The Tenacious will Prevail

Ellie Stiller combines her love of horses and her knowledge of strength training to create a unique fitness experience.

Raised in the suburbs of Portland, Oregon, without a single horse to be found Ellie Stiller knew in her soul that she was meant to be on the back of a horse. When she was eleven years old, she convinced her parents to allow her to get a job at the nearest stable. While at the stable, she was given an opportunity to finally ride a horse. Ellie recalled the moment with a bit of a chuckle, “My very first day they stuck me on a horse bareback with only a halter and a lead rope on! Well, I ended up falling off and breaking my arm! After surgery, my first question was “When can I get back on the horse?” The day I got my cast off I was back in the barn cleaning stalls, grooming horses, turning out and everything in between.” That tenacious spirit is a common theme that helped propel Ellie to where she is today both horse and careerwise.

Although Ellie was wildly passionate about horses, it was a passion that was mostly self-sustaining. Her parents loved her dearly but couldn’t quite come to terms with the amount of time and money that riding and showing horses required. “Growing up my parents pretty much dropped me off at the barn or the horse show, and I was on my own from there. Once my parents figured out horses weren’t just a fling for me, but instead a true passion, they became more supportive. I will always be thankful for my dad, who luckily had a truck and knew how to haul a trailer and taught me how when I was old enough. My mom would haul me to and from the barn even with her busy schedule. They provided the basics I needed, and I filled in the rest!”

Ellie’s parents told her that if this was the sport that she wanted to pursue, she would need to be responsible for finding a way to pay for it. Her ever-present unquenchable spirit kicked into overdrive as she found every way to spend time at the barn and on the back of a horse. “I had to work hard to even enter the hobby. I never had my own horse, I worked off lessons, leases, board, horse shows, everything. My parents helped a little bit with the expenses, but most of it I worked off or paid for on my own.” Looking back on this challenge, Ellie could feel the resentment that was building in her at the time. “As a kid, I resented my parents quite a bit for that. The other kids in my barn were handed horses, never had to clean stalls, had parents who tacked and lunged their horses for them, etc. I never understood why I had to work harder than everyone else.” However, being able to reflect on this time through fresh eyes, she was grateful for the situation that she was in and how it shaped her determination. “As an adult, I couldn’t be more thankful. It taught me to work my butt off and be self-sufficient. Because I never owned my own horse growing up, I also had the opportunity to ride and show a wide variety of horses. Unlike most people, I haven’t ridden the same horse for years and years. This was greatly advantageous for me. It taught me how to listen to the horse and adapt my riding style to what the horse needs. I wouldn’t change my experience if I could. It taught me things I never would have learned if my hobby was just given to me.”

The local open show circuit gave Ellie her introduction into horse showing. Her first event in the show pen was aboard a green four-year-old mare that she showed in the walk trot pleasure class. “I remember I wore a royal blue shirt made by my horse trainer’s mom, who made our show clothes! We had a giant community rack of show clothes, so I never had to buy my own clothes until I eventually moved barns” she recalled fondly. Another flashback of her early show career was when she was stuck in a horse trailer. “I got locked in a horse trailer for HOURS once. I went in the tack room to change, shut the door, and somehow locked the door behind me. I remember calling my parents, who weren’t at the show, in tears because I couldn’t get ahold of anyone who was actually at the show. After banging on the tack room door for what felt like eternity, eventually a stranger heard me and saved the day. Somehow, I didn’t miss my class!” Thankfully she made it to her class, and when she walked out, she knew showing horses was the thing for her. She wanted to learn as much as she could in every facet of the industry.

While working around the barn, Ellie took a fast interest in the training side of the horse show world. She was naturally drawn to coaching people and began to think that becoming a horse trainer would be the right thing to do. However, due to a bit of family and societal pressures, Ellie set her dream aside and began attending Oregon State University to study Animal Science and Agribusiness. “I went to college for about a year and a half before I decided this path was not for me. I can’t describe the feeling other than I just knew I wasn’t where I was supposed to be.” Ellie said solemnly. “Eventually, I had the strength to stand up to my family and leave. I had quite a bit of backlash from my family about leaving school, and it created a lot of doubt in myself. I’m thankful I felt strong enough in my capabilities to know I would be just as successful without a college degree as I would with one.” Ellie’s tenacious streak shown through once again during this time as she looked inward to trust herself as she took a leap of faith to attempt to go down the path of becoming a horse trainer.

Despite feeling as if she was swimming upstream from societal norms, Ellie found a barn that she could work at doing chores for the horses, with the hopes that one day she could ride. However, her hopes of finally stepping into a training position were far from the reality of the situation. “I wasn’t really riding, just working, and I felt like I was taking a step backward. At the time, I wanted to be a horse trainer. I always knew that, but my family wanted me to have a degree in case it didn’t work out.” Even though she was extremely determined and passionate about the direction she wanted to take her life, there weren’t many people in her inner circle lining up to support her. “People only told me why I shouldn’t do it. I wasn’t good enough, not talented enough, not strong enough, not tough enough. I was always told I would never make any money; I wouldn’t be happy, I wouldn’t be able to support a family, and I was selfish for wanting that career. It crushed me. I felt like I had very little support of my dream, and that made me want it even more. I became so stubborn. I decided I would prove every single person who ever doubted me wrong. If not for me, I would become a horse trainer for them. Well, let me tell you, that is not the way to live life. I became so narrow minded about what I wanted and not what I needed, I never let myself even think for a moment that another career path was possible.” She threw herself into her work. Long hours, countless sleepless nights, and the stress of it all began to pile up. “I started to resent my hobby instead of enjoying it. It became increasingly difficult to manage my life. Let’s just say that didn’t work out the way I wanted it to, but it led me in the direction I was meant to go.” Little did she know a life changing event was about to occur that would set her towards her ultimate life calling.

