The first Search for a Star qualifier on grass for over 20 years

Stoneleigh Park courtesy of Kelvin Bywater and Trailblazers hosted the second consecutive day of SEIB Insurance Brokers Search for a Star and Racehorse to Riding Horse qualifiers on the 28th July. This is the first time a Search for a Star qualifier has been held outside on a grass ring since the late 1990’s when the first ever Search for a Star finals were held at the All England Jumping Course at Hickstead. The return to grass was welcomed by many of the competitors and several positive comments were made about the atmosphere at Stoneleigh during the day. The Search for a Star qualifier coincided with the SEIB Trailblazers Championships taking place a few rings across the park.

Several riders made the most of the back-to-back qualifying competitions for Search for a Star and Racehorse to Riding Horse and carried on to Stoneleigh from the previous day’s competition at nearby Onley Grounds Equestrian Complex. These qualifiers were set up with this in mind, SEIB’s Marketing Manager, Nicolina MacKenzie commented: “With the qualifiers this year having to be run within a short time frame, we realised it might suit competitors to have two qualifiers very close to each other so people could have two chances while saving on travelling costs. Victoria Jones and Graf Portia earned their HOYS ticket in the working horse class at Stoneleigh. This pair had headed to Onley Grounds for the same class the previous day. Victoria said: “My friend Sophie Brown qualified for HOYS at the Richmond Search for a Star qualifier in this class. I was talking to her and decided we would give it a go too. I used to compete in mountain and moorland working hunter pony classes and since I have owned Portia, we have concentrated on eventing, but we thought this could be a good change. It seemed to be a really strong class and I was also delighted that Portia received the highest conformation mark today.” Victoria and Graf Portia have been successful competing in eventing classes at BE100 level and have also qualified for the BE Grassroots regional finals. Victoria has owned the mare for 5 years now and added: “She is the kindest, most honest horse ever.”

Lifelong showing enthusiast, Kirsty Budd won the working pony class riding her Fell pony, Summerhouse Greta. This pair have enjoyed plenty of success showing in previous years, with titles including, British Isles Supreme Champion and Champion Fell at the Royal Cornwall Show. Kirsty said: “I’ve owned her since she was a three-year-old and I have brought her on myself, she always tries so hard. We have a real family effort at home, my mum helps too with the mucking out. We have been showing since I was 11 and HOYS has always been the dream. I thought I would just be excited if I managed to qualify, but I think I’m a little bit scared now too!” Summerhouse Greta has also enjoyed success in the dressage arena and is currently in 3rd place in the British Dressage League Quest South West. The pair will keep practising their dressage and heading out to working hunter pony classes in the run up to HOYS.

Felicity Vaughan and her striking grey Irish Sports Horse, Kingsman won a strong hunter class at Stoneleigh. The pair have previously competed in in the working horse Search for a Star class, but following advice from the judges decided here to have a go in their first ever show hunter class. Felicity said: “I was at a clinic and the instructor said we should give Search for a Star a go, so I looked it up and off we went. He is the sweetest horse. I had been searching up and down the country for a horse for three years and we found him, locally at Tina Canton’s yard in Newark. He had come to Tina’s to be sold as he had been naughty so I was very cautious and kept him at Tina’s for the first month I owned him, but he has been just great.” Felicity and Kingsman also compete at elementary level dressage and showjumping and arena eventing, In the winter months the pair head out hunting with the Belvoir hunt. Felicity works as a Quality Health and Safety Advisor for Mars. Felicity continued: “We will carry on as normal in the run up to HOYS. I will be practising standing him up for the judge though. The judges today were really encouraging and made several helpful comments.” Richard Ramsay who judged conformation for the class said: “Our winner was a good mover, a good goer, gave a great ride and is the proper job!”

The second placed hunter was feeling very well on her outing at Stoneleigh, she was Emma Littlewood’s, Greenhall Miss R. A delighted Emma said: “We went in the warm-up for the working horse class earlier this morning and she was feeling very fresh! We did plenty of warming up and it paid off! I’ve only owned her for 12 weeks and have always wanted to have a show hunter, but I thought HOYS would be out of my league. She is just lovely and we have done a bit of dressage too.” Emma bought Greenhall Miss R from Ireland where she had been shown in some hunter classes as a four-year-old. Emma continued: “Richard Ramsay said she was great but that she needs to put on a bit more weight, we will definitely go to the Search for a Star Training-day as well.” Emma works as a Health and Safety consultant.

Hannah Coates was the convincing winner of the riding horse hack qualifier with her own mare, Imperial High Force. Success for this pair was all the more worthy as they finished in second place in the riding horse hack class at Richmond, only to discover they were to be disqualified owing to a passport irregularity. Hannah said: “I was absolutely devastated after Richmond, but now we are sorted – and to have even gone one better today is the absolute best thing.” Hannah has owned Imperial High Force since she was just six months old when she worked at the End House Stud from whom she bought her. She continued: “I was in the right place at the right time! I had a baby and then coronavirus stopped us in its tracks so until the last month or two we haven’t been out for three years.” Imperial High Force is an Arab cross warmblood.

