May 2016 - Coming Full Circle

A rescue mare’s offspring earns winnings that enable Vanessa Gilliam’s Second Wind to help more horses.

by Lauren H. Giannini

For Vanessa Gilliam, rehabilitating neglected and unwanted equines just seemed like the right thing to do. First, she fulfilled her lifelong dream of owning a horse. The following year, in March of 2008, Second Wind Rescue, Inc. was born when she saved three untrained 2-year-olds from slaughter. Since that fateful day, 69 horses representing 22 breeds have gone through the Second Wind program in Paso Robles.

Vanessa and Rush, who might just follow in her older brother’s hoofprints: pacer Hi Ho’s Little Rev races at Cal Expo. Photo by David Bouillez

Ross Emmett, developer of the internationally recognized Emmett Technique, treats a horse while Gary Wells observes. Photo: courtesy of EMMETT Therapy.

“My goal is to offer for adoption family-safe trail horses,” says Vanessa. “I want my horses to be safe, reliable, dependable and honest — pretty decent riding horses that have been exposed to a lot of different experiences.”

Vanessa rides western and english, in that order. She has a dressage background and loves to work cattle, but doesn’t look at her rescues to evaluate their potential to become top cutting or upper level dressage horses. Her primary concern is getting them back to health and, along the way, discovering who and what the horses are. When they’re ready, Vanessa’s mission is finding the right homes and best possible “jobs” for the horses, because they deserve better lives than what they experienced before Second Wind.

“In the past eight years, a lot of the horses I worked with had been neglected, some had nutrition-related problems, others had training inconsistencies,” she says. “People often get in over their heads when it comes to horses.

Some really do think that a horse is just a big version of a dog and they’re not! People don’t take the time to learn what horses are all about — how their minds work and how they respond, that they’re prey animals and have a flight instinct. Most people just think ‘horseback ride’ — they don’t get to know the horse and that’s when things can go really wrong.”

Learning By Doing

Vanessa didn’t grow up with horses. She was a horse-crazy kid, who put her equestrian plans on hold until after college.

Vanessa bred Jade, her APHA mare, to a Friesian and got Allie, who became Rev’s best friend while he grew up. After Rev moved to Cal Expo to start his race training, Allie went to a new home but returned in February to Vanessa. Photo: Christine Harrison

Vanessa and Hi Ho’s Little Rev at Cal Expo. Photo: courtesy of Second Wind Rescue, Inc.

“I was a competitive volleyball player, and I played all through college, but I couldn’t pursue an extended professional career because of a shoulder injury,” she explains. “During high school, I had a mentor. I was the working student for Janet VerPlank, who had Warmblood dressage horses. She taught me that each horse has individual needs and gave me a good riding foundation.”

In 2007, Vanessa acquired her first horse, Jade. The overo American Paint Horse Association mare blazed a trail that others would follow. “Jade carries huge sentimental value since she was my first horse,” says Vanessa. “I’ll keep her until the day she dies.”

It’s a challenge to expand her equestrian education, time-wise. In addition to taking care of the horses and assorted other critters, Vanessa is also proprietor of a residential and commercial cleaning business, which helps to pay Second Wind’s expenses when donations are scarce. Fortunately, she’s independent-minded and, considering her huge appetite for knowledge, not shy when it comes to picking horse peoples’ brains.

“I learned most of the groundwork I do with the horses through studying Clinton Anderson’s Method,” says Vanessa. “I watch his training videos and I’ve gone to a couple of his tour stops. I want to further my education by taking Clinton’s clinic in December in Paso Robles. Also, I ask a lot of questions, watch televised training series and read articles. Then I apply what I learned to see what works and what doesn’t by trial and error.”

A chance meeting in 2010 with equine veterinarian Dr. Audrey Clifton resulted in a friendship that benefits Second Wind. Audrey, whose practice is located at Cal Expo, the one-mile Harness Racing track in Sacramento, offered to help with dental care for the horses and provided essential medical supplies at cost as well as an ongoing opportunity to learn more about horse care.

In late 2011, Audrey contacted Vanessa about a Standardbred farm dispersing its stock immediately and three pregnant mares that needed homes. Vanessa took two of them, both in foal to Hi Ho Silverheels, an influential sire of stakes-winning California-breds. PrettyLittleRebel gave birth in 2012 to a colt: Hi Ho’s Little Rev would introduce a new opportunity to Second Wind.

