Author(s): Gillian Wills
A world-weary musician and a broken racehorse rescue each other in this inspirational memoir about second chances. At 56 years of age, Gillian Wills bought her first horse on a whim. Elvis was emaciated, scarred, unruly, saddle-phobic and imbued with attitude. However, she sensed in him the remnants of a fierce pride that resonated with her own almost-lost sense of self-worth, depleted after leaving a high status job as head of a prestigious music conservatorium in Melbourne to move across the country with her partner to Queensland. Owning a horse pushed the need for paddocks to the top of Gillian's wish list. Since her artist partner also craved land on which to build a studio, they bought a dilapidated weatherboard farmhouse on 2.5 acres and swapped city living in Brisbane for the pleasures of semi-rural Ransome. Gillian gave up her lecturing position, weekly spot on radio, and an array of exhausting consultancies to focus on freelance writing. For a year she wore mud-stained boots and dusty jeans by day and shiny heels and black cocktail gear at night to mingle with the art cogniscenti at functions, give pre-concert talks for the Australian Chamber Orchestra and review concerts for the Australian newspaper. And she tried to ride Elvis. Elvis had been pitched to Gillian as a quiet, beginner's 'I'll-do-whatever-you-want-kind-of-horse' that could hardly summon up the energy to trot. the truth was very different. Rehabilitating Elvis through natural horsemanship methods (horse whispering) with the help of a laconic yet seriously gifted trainer introduced Gillian to a whole new world where music was incidental and daily discussions centred on the weather, how to tell good grass from bad, and fear of the Hendra virus. She persevered with her riding lessons, ignoring the often not-so-subtle doubts that she would ever learn to ride competently, let alone be able to control a spirited mount like Elvis. Gradually Elvis' behaviour improved and Gillian's confidence grew. Learning to assert her leadership over Elvis' daily rehabilitation program slowly but surely transformed her world. Gillian says, 'I was supposed to help Elvis, but instead he led me on an unexpected trail of self-discovery. I learned to like myself. I realised I didn't have to prove to the world I was worthy, be defined by a profession, or prove that I could achieve an impossible goal. I began to stand up for myself with my partner, employers, children, friends ...and with Elvis, of course!'
Gillian Wills was the "Australian"'s classical music reviewer for seven years. She was also a freelance arts writer for "Queensland's Courier Mai"l and a broad variety of other publications. She is a pre-concert speaker for the Australian Chamber Orchestra and the Australian String Quartet, teaches piano at a university, and is a keyboard examiner for the Australian Music Examination Board.