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Rachel Bisaillon


About Rachel Bisaillon

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Life Lessons Learned from an Off-Track Thoroughbred

Sam Poulson and Tizzy. Photo by MGO Photography.

In horse racing there is always a winner. Always a horse that comes out bigger, faster, and stronger than all the others. Sometimes as trainers, we can tell how successful a horse may be due to breeding, training, and conformation. But as we all know too well, these traits mean nothing if the horse doesn’t have the “heart” for his job. Horses that just wake up every morning eager to compete and please their human counterparts; these horses are unique. This is a story about a special horse who found success both on the racetrack and in his second career because of his love for the sport.

As an event trainer, I have many horses in my barn that I love. Some ponies, some warmbloods, but I have a soft spot for my OTTBs. They are kind, willing, learn quickly, and are athletic as hell. When 2019 started, one of my students and I began looking for a new lease horse, as she had outgrown her previous mount. She had big dreams and a stubborn attitude, with a drive for success like no other. We had tried a few possibilities but none of them were the right match – until we found Tizzy.

Sam and Tizzy celebrate their dressage test. Photo by MGO Photography.

Tizzy was owned by a then-acquaintance, now friend, Ben Samrick. Ben has rehomed and placed hundreds of off-the-track Thoroughbreds, even running a non-profit to help these horses find a second career. I had stumbled upon his ranch actually looking at a different horse for a different client. Funny how the universe works. After giving me a tour, we came to the shedrow of his personal horses and I found myself stopped at Tizzy’s stall while Ben told me his story.

While at a friend’s ranch, he met Tizzy, whose sire is Tizbud. Ben, an avid pedigree expert, has a soft spot for any Tiznow and Tizbud offspring. Our resident Tizzy had a goofy and sensible personality that Ben could not pass up, despite really not needing another personal horse. As a Harris Farms-bred gelding, Tizzy was a very solid racehorse, winning five of 15 races and earning north of $50,000. Ben says that “every time a new horse shows up on my doorstep, I get goose bumps,” and Tizzy was no different. They had many adventures and Tizzy was best friends with Ben’s heart horse, Maria.

Fast forward almost six years, and here I was looking into Tizzy’s stall, hearing about his quirks and how much he needed a new person who would have the ability to devote their whole heart to helping Tizzy reach his potential. Ben was generous to lend us such a special horse, and a short four months later, Tizzy was purchased by my client for well-below market value. Ben saw what I saw everyday – a special horse who finally found his person. And that is priceless.

Sam and Tizzy share a moment. Photo courtesy of Rachel Bisaillon.

Below is a little piece that Sam, his person, wrote about her experience with Tizzy and how they found success together:

“I first started working with Tizzy in early 2019, when his previous owner made the hard decision to find him a new person who could devote more time to Tizzy’s training. At the time I had very little experience working with Thoroughbreds and he was the first “hot-headed” horse I had ridden and worked with consistently. It was definitely a rocky start and I was very nervous working with him in the beginning. That all changed after our first event together, about a month into riding him.

Considering we were not familiar with one another and didn’t have a strong bond at the time, we had to work really hard to get past his excitement for showing again and the crazy weather of hailstorms and rain. I knew he was my heart horse after running cross country with him for the first time. Tizzy’s love for eventing has made me love it even more.

After our first event together, we really tried to push through his comfort zone in dressage to find a stable and consistent connection. He was very unsure in the beginning and had trouble trusting us, which led to lots of frustration and confusion for both of us. He would get very worked up and frazzled and we would spend our whole lesson time trying to calm him down. We were both inexperienced with dressage but after many lessons and light-bulb moments, we finally started to click. After our dressage work improved, our jumping and overall bond really came together as well. I finally felt like we were working as a team.

Tizzy has not only shown me how exciting and enjoyable this sport can be, but also how to be patient and understanding in stressful situations, He has shown me that real progress takes time and hard work really pays off in the long-run. This horse has truly become my best friend and the highlight of my day is seeing his goofy face waiting for snacks and snuggles. I’m excited for the future with him by my side.”

Training horses is not an easy job, whether it’s for racing, competing, or pleasure. Watching this team learn to figure out how to work together has been such a joy for me. Tizzy has taught Sam some invaluable life lessons about patience and understanding perspectives. And of course, he has taught Sam to appreciate the hot, quirky, and sensitive OTTBs that we love so much.

I am eternally grateful for Ben Samrick for making this partnership happen, and to Harris Farms for continuing to care about his success and expressing their interest in his second career. Many times, a hot and sensitive horse like Tizzy is rushed. But great things take time, and I am so lucky that Tizzy has had a team of people looking out for his best interests his entire life.

Ben said it best: “I am not sure who benefits more from having an off-the-track Thoroughbred, the owner or the horse.” Go eventing.

#RideWithYourTribe: Community, Teamwork and the Importance of Positive Barn Culture

Photo courtesy of Rachel Bisaillon.

I truly believe that continuing education is a pivotal point of working in the horse industry, and last weekend I was lucky enough to audit the Daniel Stewart clinic at Skylark Equestrian in Brentwood, California.

