German-born horse trainer Denise Heinlein was one of the very few women and foreigners to have presented horses in Argentina’s prestigious La Rural show. She is the right hand (wo)man of famous horse whisperer Monty Roberts and when she’s not busy training natural horsemanship students at the Monty Roberts International Learning Center in California, she is traveling around the world sharing new methods of training horses and working on a documentary about her passion.
Author: Charlotte Kingsman
Question: Can you tell us a little about you?
My Name is Denise Heinlein and I was born in Germany. I have been passionate about horses pretty much since I was born. As a child, I was already drawn to those beautiful animals.
I started volting when I was 5 years and, since that time, I think the longest I have spent away from horses is 2 months! After studying languages, I decided to look into becoming a professional in the equine industry.
It took a while to find the right path. Eventually I went on to study equine behavior sciences and trained in the natural horsemanship concepts of the famous “horse whisperer” Monty Roberts. Today I am working as an Equine Behavior Specialist and as a Monty Roberts Certified Instructor.
In this journey so far, I have met so many like minded people and also learned a lot about myself. In my mission towards really understanding horses I was pushed to step out of my comfort zone, something I would probably not have done otherwise. I have had so many challenges along the way – The biggest one to learn more about myself!
Q: You are involved in many different projects at the same time. Can you tell us a bit more about your work regarding Natural Horsemanship in Argentina.
As the Head Instructor at the Monty Roberts International Learning Center, I have met students from all over the world coming to the school to learn about horse behavior and natural horsemanship. Each student has shared with me their stories and the reasons why they are looking for an alternative way to handle horses compared to the traditional way currently in use in their countries.
Some of these students then invited me to visit them, and I took up many of these invitations! One of them, my student and now fellow instructor and friend Melanie asked me to come and support her work in Argentina, a country I’d never been to before. Melanie is from a polo playing family, an equestrian sport I had not had much interaction with at that point. These were two very good reasons to head there.
Melanie and I were honored to be invited by the Asociacion Argentina de Criadores de Caballos de Polo (Argentine Association of Polo Horse Breeders) to demonstrate our work with horses at La Rural.
La Rural is an annual agricultural and livestock show held in the Palermo section of Buenos Aires. The event is organised by La Sociedad Rural Argentina (The Argentine Rural Society) and both the Exhibition and the Society are known locally as La Rural.
The exhibition has taken place in the society’s Santa Fe Avenue exhibition centre and fairground, each year in July since 1886. Primarily a farming show, breeders arrive from all over the country to exhibit their livestock, particularly cattle but also horses. As such, it is a very prestigious local platform for polo trainers and breeders to present horses.
Q: How was it like presenting at La Rural?
Melanie and I were nervous about it. The country and culture were new to me, and Melanie had only recently become a professional trainer. But it was a great honor so we knew we had to rise to the occasion.
It required a lot of preparation. We needed to choose the right horses to showcase in the best possible way what we wanted to demonstrate. At that time, we had three horses in different stages of training.
At La Rural, we used three mares from two different polo farms to show the audience progressive desensitization, the first saddle and long lining. The forecast had been for rain but we were very lucky! It only started raining at the end of our demonstration!
Looking back, I feel like it was a tremendous experience for both of us. We were happy to show our training methods in a new country and the horses were incredible.
Q: What is your life on a day-to-day basis?
Good question – I don’t have a day-to-day routine! I love to travel and to learn as much as I can from other cultures and countries. When and where I can, I teach classes and conduct clinics on horse behavior and training. During the rest of the time, I am busy with the Monty Roberts administrative work for the school and tours in Germany. I fly regularly to California, where the Monty Roberts Natural Horsemanship school is. Furthermore I am also setting up my own place in southern Germany with a plan to conduct courses from there.
I am also involved in an NGO EQUUS which I founded with a friend. We use horses for youth at risk or people with post traumatic stress disorder.
Q: What are some of your most memorable horse travels?
It would be hard to pick one but Argentina is extremely beautiful. I tend to prefer places with a lower population density because I love to experience the power of nature. India was amazing too. There, I rode 500km with friends on horseback to enjoy the beautiful countryside but also to collect money for a local animal rescue center. California, and the US in general, have such stunning landscapes. It is hard for me to choose. One thing is clear, however, it’s that I don’t have enough memorable travels memories yet! So I’m busy creating new ones.
Q: I heard you are working on a documentary?
The idea for the documentary was born after I discovered how each country and region treats and deals with animals in very different ways. I was able to witness the power of tradition and the fact that people tend to follow it even if it may not be the best choice sometimes. I think that we humans have the responsibility to know when we do something good or bad. In the end it all comes down to awareness and the ability to connect. It will be about awareness, tradition, nature, the beauty of diversity and horses of course.
I was lucky to have come across a very experienced and talented director with plenty of knowledge of the film industry. She liked my idea! So far, we have been with the team to film in Argentina and Europe. We have wonderful images but that’s only the start. There is much more to do. I am super excited about that project. You can follow my InterEquus Social Media for all the updates!
Are you interested in how to connect and communicate with horses? We have a whole selection of articles about Natural Horsemanship. Check them out!