The Sport Horse Welcomes Heather Gillette as Featured Blogger and Eventing Expert

March 21st, 2014 10:09 AM | Comments Off on The Sport Horse Welcomes Heather Gillette as Featured Blogger and Eventing Expert

Coree M. Reuter-McNamara for The Sport Horse

People say you have to walk before you can run, but Heather Gillette was riding before she could walk. At two-years-old, the tenacious toddler had a pony living in her garage, and Smokey became the beginning of her future with horses.

After riding western for several years, she found Spring Valley Hounds Pony Club, where her love for eventing began.

“Our club was blessed with incredible instructors and I could not learn enough from them. Marilyn Payne was one of those teachers,” Gillette wrote on her website. “She got me started in Eventing at a very early age and fostered my love of the sport. I passed my ‘A’ rating at 16 and spent many summers participating in the traveling instructors program. Pony Club is a wonderful organization and I still use the horsemanship principles that are its core.”

Heather Gillette and Pickle Road.

Heather Gillette and Pickle Road.

Gillette spent the next several years with U.S. Eventing’s Young Riders Program. Wash Bishop and Stephen Bradley coached her and her teammates, and they went on to win the 1* Championship at Bromont. Through the years, she has ridden with a number of great horsemen and women, including Bradley, Bruce Davidson, Leslie Law, Betsy Steiner, Philip Dutton, Karen O’Connor, and many others

In 1995, Gillette found and off-the-track thoroughbred named Pickle Road, who was recovering from an injury at Kathleen and Ken McDermott’s Merrywind Farm in New Jersey. The farm manager told her to avoid him due to his fondness for biting and kicking. However, Gillette was undeterred and was quite sure that she could make a difference in Pickle’s life. In the end, he made a bigger difference in her’s.

“Pickle was a very special horse in so many ways,” wrote Gillette. “He was incredibly talented but extremely quirky. I decided that I had a fabulous horse who needed my full attention to get the most out of him. I quit my corporate job and started my own boarding and training business. Heron’s Landing was born.”

Gillette credits Pickle for making her the rider and horsewoman she has become. Pickle and Gillette tackled their first advanced together, and they went on to  run around the CCI*** at Fair Hill in 1998, finishing 18th out of 68 horses. After being asked to participate in the Developing Riders Program with him in 1999, offers came for him that Gillette could not turn down as a young and poor professional. Gillette sold Pickle to a rider who wanted to take him to the Sydney Olympics, but he never formed a partnership in his new place. Gillette brought him back to Merrywind after he had been discarded due to lameness, and to her great pleasure, he came sound and they enjoyed many more competitive years with good results at the upper levels, including a 2nd place finish at The Fork CIC***.

“Described to me as being rank and dangerous [when I first met him], Pickle was anything but,” wrote Gillette. “He was sore, tired, and terribly defensive, [but he was] an incredible athlete with such presence and elegance his body was easy to train to be an event horse. His mind, well, that was a different story! He is an over achiever and worried if he thought he was in trouble. It made him nervous and he would become a blithering idiot at times. He taught me patience and understanding, made me truly listen to him, and showed me that to gain a horses trust you must trust them first.”

In 2002 Gillette moved to Kathleen McDermott’s Merrywind Farm to train McDermott’s retired racehorses. As Pickle was coming to the twilight of his career and Kathleen’s interest in Eventing was increasing, they decided to buy a few young horses to bring along.

Heather's famous for her smile when she's out on cross-country, a sure sign of her love for the sport.

Heather is famous for her smile when she’s out on cross-country, a sure sign of her love for the sport.

To date, Gillette has competed extensively at the three-star level, and has made it to the Rolex Kentucky CCI**** twice with Our Questionnaire. She is currently bringing the young, very talented Boris O’Hara up the levels in addition to several other young horses.  Pickle has since retired, but continues to rule Merrywind Farm with his vivacious personality.

In addition to her experiences at the top level, Gillette has a strong client base of young riders and adult amateurs who remain loyal to Heron’s Landing thanks to her passion for the sport, her dedication to her students, and her ability to make an analogy out of just about everything.

We’re thrilled to have Heather Gillette on board as one of our featured bloggers and eventing experts, and we can’t wait to hear about her adventures in the coming year!

Coree Reuter-McNamara has been working as an equestrian journalist since 2009 when she moved to Virginia, also known as Heaven for Horselovers, to pursue a career in print journalism. After mastering her craft, she decided to completely change careers and pursue a Master’s of Science in Athletic Training. However, she still keeps her fingers in the horse world, namely due to the fiery chestnut gelding named Liam who stole her heart. They’re aiming for a novice three-day once Liam decides to stop stepping on roofing nails.


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