Kim Downs and her skewbald cob, Bilko won the cob class. This was a ‘last ditch’ effort at qualifying for HOYS in Search for a Star for Kim this year as she is set to shortly undergo spinal surgery. Kim said: “HOYS is a childhood dream for me, we have been to Search for a Star several times – in 2019, we came fourth and yesterday at Onley we also finished fourth. I’ve owned Bilko since he was two, I bought him from Leanne Stanford and he is my best mate.” Showing for the Downs’ is a real family effort, Kim continued: “My daughter Emily Downs backed him and has done a bit of showing with him. It was in 2019 that I stole him back. Today, my 81-year-old father has come with me to help. I am so excited about HOYS, but it is going to be a challenge to get back in time for it after my surgery.”

Clydesdale registered, Onyx took second place in the cob class for her owner and rider, Amy Shilton. Onyx is the first horse Amy has owned. She said: “As soon as we got Ozzie when he was just a three-year-old, people said he would make a show horse. It is so amazing that now he is 8 we have qualified for HOYS. I was thrilled that the ride judge liked him so much and said that we had done a lovely job. Our main aim is to go out and have some fun together. We will definitely go to the Search for a Star workshop in the run up to HOYS.” Amy and Onyx also enjoy competing in dressage classes and jumping. Amy works full-time as a bartender.

A busy SEIB Racehorse to Riding Horse class saw Sarah Gwilliam and Sars Cassidy-Hill’s bay mare, Imperial ruby take top spot.  Bred by John and Caroline Penney, Imperial Ruby, by Imperial Dancer was placed once on the flat as a three-year-old when in training with Mick Hannon. Her owner Sars said: “I was part of the Heart of the South syndicate that owned her. It was all a bit of a fluke – and meant to be – as the intention was for me to be in a syndicate with a horse at Henry Cecil’s. Imperial ruby has been with me ever since, she is a real member of the family and also competes side-saddle and jumps.” Imperial Ruby also was the Tattersalls champion at Hickstead earlier this year and won the retrained racehorse class at Royal Windsor. Sars continued: “Who hasn’t wished to have a horse at HOYS. We have had Imperial Ruby training with dressage rider, Richard Barrett and the difference this training has made to her physique has been phenomenal, she carries herself just beautifully. Sarah is an amazing rider and producer.” Ride judge, Hannah Horton said: “Our winner was soft, comfortable, she travelled and did everything asked of her.”

Will Morton and Adam and Emily Marriage’s, ten-year-old bay mare, Tikkskinned took second place to earn their HOYS ticket at Stoneleigh. Tikkskinned was bred by Edwin Carslisle and is by Tikkanen. She was attending just her third show at Stoneleigh. Will said: “At her first show she qualified for Hickstead, at her second (Hickstead) she won and today she has qualified for HOYS! Tikkskinned was a wedding gift to her owner Emily Marriage and I have been lucky to take over while Emily is pregnant – the baby is due just before HOYS! We will also do a bit of eventing and jumping over the summer. Tikkskinned is just like a dressage horse to ride – not a racehorse!” Will is no stranger to Search for a Star and Racehorse to Riding Horse, being a former Search for a Star HOYS reserve champion back in 2013 with his cob, Woodfield Choice when he was just 16-years-old. Will said: “Search for a Star gave me a great start and provided me with so many opportunities. Woodfield Choice was a such a brilliant horse, he ended up going to HOYS for six-years and was never out of the top 6. After I did so well in Search for a Star, it gave me the chance to go on to work for, and learn from, some of the best in the industry including Katie Jerram, Steve Pitt and Vicky Smith and Justine Armstrong-Small. Now I have my own yard.”

In the coloured traditional cob class, Harriet Conlon and her own, Eye Candy were the winners. Harriet said: “I work as a Patient Flow Coordinator on covid wards. It has been a truly terrible year for me, but this is absolutely what was needed! I was hoping he would be a good boy today, He warmed up great and went beautifully in the ring. He can sometimes be unpredictable. I bought him four-years-ago with the intention of qualifying him for HOYS. We have competed in plenty of open classes but not quite got there and then thought we would give Search for a Star a go. He came 5th yesterday at Onley, but went a lot better today, he was more relaxed.”

Jessica Everill and her Fell pony, Brackenbank Flicka took the Mountain and Moorland class to earn their ticket to the Your Horse Live Search for a Star finals in November. A thrilled Jessica said: “I have owned her since January, we have been competing in some open classes at county shows and been placed a few times. I was delighted to find Search for a Star as it has given us a chance to get out there and do well without having to compete against professional producers and stallions.” Jessica bought Flicka after her 28-year-old show horse had been retired, She also owns four miniature Shetlands that she uses for therapy work. She added: “I always wanted to have a ridden mountain and moorland Fell pony, although I have shown Flicka in-hand – we took 3rd place at Royal Windsor in the in-hand class in front of the Queen!”

Welsh section D, Wishaw Red Admiral and Simone Harrison took second place in the mountain and moorland class.  Simone said: “He was really laid back today. We took 6th place at the Royal International last week – where he was the only placed Welsh section D. This year, Search for a Star was our aim after he had time off in 2020 . He has qualified first time out for both the Royal International and now Search for a Star. His year off has also given him time to mature. I’ve owned him since he was a two-year-old, back then he was a nervous wreck and petrified of everything. He has done so much now including getting a bronze Welsh performance medal and has done really well at the Welsh breed shows.” Simone works as a Talent Acquisition Lead in fashion and overseas retail.

Hayley Makinson and her own, Bog Bank Tilly qualified for the Search for a Star Your Horse Live part-bred traditional Finals at Stoneleigh. Hayley has owned this blue-roan mare for four and a half years. She said: “We have done local level showing, but nothing like this! In 2020 she was out of work as she had what we think was a vitamin-e deficiency and has been back in work since last August. In 2019 we competed at STARS and I plan to do that again. Bog Bank Tilly is a real confidence-giver. I had a section D previously that bucked, but she is just great.”

A former Search for a Star Show Hunter Pony HOYS champion earned a ticket to the Your Horse Live Search for a Star veteran finals at Stoneleigh. Alice and Helen Stratton’s, 20-year-old pony, Laithehill Pasha was ridden beautifully by Alice Stratton at Stoneleigh. Helen said: “We saw Busby as he is known at a Julie Templeton clinic, he was for sale but too expensive! We stayed in touch with his owners and while they initially decided to keep him, they then messaged to say that they would possibly sell him. We have now owned him for five years and in that time he has never stopped pleasing. Alice has learned so much from him and it has taken time for them to form a partnership. He and Alice have been to Olympia in hand and ridden, he was supreme at the Veteran Horse Show and they have never not got a rosette together!” Alice is a studying Rural Enterprise and Land Management at Harper Adams College.

SEIB’s Marketing Manager, Nicolina MacKenzie said: “We have had some fabulous competitors today that have gone so well. It has been great being outside, even after all this time, we are still learning and improving the series. Today we have really noticed and appreciated the atmosphere and we are keen to hold a Stoneleigh qualifier in the future.”

For all Search for a Star and Racehorse to Riding Horse information and to enter, please see

Further qualifying competitions 2021:

9th August - West Wilts Equestrian Centre, Wiltshire BA14 6QT

14th August – NAF Five Star International Horse Trials, Gloucestershire GL19 3BE (SEIB Racehorse to Riding Horse Only)

23rd August - Bury Farm Equestrian Club, Buckinghamshire LU7 9BT

Please note that all dates and venues could be subject to change.

The Search for a Star classes with finals at HOYS include; hacks, hunters, working pony, working horses, riding horses, traditional gypsy cobs – of any colour, show cobs, and the longstanding SEIB Racehorse to Riding Horse final. Search for a Star qualifiers in the mountain and moorland classes, veteran horse or pony and part-bred traditional cob will head to Your Horse Live for their championships.

Leading equine Insurance B

rokers, SEIB Insurance Brokers set up Search for a Star over 20 years ago so they could offer a unique competition opportunity to many of their amateur rider customers. SEIB has a long association with the showing world and is renowned for ‘putting something back’ by supporting many equestrian events and activities in addition to Search for a Star.

In the meantime - if you need to insure your horse, horsebox, trailer, yard or business - SEIB are here to help so please give us a call on 01708 850000 or visit #SEIBhere2help

Results SEIB Search for a Star and Racehorse to Riding Horse Stoneleigh Park 28th July 2021

Score sheets for Working Horse, Working Pony and Mountain & Moorland can be found here 

Class 1A Working Horse – Graf Portia owned and ridden by Victoria Jones from Lancashire

Class 1B Working Pony – Summerhouse Greta owned and ridden by Kirsty Budd from Devon

Class 2 Show Hunter – 1st Kingsman owned and ridden by Felicity Vaughan from Leicester

Class 2 Show Hunter – 2nd Greenhall Miss R owned and ridden by Emma Littlewood from Barnsley

Class 3 Riding Horse Hack – 1st Imperial High Force, owned and ridden by Hannah Coates from Barnoldswick

Class 4 Show and Maxi Cob – 1st Bilko owned and ridden by Kim Downs from Yorkshire

Class 4 Show and Maxi Cob – 2nd Onyx owned and ridden by Amy Shilton from Bewdley

Class 5 Racehorse to Riding Horse – 1st Imperial Ruby owned by Sars Cassidy-Hill and ridden by Sarah Gwilliam from Wiltshire

Class 5 Racehorse to Riding Horse – 2nd Tikkskinned owned by Adam and Emily Marriage from Essex

Class 6A Traditional Gypsy Cob Piebald and Skewbald – Eye Candy owned and ridden by Harriet Conlon from Stoke-on-Trent

Class 7 Mountain and Moorland – 1st Brackenbank Flicka owned and ridden by Jessica Everill from Tamworth

Class 7 Mountain and Moorland – 2nd Wishaw Red Admiral owned and ridden by Simone Harrison from Blackburn

Class 8 Part-Bred Traditional Gypsy Cob – Bog Bank Tilly owned and ridden by Hayley Makinson from Lancashire

Class 9B Veteran Pony – Laithehill Pasha owned by Alice and Helen Stratton and ridden by Alice Stratton from Holmfirth