Denise Van Gils
Published on Issue n.2/2020 presented at the Menton Show
Denise Van Gils
Portrait Of A Dutch Handler
Interviewed by Sonja Smaldone
Horse training and handling is a tough profession for a man or a woman. However, Denise van Gils from Holland is undaunted. Her love for hor- ses is overwhelming to the extent of spending twenty-four hours with the most elegant animal in the world. Denise has lived in Doha, Qatar, for five months working for Al Bayraq Stud. Now she is back in the Netherlands where she built her own Van Gils Show-Training Centre. Hello Denise. Just to set the scene with our readers, will you please give us some background to you, your family and education? I am 25 years old and I grew up in the Netherlands. Like so many of us, I fell in love with horses as a little girl and I never missed a chance of coming to the riding school with my older sister. She is eleven years older than I am and she was giving riding lessons in the Pony Club for as long as I can remember. That is how I learned to ride. I think we spent more time at the barn than we spent at home! When I was in high school, I quickly realised that horses were my passion, so I decided to pur- sue a career as a show trainer. How did the passion you have for Arabian horses begin? To what extent has the love you nurture for the Arabian horse affected your life? When I got a little older I started to ride horses for private people. I have always felt strongly attracted to Arabians horses and part-bred, something just resonated with me. I got the opportunity to ride a Russian gelding, Maroud Najib, and I started spending time at a little farm called Valdes Arabian Stud. This is where I started to show on an amateur level and again something just clicked. I decided that this was what I wanted to do in my life, what I wanted to be. Not long after my first win in the amateur range, I started to work for Johanna Ullstrom in the paradise that is Darby Farm. I have gotten some amazing experiences and worked for fabulous trainers and farms as a professional groom. Three years ago, I decided to take a step further and I opened Van Gils Show Training as my own business. In September 2019, I got the opportunity to take it to the next level by being the manager and handler for Al Bayraq Stud in Qatar for the winter season. A time where I have probably learned the most that I could in such a short time. Arabian horses are not just a passion. They are my heart and my soul. A life without Arabian horses does not exist in my book. Denise, have you developed a systematic program for han- dling Arabian horses. Can you describe this program? How have your handling techniques evolved over the years? During that time of riding horses for private people, I really le- arned a lot about Natural Horsemanship and Parelli techniques that just felt like the right way for me. While working for Johan- na, I learned about how to handle the horses in an honest and logical way and to apply all those techniques to show training. This way of training is just so easy to understand for the horses. Later on, I spent two years at Schoukens Training Centre and lived for a year in Scottsdale, Arizona, where I also gained a whole lot of experience. After this period and all the people I have learned from, I developed my own way of training. I love to look at other people and other trainers to learn from them. I find it important to be open minded. One of my favourite sayings I have heard from a well-respected trainer is: ‘You will learn something every day, each day in your life. The mo- ment someone says: ‘I know everything’ means he does not know anything at all.’ Is there a limit to what an Arabian horse can be tau- ght through handling? In my opinion with a soft hand, logic, trust, patience and ho- nesty there are not many limits to what you can teach a horse. What, in your opinion, really defines a good Handler? What do you need to become a successful one? In my opinion a good handler is someone that knows and reads the horse ultimately and treats it as an individual. Someone who can get the best out of each horse they handle. In the showring this results in a happy horse, that trots with the tail proudly arched over the back, that snorts, blows, and prances. And all this without pushing, pulling or any kind of interference of the handler. I think you can tell a lot about a handler by looking at the horse they are handling... You need to be a patient, open-minded person with a great ability to adapt to the mindset of each horse, to their bloodlines and individuality. Denise, how do you feel about the showing environment? Do the most deserving horses in terms of today’s standards really win at shows? It really depends on the shows, which country, level, etc. Un- fortunately, you will see smaller crowds in small national shows than in the big A shows and title shows. I think we, as the so- ciety that loves Arabian horses, should really make the shows more accessible to newcomers. To show them how wonderful and versatile our beloved breed is. The quality of the horses improves a lot and the competitions are getting tougher and tougher. Especially in the Middle East, many farms do everything they can in their power to have the horses looking their very best. Especially when you compare that to other farms from breeders and owners who do not have those facilities or opportunities. This is one of the major diffe- rences you can see in the showring. What are your favourite bloodlines? I have always had a soft spot for Versace and his offspring. I am lucky to own a granddaughter of him and she truly is my heart horse. Pedigrees are so very important and as a trainer, I find it very important to educate myself and read into the pedigrees of the horses I get to work with. ‘Knowing your pedigree’ is an ingredient of being a good trainer. Besides Versace, I like Magic Dream Cahr, Legacy of Gold, Ali Jamaal, Dakar el Jamaal, and the older Brazilian lines. These horses combined with damlines that are more modern usually result in the horses that I like. Which show have you been to as a Handler most recently? Sha- re with us most exciting moments... My last show was the 29th Qatar International Arabian Horse show 2020 last February. One of my clients from Kuwait en- trusted me with his precious white mare, who I had loved ever since I laid eyes on her. We transported her from the Nether- lands to Doha, Qatar, so that I could train her and get her ready for the competition. As a Straight Egyptian mare in the country of super quality SE horses, we really showed them something! Qamariah (Sufwan x Zaafarana x Farid Nile Moon) and I had so much fun in this show and ended up Top 4 in a tough inter- national senior mare class. Another fantastic result in this show was with the colt Bahi al Safinat (Kohinoor x Amira al Safinat x Marwan al Shaqab) who was Top 4 in the junior colt class. It was just such an amazing moment to compete in this big show, in the midst of all the heavy hitters in our industry, and taking Top 4 with this little white mare with the pink nose! How important are the Fairs of Arabian horses? In my opinion, the auctions and Arabian Horse Fairs are very beneficial for the Arabian horse society. Many small and big bre- eders gather and share their knowledge. It is a great introduction to new people of the industry what we really need! How and where do you see yourself in ten years? In ten years... hum... I never really tend to think that far forward! I would like to see myself in a small farm, surrounded by the people that I love. Waking up every day with a smile doing what makes me happy. In addition, have some gorgeous horses in my barn and some trophies on the shelves from the results we have made the past ten years. In the future, I hope that my style of trai- ning inspires people to make a difference in the way of handling and understanding horses. Denise, will you please leave a final message for the readers of AHM? There is one thing I have learned in this industry and that is be- lieve in you no matter what anyone says. And me as a trainer, breeder, horsewoman... believe that I am responsible for each horse I get in my hands. It does not matter if it is a horse that I bred or a horse that my client entrusts me with. It is my job and responsibility to give this horse the tools to live a long, happy and healthy life. Because no horse chooses to be in this world. It is the breeders’ choice, so it is their main responsibility to take care of their horses and choose the right homes for them. Thank you so much Denise. Your words have touched us deeply. May all your dreams come true!