Last October, the eventing world lost one of their own when California-based trainer and rider Pam Fisher passed away unexpectedly due to an undiagnosed medical condition.
Originally from the East Coast, Pam spent several years working as an assistant to steeplechase trainer Taylor Jackson. During her time there, she also exercised racehorses at Fair Hill Training Center and worked as a stable manager under Jack LeGoff for the U.S. Equestrian Team.
Eventually, Pam made her way west to Colorado, starting her own Ruffian Stables, where she trained horses in multiple disciplines and provided rehabilitation services for horses recovering from injuries.
Pam also produced several horses to the upper levels, finding particular success with — and love for — off-the-track Thoroughbreds. Her background in the racing industry gave her plenty of experience with the breed as well as an appreciation for their talent as sporthorses. In 1994, Pam and her Thoroughbred gelding, Lancelet, competed to the Advanced level, and the following year were long-listed for the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta.
Fast forward to 2004, when Pam was contacted by JoBeth Kemp about sending an off-the-track Thoroughbred named Sea Elephant to her for training. It was a connection that –- unbeknownst to all of them at the time — would end up being the equine partnership of Pam’s career. She had trained and loved the horse’s brother, Out to Sea (aka “Sailor”), and JoBeth Kemp told her, “If you love Sailor, you’ll really like his brother!” JoBeth sent him to Pam sight unseen, with the understanding that he would not be gelded and if, for whatever reason, Fisher no longer wanted him, she would send him back.
That never came to pass, as it was love at first sight for Pam the moment the horse unloaded from the trailer.
A 16.1h bay stallion, Sea Lion was originally registered and raced under the name Sea Elephant. But, according to longtime friend Katherine Boone, the registered name just wasn’t going to cut it for his sporthorse career. “Pam didn’t care for that name, saying, ‘I just couldn’t get my head around galloping an elephant over Advanced level obstacles on a cross country course!’” He was re-named Sea Lion, a nod to his boldness and bravery, and a name that seemed to suit him much better in his new career.
It was clear from the beginning that their partnership would be a strong one. Pam and Sea Lion made their recognized eventing debut in 2007, quickly moving up the levels together thanks to a combination of her experience and Sea Lion’s natural aptitude for the job.
By 2010 they had reached the Advanced level, and in 2012 made their now-5* debut together, competing at the then-monikered Rolex Kentucky. Katherine described their partnership with one word: fearless. “Sea Lion would carry Pam over anything, and I do mean anything… navigating the most challenging obstacles, always with his ears forward, eager for the next one.”
One of Pam’s favorite stories, which she often recounted to Sea Lion’s fans, was how she promised Sea Lion that if he took her to Rolex, she would let him start breeding -– a promise she upheld. His first foal, Seacret Agent, was born the very next spring.
Pam later relocated from Colorado to a 400-acre ranch near Santa Ynez, CA, and Sea Lion continued his breeding career alongside his performance career, quickly finding a balance between the two. He continued competing at the upper levels of eventing but also branched out to hunter derbies and 1.20m show jumping, further showcasing his versatility as a sporthorse.
Katherine remembers, “Pam was so very proud of Sea Lion’s consistently strong work ethic, his outstanding athletic ability, and the fact that he retired sound from eventing then went on to compete barefoot (and win!) in hunters and jumpers. But more than anything, she admired and appreciated his temperament and disposition. He was a stallion through and through, but she could still take him on trail rides with mares and geldings… as long as Sea Lion was in front!”
While she had always appreciated Sea Lion as a competitor, Pam soon discovered that she got just as much joy and fulfillment from his breeding accolades. He quickly earned his breeding approval from multiple warmblood registries, including the American Hanoverian Society, Oldenburg North America, and the American Trakehner Association. The Hanoverian Verband thought so highly of him that he was even invited to spend a year standing at stud in Germany – a rare offer for any North American based stallion. Through frozen semen, Sea Lion has been made available for breeding overseas and now has foals in five different countries, proving his popularity as a sire.
No matter how many foals Sea Lion sired, though, Pam never failed to be excited about each and every one. According to Katherine, “every single time she heard a mare was in foal with a Sea Lion baby, she was ecstatic. Then, when she got photos of her ‘grandbabies’, she was over the moon! She loved that Sea Lion attracts such a wide variety of breeds…. Irish Sport Horse and Irish Draught, Quarter Horse, Arabian, Trakehner, Hanoverian, Paint Horses, Canadian Sport Horse, Dutch Warmblood, even Clydesdale.”
Losing Pam so unexpectedly was devastating to all who knew and loved her, and came with some uncertainty about what would become of her beloved Sea Lion and the two Sea Lion offspring she owned. Luckily, Katherine was able to help, and Pam’s family has signed over the horses to her on the premise that she will retain ownership of Sea Lion and find appropriate homes for the others. Thanks to the efforts and dedication of Pam’s family and friends, now 25-year-old Sea Lion will continue to live out his golden years in California, just as Pam had always envisioned.
Katherine has decided that Sea Lion will now be retired from active breeding duties, but he will still be available via frozen semen. All proceeds from Sea Lion breedings will be used to pay for his continued upkeep.
Pam often described Sea Lion as her “equine soulmate” and became dedicated to preserving his legacy via his offspring. In doing so, she also tied her own legacy to his. After her passing was announced on Sea Lion’s Facebook page, an outpouring of his fans honored her by posting photos and updates of their own Sea Lion foals. In a way, she and Sea Lion became synonymous, and her memory will continue to live on both in the horse that knew no limits, as well as his offspring.