LLNL senior facility manager Patsy Gilbert has been riding and showing horses all her life. Today, the Livermore native lives on the ranch where she grew up on and continues to show horses in regional and national competitions. Her current horse, a 10-year-old gelding named Hudson, has even qualified for and participated in world championship shows.
“Growing up, we lived far enough out on Tesla Road that when I got home from school, there weren’t a lot of other kids around,” she said. “The only friends I had were our horses, our dogs and cats and the cows. And so, I spent all my time riding.”
Gilbert started showing horses when she was 14 years old and has been involved in training and competition ever since.
“Outside of work, this is where I have spent so much of my life,” Gilbert said. “I have traveled all over the western United States and across the country and I’ve met so many wonderful people — other trainers and other competitors. I really love what I do.”
Hudson: a winning partner
Several years ago, after taking a brief break from showing horses, Gilbert wasn’t really looking to get back into competition. But after reconnecting with a young friend, they decided to buy a horse together to enjoy riding and to share with younger riders.
“We found a really nice, gentle horse and we decided to put it in training,” Gilbert said. “Before the horse broke her leg and we eventually lost her even, she got both my friend and I back into the show ring.”
Reengaged in the sport, Gilbert started looking for another horse to show.
“I turned 60 years old and thought that I would like to get a really nice horse to take to the world championship show,” she said.
After two years of searching, Gilbert and her trainer found Hudson in Whitesboro, Texas.
“Hudson is a really neat horse,” she said. “He’s just easy to be around and easy to do absolutely everything with. As soon as I rode him, I knew he was the right fit. He’s a great partner.”
Hudson, also known by his show name “Four On Da Floor”, now regularly competes in American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) competitions in trail class and western pleasure. In trail class, similar to dressage, horses and riders navigate a series of obstacles. Western pleasure, also called “on the rail,” is a demonstration of how the horse walks, jogs and lopes, or how the horse travels. Judges evaluate how the horse drives up with their hind end, how they lead out with their front end and how they carry themselves.
Competing with a champion
“I often say that Hudson is like a Ferrari and I’m a duck in the pond,” Gilbert said. “When people say it looks easy, you don’t see all the movement my legs are making — I’m sitting with the right posture; I’m making sure my legs are in the right place at the right time; I’m calculating the next move. If I don’t shift just right, I’m going to jam the gears and we’re not going to work.”
Gilbert likens training a horse to a ballet dancer practicing their routine, or a musician rehearsing an instrument.
“Training a horse and getting them ready to show takes a lot of repetitive training and a lot of practice,” she said. “I’m not able to just get on the horse and go to show — I work hard at this.”
Horse trainers David and Cheryl Busick ride Hudson four or more times a week. Patsy also rides him extensively to prepare for competitions in California, Oregon and Nevada. In 2020 and 2021, the team took Hudson to the Farnam AQHA World Championship Show in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, the pinnacle events competition with the greatest exhibitors and horses from around the world.
Between training and traveling to shows, Gilbert spends a lot of time working with the trainers, stall cleaners and other support team.
“I spend more time with these people than I do my own extended family,” she said. “These people have become very, very good friends. We’ve been doing this close to 16 years together and they’ve become a second family.”
Healing with horses
Gilbert credits her horses with helping her through some challenging times. After her son passed away in 2000, spending time riding gave her a place to process the grief of her loss.
“Hudson is my therapist,” she said. “That is my mental health right there. I can have the toughest week or be dealing with stresses at work and I can go ride my horse or go to a show and I come back and I feel completely cleansed, completely better. Riding my horses is my happy place.”
In 2020, riding and training with Hudson helped her to cope with the stresses of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“One of the good things about riding horses is that you’re out in the open air,” Gilbert said, explaining that a lot of horse shows continued to be held in areas of the country that had fewer restrictions. “We basically just kept going in this sport. We were smart about what we did — we masked and did everything we were supposed to — but we kept riding. I felt like I was able to stay really active.”
A career of service and fulfillment
Gilbert joined the LLNL biosciences department more than 34 years ago. She has spent a fulfilling career in environmental safety and health, biological safety and facilities management.
“It has been an amazing career,” she said. “I’ve been involved with some amazing research here. I’ve started and grown many programs. It’s been very worthwhile
Outside of work, she has been very active in the agriculture community. She has held a variety of volunteer positions, including serving as 4H leader, FFA advisor, Livermore High School agriculture department advisory panel member, Alameda County Cattlewomen president and historian and Alameda County Fair board member. She also has led a support group at her church for parents who have lost children. As a trained minister, she finds great satisfaction in leading funerals and celebrations of life, “helping people when they need caring and compassion the most.”
“Volunteering to me is part of my life, it’s part of who I am,” Gilbert said. “I’ve been just really community involved. I’ve made some tremendous friends. Fortunately, I hang out with a lot of ladies that are even older than I am. I plan to continue riding horses and giving back as long as I can.”