New Brunswick native Denielle Gallagher has been a fixture on the dressage scene for more than 25 years as a successful junior and young rider, as a groom for former Canadian Olympian Ashley Holzer, and now as a coach, trainer, international competitor and the owner/operator of Brilliance Stables in Wellington, Florida. She has achieved success in the international ring on a number of talented horses, but learning to dance with her new grand prix partner Wilson Pickett might be her most exciting project yet.

Denielle fills us in on how she’s living the dream with this intense but lovable gelding.

The Basics:

Year of birth: 2005
Height: 17.0 h.
Sex: Gelding
Breeding: Hanoverian (by Wolkentanz out of Ronja, by Ravallo)
Breeder: Hinrich and Imke Saathoff (Germany)
Owners: Denielle Gallagher & PJ Rizvi
Show name: Wilson Pickett
Barn name: Wilson
Nicknames: Silly Willy, Willy Nelson, William

How long have you been paired with Wilson?
I have been riding Wilson for a year now. My coach, Ashley Holzer, and Wilson’s owner, PJ Rizvi, were looking for someone to take over his reins. He has a special personality and they thought we could accomplish a lot together. I have been working with both of these amazing people for almost 20 years now, and I am very thankful and grateful for this opportunity.

What was your initial impression of him?
As soon as I sat on him I thought, “Wow, this horse was made for me.” There are some horses you just get on and you “know” them much sooner than others. We all have our own style and type of horse. He really was my type. He was already doing the grand prix at that point so there was no question that he’d be a top-level prospect.

Describe his personality in one word.

Why does that word suit him?
Wilson is intense in everything he does. He loves intensely. He worries intensely. He tries intensely. Everything he does, he does it at full power. It’s beautiful.

“He looks you in the eye and literally tries to communicate with you. “

Greatest strength
His trot extensions are to die for, and also his flying changes. I could do them forever, as he just floats through them.

Biggest challenge
We struggle a bit in the piaffe, but he is getting better and better every day!

Funniest habit
As soon as you give him a treat, he needs to immediately lick something for a good 20 minutes. That something could be your face, or your arm, or the wall, or the door, or anything!

Favourite treat
EVERYTHING! His last groom, Tesia, spoiled him a bit, so Apple Twizzlers, Sour Patch kids and Popsicles were his favourites. His new groom Michael gives him ginger snap cookies and sour apple strings. He basically gets whatever he wants. Honestly, he loves food! Probably not the best diet, but he loves the sour stuff.

Least favourite thing
He’s afraid of clippers. He still lets us clip him, just…slowly.

If Wilson were a human celebrity, who would he be?
Well, he’s named after the legendary soul singer Wilson Pickett, and if you sing his famous song “Mustang Sally,” I think it completely matches him. He is very soulful and also has a lot of electricity at the same time.

Gimme dat treat!!

Most embarrassing/funniest moment with him so far?
Halting in the ring in my first CDI with him on centre line and him pulling the reins out of my hands to turn and look at me for a sugar cube. We had been working on square halts and rewarding him for it that week. I tried to laugh and brush it off like I wasn’t totally embarrassed, and hurried to gather my reins and trot off. Even the judge laughed with me. Note to self: no stops with sugar right before a competition.

If he wasn’t a dressage horse, what would his dream occupation be?
Companion horse to a person. Someone who would love him to death and keep him in their pocket. He loves to “talk” with you, so when you come in the barn he speaks to you constantly. He looks you in the eye and literally tries to communicate with you. He will follow you everywhere, into rooms, any place scary; he doesn’t mind. He is so sweet.

How did the pandemic affect your showing and training plans?
Well, we had just competed in our first Grand Prix freestyle, and we kept it easy so I could feel the energy in the ring. I was so hoping to do another during the last week of the Global Dressage Festival and vamp it up, but sadly we didn’t get that opportunity.

One good thing is that we’ve had this summer to really get to know one other more deeply. When I got the ride on Wilson last year, the season was literally starting so I had to jump in with both feet. We both did. Having this summer has really helped to seal that bond.

I’m so thankful to PJ and Ashley. It makes me very emotional to even talk about it; I love them so much. Huge shout out also to Dr. Grewall from Starling Equine, my farrier Cody Talbot, Wilson’s chiropractor Dr. Hildebrand, and to all of our incredible sponsors. Living the dream is an understatement, even with everything that’s going on right now.

Future plans
Olympics! WEG! Pan Ams! Honestly, I want us to be the best we can for as long as we can.