Gilbert was born in Campbellton, New Brunswick at the closest hospital to his parents’ farm in the Gaspe region of Quebec. He has been working with horses since he was “un p’tit garcon”. His father died when Gilbert was only 3 years old, so Gilbert’s mother relied on the children to help run the family farm.
They had no tractor, so all of the heavy work was done by horses. They used horses to cut and collect hay, haul water from the river for the vegetable gardens, and miscellaneous other farm work. They also used horses for logging.
Gilbert learned early how to safely hitch up the horses and drive them. He helped a neighbor with logging and learned how to use a chain saw to cut timber. They’d use a horse to pull the timber out of the bush.
As a teenager, Gilbert was a wrangler for his brother’s horse rental stable near Montreal. He would get the horses started every spring, riding dozens of them to get them ready for a season carrying clients on the trails. Then he would guide the trail rides all season. Over the years, he’s started more horses under saddle than he can count.
In Quebec, he was also a fierce rodeo competitor, once sponsored by Boulet boots. His specialties were bareback bronc riding and barrel racing, but he tried his hand at several other rodeo events, including bull riding. He became a skilled horseshoer, training with a master horseshoer at Blue Bonnet harness racing track in Montreal.
Gilbert moved to British Columbia in 1980, first settling briefly in Osoyoos, where he started to learn English and was nicknamed “Frenchy”. He became known for working with difficult horses, and was soon recruited to work for Del Rio stables starting young thoroughbreds in the Lower Mainland.