Meet the Pro: Casi Gilliam
This AQHA Professional Horsewoman from Ohio balances coaching, equine photography and life as a horse-show mom.
By AQHA Professional Horsewoman and judge Stephanie Lynn | June 1, 2015
Special to The American Quarter Horse Journal
For AQHA Professional Horsewoman Casi Gilliam, being a horse trainer is the ultimate balancing act. With 5-year-old twins, a 17-year-old son, a husband who travels for work, and a photography business, maintaining a small group of students is all this Montville, Ohio, trainer has time for.
The native Ohioan trains for a select team of riders who compete on a national and regional level. Casi refers to her students and customers as her “team” and says she will do as little or as much as they want her to do. Her goal: To help her customers “have a happy experience showing and working with their horses.”
Casi did not grow up showing or riding finished horses. Like many parents, Casi’s thought she would outgrow her love for horses. When she did not, they purchased a grade horse for her. The gelding came without a show name but the first-time horse owners came up with Rustler’s Regal Rhapsody, an appropriate name for a horse named “Rusty.”
After proving her desire to ride was not a passing phase, Casi’s parents helped her upgrade with a series of young horses. Casi learned to ride greenbroke horses under the guidance of a trainer and discovered she loved taking young prospects and turning them into finished horses.
As Casi grew up, she found she had just as much fun helping young riders as she had training young horses. After completing her education in clinical psychology and computer science and earning a master’s degree, her information technology talents caught the attention of University Hospital in Cleveland, Ohio. Casi followed the money and moved to Cleveland but never quit training horses.
Coolest Mr, Lucas, Casi and Russell
In 2003, she met Russell Gilliam while they were both working at the All American Quarter Horse Congress – Casi with students and Russell as a representative for a pharmaceutical company. After marrying, Russell took up showing horses, sharing Coolest Mr, a then-3-year-old gelding by Illusive, with Lucas Lang, Casi’s son from a previous marriage.
The father-son duo showed successfully at halter. Lucas finished the year by winning the Rookie of the year title in Ohio and the AQHA reserve Rookie title in his division. To accomplish this goal, Casi enlisted the help of AQHA Professional Horseman Randy Jacobs. It was here, on the rail as a horse-show mom, that Casi learned how she wanted to operate her own business.
It was a difficult transition for Casi. Always having been the trainer, Casi found the role of a horse-show mom enlightening. Working a full-time job, standing on the rail at shows on the weekends and cheering her team on, Casi gained a new perspective on life as a client. And after Russell and Lucas’ winning year, Casi was finally in a position to retire from the medical field, take a few horses in for training and focus on her own goals within the industry.
And along came the twins, Marlaina and RJ.
Now, with a full house, Casi focuses on clients who are a good fit for her family, as well as fellow teammates in the barn. Casi says “current customers help choose new customers. The students are like family. I have been on the other side of the fence and understand what it is like. Customers spend a lot of money and a lot of time together on the road, and I want to make sure they enjoy their time together. That means everyone has to get along.”
Casi keeps her team at a manageable size – five or six – a number she can “cater to.” She admits she may hold customers’ hands more than other trainers, but she takes pride in providing the service to her clients. She likes knowing “students are as prepared for competition as I can make them.
“Everyone helps me load or do any chore that needs to be done. They all help each other. I do not yell, but I do know when to be hard.”
Casi notes that her education does come in handy when sorting personalities and prioritizing goals.
There are times when Casi finds that she has to be brutally honest with clients, especially when the owners’ goals do not match their horse’s talent. She finds that although the words may sound harsh at the time, students appreciate the honesty.
“It is so rewarding to help students reach their goals,” and Casi likes “putting riders together with horses that match their skill levels and show goals.“
Although her days of giving group lessons for $5 per hour or breaking colts for the track are gone, Casi still uses the knowledge she gained from those early years. She loves to teach both horses and riders. She likes to help “mold the minds and talents and turn them into respectable and successful individuals in the show pen.”
And as if she does not have enough on her plate, Casi is also an experienced photographer, a member of the Professional Photographers of America. Casi photographs children’s sporting events, weddings, senior photos and, of course, she provides a wide range of equine photography. Casi uses her expertise to put together dynamic advertising campaigns for equine and non-equine publications.
Marlaina and Casi
It’s a wonder she has had the time to rack up the points to accumulate her winning show record, including a 2014 Congress championship. Casi and her students consistently place in the top 10 at Congress, plus capture year-end wins, high-point awards, futurity championships and titles in a variety of events.
Next on Casi’s to-do list: applying for her AQHA judges card.
Casi enjoys learning, teaching and giving back to the industry. Being associated with the AQHA Professional Horsemen holds trainers accountable while adding credibility. Casi enjoys chatting with people and hopes to continue to work more closely with Professional Horsemen to further the cause.
With a 5-year-old daughter who “speaks the language” and is obsessed with horses, it appears that Casi’s show team is about to gain a new member. You can count on seeing her around the ring long into the future.
Stephanie Lynn is a special contributor to The American Quarter Horse Journal. The AQHA Professional Horsewoman, judge and steward from Fall Creek, Wisconsin, serves on the AQHA Animal Welfare Commission, is the chairwoman of the AQHA Show Council and was named the 2014 Professional's Choice Professional Horsewoman of the Year. To learn more, visit www.stephanielynn.net or www.stephanielynnsblog.com.