The year James Gillam was born, his parents bought a small farm in North Hatley, QC, which became home to sheep, rabbits, cows, and a couple of driving ponies. By the time James was seven, his mother was operating a small riding school. Now 25 and an emerging show jumping talent, James operates G&G Sporthorses out of North Hatley with girlfriend, Brianne Robinson. With extensive European and North American connections, they specialize in the import, training, and sales of proven sport horse bloodlines. James also has high hopes for his own future in the ring: “One of my strongest personal goals, like most riders, is to wear our country’s coveted red jacket.”
Tell us about your first pony.
My first pony, Suzi Q, definitely taught me to glue myself to the saddle! She bucked through lead changes, stopped at the slightest bit of fill at the jumps, randomly spooked, bit me … I think I still hold the record at our riding school of four falls in one lesson. She taught me about hard work and determination. She still lives at the family farm in North Hatley and is fatter than ever!
Was anyone especially influential in your decision to pursue a career in horses?
In 2007 I started university at McGill with full intentions of becoming a lawyer and one day coming back to horses. I had only competed up to the 1.15m division and the cost of competing at the provincial level was a burden my family could no longer afford. Soon after enrolment at McGill I met Maggie Webster, whose granddaughter took lessons with my mother. Maggie made it possible for me to follow my passion, and everything I am doing today is thanks to her encouragement and support.
That fall, we bought two horses in Europe. I completed one semester, then spent the winter in Wellington and never returned. Maggie has made it possible for me to train and learn from some of Canada’s best horsemen and compete across Canada and the United States. She has taught me to always be positive and look for ways to improve myself as a person. I don’t just think of her as an owner, but more as a close friend.
Who are your top horses at the moment?
I have a small string of really lovely horses. My star is Chanel; she is an 11-year-old mare by Heartbreaker that Maggie Webster and I bought six years ago in Belgium. Maggie and I also own Black Pearl, a seven-year-old Dutch gelding with plenty of potential. I have also had many good results with Tristarr’s Fly High, a very flashy eight-year-old chestnut that I have been riding for Gestion Tristarr.
Which career highlights have meant the most to you?
In 2010, Chanel and I finished third overall in the QPET standings (points earned in the grand prix and open jumper divisions). The following year, we finished first. In 2012, I was recognized by the FEQ as one of the province’s top four elite riders. I also represented Quebec the past two years at the Royal Winter Fair in the Talent Squad Final with top placings. Equally important to me are the wonderful results of my students, especially Stephanie Lessard, who was Quebec circuit champion in 2012 in the 1.30m with Tristarr’s Fly High.
What is your favourite aspect of the sport?
For me, it’s a passion. Living out of a suitcase at horse shows; early mornings at the farm; all-nighters with sick horses; Sunday afternoons wearing a jacket and tie in 30-degree weather; the pride of taking a horse to the next level; the heartbreak of an injury; the glory of winning a big class. It’s a roller-coaster of emotions! I believe that most riders start for the same reason – for their love of horses – and I have never lost sight of that.