The late, esteemed horseman from Washington was inducted into the NWRCHA Hall of Fame in 2012.
Born in Cortland, New York, Bruce Gilchrist liked horses as long as he could remember. His mother even recalled the first word out of his mouth being “horse” – uttered when he was looking at the neighbors cow!
Later, living near the University of Massachusetts, Bruce used to hang around the draft horse barns. Pretty soon, the college allowed Bruce to start taking the broodmares to pasture. Those that were gentle, Bruce would jump on and sneak a ride on before turning them out.
The first horse the Gilchrist family owned, Bruce supposed, was a Tennessee Walker. Years later, looking back on it, Bruce conceded that it may have been a foundered horse that just walked funny.
Before leaving for military service, most of Bruce’s horse experience came from rodeos and playdays, and like other cocky kids, Bruce thought he knew everything about horses.
The majority of Bruce’s time in the service was spent in Alaska, and immediately after discharge he found a horse show and horse-show judge Isabelle Mo arranged housing and a job cleaning stalls at Skyline Stables in Washington for legendary Northwest horse trainer Al Erickson. Later, needing a second job, Bruce began working at the local feed store.
At Al Erickson’s, every type and style of horse was trained and Al was very, very successful. While working for him, Bruce immediately found out he didn’t know anything at all about horses.
Bruce worked at Al’s for about a year and a half before Bruce got caught sneaking rides on a few horses that were left at Al’s while the esteemed trainer was away at horse shows. Knowing Bruce, he probably had been sneaking rides since the first weekend of his arrival to Seattle!
Going out on his own, Bruce spent a short stint breaking horses in Eastern Washington, then moved back to Seattle to hang out his trainer’s shingle at Gold Creek Stables in Woodinville, Washington. It was slow at first, and Bruce probably had done everything in the world wrong about three times in his quest to train a horse, so he did learn the hard way.
But gradually, Bruce began picking up customers, the first of which were Paulette World-Christen and Crissie Walker-Brown, who is married to the famous hackamore braider Don Brown.
Bruce got more customers partly because he got the reputation for being able to straighten out “the bad ones.” Often, Bruce’s horse-training tactics on these rank horses were on public display. Bruce was known to have a barn full of horses with people-problems prior to coming to him, those which were dangerous to their riders or ones other trainers started “were no good.” Bruce could be found teasing himself that he owned Reject Ranch. However, Bruce had good success with those horses and found it extremely challenging to create winners from those damaged mounts.
Tom St. Hilaire summarized it well when he said, “Bruce could truly dismantle the horse, set aside the parts, didn’t forget where those parts were, and could put the horse back together again and we would see that horse go on to win for years to come.”
Upon moving to Central Park Stables in Bellevue, Washington, Bruce began getting better and clients, including: Joy Soriano-Wolf; Boogers Skip, an American Horse Show Association horse of the year; Jane Gray; Poco Lonnie; Cindy Ostolanza, AHSA stock-seat medal champion; and Town Charger.
*The late Bruce Gilchrist was inducted into the Northwest Reined Cow Horse Association Hall of Fame in 2012.