Discovering Each Rescue’s Talents

Vanessa steadies Rush, full sibling to Hi Ho’s Little Rev, while she gets her first trim. Photo: Christine Harrison

Vanessa enjoys a moment with her “go-to horse,” Sierra. The rescued mare taught the Second Wind founder a lot about Mustangs and how to train them. Photo: David Bouillez

Vanessa remains very balanced in her expectations for the rescues, but she noticed one foal didn’t trot, he paced. He manifested the genetic legacy of his sire and dam, both pacers, a gait highly desired in harness racing. She started to think about Little Rev’s future.

“I raised Rev and worked with him in hand from the time he was born,” says Vanessa. “He’s a really neat little horse. When he was two, I called Audrey and said ‘Rev’s of age — what are we going to do with him now?’ She asked me if I wanted to roll the dice and see what he’s made of. I said sure, but I needed Audrey’s help to find the right trainer.”

Vanessa had done all the groundwork with Rev. She worked him in hand and ponied him from her go-to horse, Sierra, a rescued Mustang mare. In early 2014, she drove Rev to Cal Expo, leaving him with his new trainer. The next day, by evening, they were ground driving Rev. All of Vanessa’s foundation work paid off and, three days later, the young pacer was harnessed to a cart.

Although Vanessa made room for the two mares and their babies, she had no intention of racing their progeny. Her philosophy is to find each horse’s strengths and build their future on that. It just turned out that racing was in Rev’s genes.

Hi Ho’s Little Rev won several races in 2015, earning more than $22,000 for the rescue that essentially saved his life. Vanessa donates Rev’s winnings to Second Wind Rescue, Inc., which has been a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization since 2011. It’s a win-win situation.

“When I get new horses in at Second Wind, I follow certain steps to understand the horse’s temperament, its training level, abilities, likes and dislikes,” Vanessa says. “My goal is to learn everything I can about the horse so I can be more informed to make the right decision about who will be the best person or family for that particular horse.”

Early Steps

Initially, she has to get the horses past behaviors based in fear and/or in pain before she can focus on their re-training. Sometimes, rescues are hampered by lingering muscular restrictions caused by a variety of issues, including lack of care for teeth and feet.

Enter Gary Wells from Australia, #1 Instructor for Emmett Ross, founder of the Emmett Technique. Gary and Vanessa crossed paths two years ago when they attended Clinton Anderson’s Downunder Horsemanship Tour in Las Vegas. A chance conversation resulted in Vanessa and two other participants meeting Gary the next morning in the hotel lobby for a practical demonstration of how the muscle release therapy works.

Photo: Christine Harrison

Vanessa with Chloe and Honeybuns, two of her four rescued dogs. Photo: Christine Harrison

“Gary worked the magic of the Emmett Technique on us and we were all hooked on Emmett from that moment on,” Vanessa recalls. “Some chronic pains went away. Gary’s light touch and words of wisdom remain vivid memories. Last year, when I treated myself to a trip to Australia for my 33rd birthday, I contacted Gary because I wanted to learn more about Emmett. He arranged for me to watch him treat horses and people for two days. That experience was life changing!”

Emmett’s neuromuscular technique utilizes light-touch movements to release restricted muscles and improve range of motion. As a hands-on witness to thousands of treatments, Gary says, “Emmett re-establishes inefficient muscle memory and improves well-being in humans and animals. If you take away pain in the back, neck or leg, you feel relief within moments. This is the most powerful and effective, yet safe and gentle bodywork I have ever encountered.”

When Emmett Ross asked Gary to take the Emmett4Horses Technique to the U.S., he contacted Vanessa, who volunteered to help organize and host trainings at Second Wind. This summer, Emmett4Horses Levels I & II take place back-to-back on July 21-22 and 23-24. Emmett4Horses contains five levels of learning, and individuals can learn enough in the basic levels to maintain their horses or they can opt to become certified Emmett practitioners.

Training groups are limited to 12 enthusiasts from 14 to golden-ager. Equine health professionals are most welcome. In fact, one veterinarian has already signed up for July. Vanessa reports that Audrey Clifton is quite excited about taking this course, because she wants to make more of a difference in the racehorses’ and other animals’ lives.

Keen to help her rescues get the best possible new starts, Vanessa has embraced a second Australian contribution to equine well-being.

“I’m so honored to be the course coordinator for Gary to teach Ross Emmett’s horse technique for the first time ever in the U.S.,” says Vanessa. “Becoming a certified Emmett practitioner is a great new chapter for my horsemanship. I’m very excited about how Emmett4Horses can help the rescues that come to Second Wind.”

Author Lauren R. Giannini is an award winning freelance writer. She can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

For information about Second Wind Rescue and the Emmett4Horses seminars, please email Vanessa: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or call: 805-801-4060. To learn more about the Emmett Technique: To contact Gary Wells, email: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or visit his Facebook page: