The British Equestrian Federation has announced the winners in this year's prestigious Kuster BEF Groom Award - recognising their outstanding contribution to the equestrian world.
1st - Laura Hale, head girl at Hole Farm Trekking Centre, Birmingham
2nd - Alice Walthew, yard manager for Celia Plunkett in Banbury
3rd - Joanne Fulham, groom at World Horse Welfare's Penny Farm, Peel
The Awards also recognised the best newcomer in the industry - a prize which was awarded to Fay Cort for her work with Olympic Show Jumper John Whitaker and his wife Clare.
The winners and runners-up will attend the evening performance of Olympia, the London International Horse Show on 21 December, where Laura and Fay will be officially presented with their awards.
Laura and Fay scooped the top spots after a shortlist selection via nominations, followed by a judging day where the nine finalists were interviewed by three judges; double-Olympic medallist Tina Cook, double-Paralympic medallist Simon Laurens and the Chairman of the British Horse Society, Patrick Print.
"It was a very difficult decision as all of the finalists were of an exceptional standard," said Patrick Print. "They are all a great credit to British equestrianism and I'd like to commend them as well as their employers / trainers for producing such high calibre grooms."
In the end it was Laura (22) from Stourbridge who won the judges over by demonstrating her clear passion for her work at Hole Farm Trekking Centre in Bartley Green, Birmingham - which is both a Riding for the Disabled Association (RDA) and Pony Club centre. The school has been very proactive over the last few years in creating opportunities for new participants of all ages, abilities and backgrounds from across the city, and Laura has played an integral part in helping to transform the lives of many able bodied and disabled children.
As Tina Cook commented, "Laura's passion for the children and her dedication to the welfare of the horses is incredible - her commitment and drive to make a difference is what clinched it for us."
The Newcomer Award was won by the youngest finalist, 19 year old Fay from Hertfordshire whose dedication and enthusiasm shone through to clinch the title. Fay has been working for the Olympic Show Jumper for a year, which has included intense preparation in the lead up to the Beijing Olympic Games.
"In a relatively short space of time Fay has clearly demonstrated her ability as an excellent groom, taking on a range of responsibilities and showing great initiative, she's obviously a real asset to their team." Said Simon Laurens.
Second placed BEF Groom, Alice (26) has worked in her current role for seven years at a private yard in Banbury, where she helps to produce winning eventers, point-to-point horses and hunter chasers. She was nominated by her employer Celia Plunkett, who was keen to recognise Alice's spirit, tact, hard work and organisation.
Third placed Joanne (20) impressed the judges with her mature approach and attitude to animal welfare. She works for World Horse Welfare's Penny Farm, in Peel looking after and helping to rehabilitate, and ultimately re-home, ill and neglected horses.
Laura wins £1,000 of holiday vouchers, plus the Smash Hit Bronze Trophy which she will get to keep for a year, while Alice and Joanne receive cheques for £300 and £200 respectively. Fay will be presented with a unique print by artist Tim Nathan.