As one of the equestrian world’s leading experts on equestrian sport psychology, athletics and performance, Daniel is a popular coach and clinician who focuses on fitness of both body and mind. He opened the session by engaging in a group discussion about communication, collaboration, and why working as a team is always a better plan than working by yourself. We talked about building a tribe, and creating a positive barn culture for people and humans alike. He told funny stories of Super Chickens vs. Regular Chickens while we discussed how barn dynamics influence your riding, your clients’ progression, and your horses’ happiness — something that has been on my mind the last couple of weeks.

This month last year I took a leap of faith and decided to open my own event barn. It happened in a matter of 72 hours and before I knew it, I had a team of clients and horses, at a new facility, with new barn owners and boarders, ready for whatever crazy and ridiculous journey I was about to take us on. It had its up and downs of course, but this wild, exhausting and adventurous year really cemented everything Daniel said about tribe and barn culture.

During those three days of limbo last March, I was able to give thought and time to the hows/whys and if this whole journey would pan out. I began my riding and professional career at a barn whose core pillar was to build a tribe that supports inclusion, learning, and community. I spent years learning how to train and teach through these methods, never once stepping foot in a show arena. But then I got hooked on eventing and there was no turning back.

I wrote down everything, for 72 hours, and kept going back to that word: tribe. I knew I wanted a competition barn where the kids were able to challenge themselves in a supportive environment. I needed horses that were safe teammates for them to love and learn on, through 20-meter circles and finish flags. I wanted to build connections with trainers in the area and create a process of individual journeys but team successes. Most of all, I hoped to bring the same barn dynamic of laughing, loving, and just “being” at the barn — the dynamic I had grown up with — with a competitive energy as well.

Reflecting on this past year, Daniel is right. If you want to be truly successful, you must have a tribe. People that will push you, support you, and be your sounding board. Clients and friends who will encourage you to question decisions, and never let you settle. Someone you can call when things go haywire and who who will also share in your success. In eventing, the tribe comes easier. Jump judges, working students, haulers — we all basically need a tribe to survive. You pave your way through friendships and working together, which is my favorite thing about our wonderful sport.

One of the clinic’s attending trainers, Michelle Emmermann, started the hashtag #ridewithyourtribe. I decided that this is one of my professional goals for this upcoming year — to collaborate effectively, communicate better, and ride more with the people that make up my wacky, lovable, and supportive tribe.

Thank you Alex Skylark for hosting, Daniel Stewart for teaching, and Jordan Good for letting me tag along. Go Eventing!

Building Good Riders and Even Better Humans

Photo courtesy of Rachel Bisaillon.

Yesterday one of my clients asked me to participate in a leadership camp activity for her daughter, who I have known for a year and a half now. They are wonderful additions to my up-and-coming event barn and their 4-year-old OTTB is a gem to bring along. Her daughter is a junior and the school asked for influential adults in her life to write and share what they would like for her in coming years and why they are proud of her. The activity is unknown to her, so she should receive the letter during camp next week.

I started the next morning at my favorite coffee shop, opened my laptop, and drafted the letter. I recounted our mismatched adventures, telling her how much I love watching her grow and develop her leadership skills every step of the way. She is your typical teenager, moody and a little wild — but she is a truly kick-ass human. She relentlessly fights for the underdog and is never afraid to speak up.

Photo courtesy of Rachel Bisaillon.

As I reached the end of the letter, I realized that everything I wrote had to do with her personally, and nothing about her as a rider. Sure, I was proud of her for keeping her cool when the baby horse lost his shit in warm-up, and yes, she has ribbons that followed her months of hard work and schooling. But at the end of the day, the things I am most proud of her (and all of my kids) for is the attitude she brings to the table when things don’t go her way or the going gets too tough and she feels lost.

Maybe 2% of the kids that come through my program are going to be professionals in this industry. The rest will go on, maybe give up riding for college or a family, but pick it back up later; or maybe they will compete while also building a career and a family. But the lessons they learn today, scrubbing water buckets and poulticing their ponies — those are the lessons that will stick.

Photo courtesy of Rachel Bisaillon.

Sometimes as a trainer I get caught up in the day to day progression and forget about the long haul. I have to remind myself that every Pony Club lesson, each startbox, every vet visit and barn holiday party — they are learning. Eventing produces tough and scrappy kids who understand the importance of flat work and conditioning. But it also reminds us to not take anything too seriously, ever. We are all out here because we love riding and the sport, through the good and the bad, the tough and the tougher.

Yes, my job is to help my clients achieve whatever they want with their horses, whether it be building up a young horse, nailing that clean flying change, or galloping through the finish flags for the first time. But at the very end of the day, I like to say that my program produces good horseman and even better humans.

Photo courtesy of Rachel Bisaillon.

Everything they are learning, the mistakes they are making today, will carry and be with them much longer than some 50 cent ribbons they won at that one show that one weekend when they were eight. Eventing reminds everyone that when the going gets tough, you get tougher. You rely on the people closest to you, tighten your girth, and buck up. It teaches you community involvement, leadership skills, and at the end of the day, no matter what the score says, you tried.

For my kids and clients, there is nothing more I can ask for. I feel grateful everyday to be surrounded by people that are quick to congratulate me, but just as quick to catch me when I fall. Eventing builds a passion for riding I had never experienced before my first set of finish flags.

I finished up my letter by reminding my kiddo that I am proud of her everyday, and that her exuberance and spirit are a wonderful addition to our “happy barn.”

Eventing rocks.