ridden Veteran class was won by Lynn Russell riding Carole West’s 18-year-old coloured cob, Gallifrey (pictured above).

“I take him out to a few shows each year as he absolutely loves it,” said Lynn. “This is such a great series for older horses, it is difficult to find classes Gallifrey and I can compete in.

“He’s been in my yard since he was a three-year-old and has done coloured classes, working hunter, side-saddle and lightweight cobs. He has also qualified for the BSPS championships this year and will go to Royal International.”

Taking the runner-up spot in the Open Veterans was Adele Forster riding her mother, Christine Forster’s gypsy cob mare, Maddy of Penmore.

“My mum has had Maddy since she was four and she’s now 17,” Adele said. “Mum has had a really tough time of it, she was knocked down by a horse and had to have lots of time out and surgery on her injuries. This is just great news for her.”

The first Search for a Star Pony Club qualifier of the year saw boys come out on top.

In the Lead Rein class, six-year-old River Everill and his mother Jessica’s Shetland pony, Coppice Magnum were winners. River and Magnum are members of the Atherstone Hunt branch of the Pony Club.

The Pony Cub First Ridden qualifier went to Noah Smith riding Kirsten Smith’s Welsh Section A pony, Stonedge Comet.

“My favourite part was cantering round the corner in the ring,” said seven-year-old Noah, who is a member of the South Oxfordshire Hunt South branch.

Your Horse Live star returns

The Search for a Star In-Hand Plaited Horse and Hogged Show Cob class went to 26-year-old, Randall IV and his owner and handler, Lucy Ashworth. Randall has great success in the Your Horse Live Search for a Star In-Hand finals before in 2022 and 2023.

“Randall is looking better than ever, he is still in regular work, our horses have to stay in in the winter so he is used to his routine and it keeps him happy and healthy,” Lucy said. “He has qualified for the Veteran Horse Society championships both in-hand and ridden and has also qualified for RIHS in-hand this season.”

In the In-Hand Plaited Pony Class, another Search for a Star regular earned their Your Horse Live ticket. This class went to Molly Bryan and Romanno Royal Myth (pictured above).

“This is just brilliant, it is the third year we have qualified for Your Horse Live in this class,” Molly said. “In 2022 we came second and in 2023 third, hopefully this year will be third time lucky!

“We have also been competing this year in British Riding Clubs dressage at intro and prelim level and Trailblazers. We are really enjoying our showing too, Search for a Star has helped us massively, we went to the clinic in 2022 and it was brilliant, the judges are so helpful and I was determined to qualify again in 2024.”

Twelve-year-old Grace Adams and her mother, Sarah Adams’ traditional cob, Phantom’s Masquerade won the In-Hand Native and Traditional class at Stoneleigh. Grace is another competitor that has previously done well in Search for a Star. In 2022, she and ‘Merlin’ took third place in the Search for a Star Pony Club finals at Your Horse Live.

“We didn’t do Search for a Star in 2023 as Grace wasn’t old enough for the traditional classes,” said Sarah. “But now she is 12 she was very keen to give it a go. Last year they did really well in other things including winning the Junior Intermediate Rider and Junior Side-Saddle at CHAPS, they also won Junior Rider at TOYS in 2023.”

Dawn Bacchus and her thoroughbred gelding Desert Sea qualified in the In-Hand Veteran class. Twenty-one-year-old Desert Sea is no stranger to success in Search for a Star. He and Dawn were placed in some Riding Horse Hack qualifiers several years ago and they qualified for the inaugural Your Horse Live Open Ridden Veteran championship where they finished in third place in 2021.

“Desert Sea hacks out a lot at home but I’m only competing him in in-hand classes now really as there is less pressure on him and less wear and tear,” Dawn said. “After competing at Your Horse Live in 2021, he went on to win the ridden Open Veteran Class at Royal Windsor Horse Show in 2022. He will compete in a few county shows this season in-hand and we will look forward to Your Horse Live.”

Gambler’s efforts pay off

Lewis Marks and Welsh Section D, Danaway the Gambler won the In-Hand Mountain and Moorland class at Stoneleigh. Dan is owned by Karen Badrick. This pair took fourth place at Your Horse Live in this class in 2023.

“This year Lewis is riding Dan at home and competing in-hand and the plan is to hopefully start competing him in ridden classes next season,” Karen said. “Maybe by the end of next year our goal will be to qualify for the Your Horse Live ridden classes.”

The first ever British Riding Clubs (BRC) Search for a Star class took place at Stoneleigh. This class is open to members of BRC Affiliated Riding Clubs that are also amateur showing riders. The first qualifying spot went to Hayley Dolby and her own Pendancer Bilbo Baggins, known at home as Billy.

“He was fantastic in the class on the day,” said Hayley, who is a member of Aspley Guise Riding Club. “As soon as I saw the class advertised, I knew it was for Billy. He is the perfect Riding Club horse, also when we have been to shows previously, he doesn’t quite fit the traditional showing categories, he’s not quite a small hunter and not quite a riding horse, so this class would be great for us.

“I’ve owned Billy since he was just weaned at six-months-old and he’s 17 now. We’ve done everything together and I’m delighted to have qualified.”

SEIB Search for a Star organiser, Nicolina MacKenzie, said it was great to be back underway with the series.

“We had some lovely winners at Stoneleigh and plenty of people were very keen to learn from our amazing judges,” she said. “It was so exciting to have Native River amongst our entries today and we were nearly as thrilled as his rider that he has got his HOYS ticket in Search for a Star in what was meant to be his ‘warm-up’ class before the Racehorse class.”

Each of the SEIB Search for a Star qualifying shows offers opportunities for a full range of show horses to earn a place at the series championships at Horse of the Year Show and Your Horse Live.

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