Ellie and the trainer she was working with at the time owned a young prospect together. Like her other endeavors with horses, she had big dreams for this colt. The colt was showing great talent, but after four months of riding sustained an injury that required him to be put on six months of stall rest. During his rehab period, Ellie was dutifully taking him out for his daily work when the unthinkable happened. “One day, I was out at the barn by myself, and told myself I would not get on. It wasn’t a good idea- he was sometimes unsafe, and I knew it wouldn’t go well. But I saddled him and decided to hand walk him around the arena. Twenty minutes went by, and he was being the perfect angel, walking around with his head in the dirt, not spooking, not a care in the world. So, like any horse person, I decided that since he’s being good, might as well hop on! It didn’t end well. He bucked me off, and I unfortunately injured my back severely.” This is every horse trainer’s nightmare, an injury to their body and the way they make a living is inconceivable. “I couldn’t walk for days, couldn’t exercise or ride for six months, and fell into a depression. That was the lowest point in my life. I was told by my physical therapist I might never recover well enough to be physically fit to train horses. I was crushed. Here I was, ready to pursue my dream, and it was being taken away from me. I was living at home, not in school, no job, during the very beginning of the pandemic, with no clue what to do next. After having quite the pity party for a few months, I picked myself up and took a hard look at my life. Even if I had a full recovery did I really want a career where I’m subjected to injuries like this? Did I want to make the sacrifices it takes to be a horse trainer?” Despite her setback, Ellie’s tenacious streak kicked in as she started exploring other career options.

Ellie began thinking about what it was that drew her towards wanting to be a horse trainer. Of course she loved horses, but there had to be more to it than that. She realized that a big driving factor in her choice was that she loved coaching people. While going to physical therapy to rehab herself from her back injury, she began to see an opportunity that could combine her love of horses and her love of coaching people. Physical therapy allowed her to experience the process of what strength training could do for you to get you prepared for being in the saddle. She enjoyed lifting before she was injured but being able to see the difference it made in her steps towards riding when she was originally told she wouldn’t be able to ride again was eye opening. “I worked with my physical therapist for months to get to the point where I was no longer in pain, and from there I took over working on myself. I combined my knowledge of what I physically knew I needed to ride a horse with my personal training certification and created a program for myself.” Ellie explained. “First, I worked on stability and mobility. My injury to my lower back caused my trunk to be extremely unstable. My core and balance were so weak, it was such a foreign feeling to me. I had always been fit, and now I wasn’t. It was mentally challenging to take so many steps backwards from where I was before I was injured. I trained on unstable surfaces, challenged my body’s ability to stabilize itself in ways that mimicked horseback riding, and eventually became stable enough to weight lift again.” This was exactly what Ellie needed to continue to push through this difficult time and find her true calling. “I can’t describe how euphoric that feeling was. My program was working! I started easy, and slowly built my strength back up through progressive overload. I felt inspired. If I could do it, if I could teach myself how to become a better rider by fitness training, I could teach other people how to as well. And thus, my business was born.” Ellie became a certified personal trainer and launched Lopin Down the Rail Fitness in January 2021, which became her full-time occupation in September 2021.

Lopin Down the Rail Fitness offers a wide variety of services, from in person training to virtual video chat training – a service that I actually utilize! Ellie offers her clients a unique perspective towards training due to the injury she sustained. She can empathize with clients that are recovering from injuries or have physical limitations. “My injury was the best thing that ever happened to me. I was my very first client, my own guinea pig, and it WORKED. My injury helps me relate to my clients both mentally and physically. I also understand how an injury affects the rest of your body. It causes you to compensate in ways that don’t make sense. My best asset as a coach is understanding what pain does to a person- I’ve lived through it. While as a personal trainer I cannot treat pain itself, I understand what pain does to the body and how to avoid it.” She explained. Ellie likes to help develop a fun relationship with fitness for her clients. Overall health can only be achieved if you enjoy the sessions. She even offers a fun horse yoga class for local barns and at select shows she attends. “Yes, it’s a thing. Yes, I sort of made it up. I currently only offer horse yoga in person, and either individually or as a group class. Horse yoga is such a fantastic way to build a trusting relationship with your horse, but it also allows me to watch you in the saddle and offer exercises you can complete both on and off the horse to strengthen your positioning in the saddle and help you become a stronger rider.” She said with a smile.

Although Ellie is currently horseless, she still finds plenty of time to spend with her horse family. She has been given many opportunities to lease and show horses that she would never have been able to if she had to own her own horse. “I am so grateful for the friendships I have made in my barn that they allow me to ride and show their nice horses, so I can save up to buy my own someday.” Ellie loves to show in pattern classes, specifically the classes that highlight a rider’s strength, something that she knows a thing or two about! Horses have gone back to being a hobby for Ellie, one that she looks forward to pursuing for many years to come. We wish Ellie the best of luck with her budding business and her horse endeavors.

By Lauren Stanley