Londonderry equestrian center's mission is rehabilitation


SOUTH LONDONDERRY >> As visitors and clients pull up to Thistle Dew Equestrian Center, they are greeted by a small flock of geese and a pair of ducks. Not only do they act as a living alarm system to intruders and guests but they also spend their days munching on ticks, keeping their equestrian friends free of tick borne illnesses.

After allowing entrance by the feathered flock, the first thing one notices when entering the barn is the smell, or lack thereof. Using organic material and composting methods, Thistle Dew is able to keep the boarding facility, that currently houses eleven horses, smelling fresh and clean.

Twenty-one horse stalls line the walls of the large facility, 11 of them holding beautiful animals, each with a story to tell. Large, curious faces greet everyone who walks by, checking to see if they have a carrot or maybe a hand to scratch behind their ears. In some stalls there are older horses, calmly observing, others hold younger horses, clearly full of energy and happy to say hi to everyone. A lesson takes place in the large riding hall in the back and in the corridor between occupied stalls, a pony gets braided and groomed.

In the midst of this horse haven is Tini Heinrich (Hamilton), a tall woman with blonde hair and an air of peaceful calmness. It is clear that she is running the show and that the horses adore her. A quick scratch and simple vocal greeting and each horse seems to know exactly what she is saying. Her ease around these animals is contagious and her entire staff has adopted her gentle approach to training and rehabilitation.

Heinrich started Thistle Dew Equestrian Center in 2004 and operated in until 2010. She recently has reopened the 24-acre center focusing mainly on rehabilitation. Having received training in Germany and Austria, Heinrich found herself in Vermont, training with Janet Schurink. Keeping with the techniques she learned in Europe, she opened the center to board horses and do some repair work. She did not realize how big the demand for rehabilitation was going to be.

Now, Heinrich, after reopening the center, has devoted herself to helping horses with personalized care. She works one-on-one with each horse, focusing on the whole horse. Diet, training, schedules, and the rhythm of each day are all brought into balance. She works with veterinarians, both locally and around the country, to make sure each animal is in good health and free from pain or illness. She makes sure they receive the care they need while being rehabilitated and after, when they return home to their owners.

Sometimes extremely stressed, in pain and/or overly pampered, having lost some of their "horsiness," Heinrich's task is to replenish their balance in a holistic way. "They lose their ability to balance and channel their energy properly." She starts by removing the stress from their lives. She never attacks an issue with a horse without knowing it's story or foundation. She befriends, observes, find out if it has physical issues, and then observes the horse with their handler.

Typically, Heinrich is able to get to the root of the issue within two weeks of their arrival at her center.

Growing up, Heinrich was always empathetic to horses, able to know how they were feeling. She was born loving them and had a natural connection as a child that has stayed with her into adulthood. Her energy around horses is calm and complimentary. Her philosophy with training and rehabilitation boils down to her belief that, "You will get back whatever you put out." She never loses her patience or hits or yanks on the animals. "If you are gentle, kind, calm, and quiet, that's exactly what you are going to get from your horses."

Based on her training in Europe, Heinrich practices classic dressage with her horse clients, as well as her own horse, who arrived to her with major behavioral issues. He came to her with aggression issues and a fear of adults. He was dangerous. After working with him in the way she works with all of her clients, by starting as if he was a baby horse, working on those building blocks, she was able to rehabilitate him into a loving and happy animal. Heinrich has found that it usually takes almost as long to undo the behavioral issues as it did for them to set in. It is not an overnight process, it is a labor of love.

Once the horse has turned around and has become a happier and healthier individual, Heinrich brings the handlers to the Center and works with them as well. This holistic approach, combined with the level of care and compassion that Heinrich and her staff have, is what brings people to her. The love she has for the horses, and the mutual respect they have for her, is abundant and clear.

Thistle Dew Equestrian Center not only rehabilitates horses, but they end up rehabilitating people as well. "If you have someone who has issues in their life, the horse will sense it. I have seen it," Kasaundra Felion, Stable Manager, said. "Horses can save lives."

To find out more or to contact Thistle Dew Equestrian Center call 802-379-1904 or email

Michelle Stephens is a writer, wife, mother, dog wrangler, cookie baker, coffee drinker. Stephens is a regular contributor to the Reformer. Read more of her work on her blog at


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