Karoliny Lopes: The Self-Taught Horse Trainer and Artist Making Waves in Brazil


A few years ago, while scrolling through Instagram, a patchy horse and a girl with remarkably long hair caught my attention. Fully clothed as a Gaucha and spinning in circles with her horse, I stumbled upon Karoliny Lopes’ account. As mentioned in almost every one of the blogs about South America, the way of treating and training horses here is by dominating the horse. Karoliny's unique approach to horse training, focusing on trust and groundwork rather than domination, sets her apart in a field traditionally dominated by men.

This article is written by Stine. Read more about our team here!

Detailed black and white drawing of two horses with bridles, showcasing intricate shading and realistic features.
Some of Karoliny’s art
Detailed black and white drawing of a bucking rodeo horse, showcasing intricate shading and realistic features.

From Beach Surfer to Renowned Horse Trainer

Karoliny Lopes grew up by the beach in Florianopolis, Brazil, an area devoid of gaucho culture. Despite her non-horse family background, she developed a passion for horses at a young age. At 11, she started riding, and by 13, she acquired her first horse, shared with her dad’s business partner. This horse was primarily a working animal, used for plowing, but Karoliny's dedication turned it into her passion project. She would bike around looking for grass to cut to bring back to her horse, trim the hooves and take on all the responsibility by herself.

Gauchas riding grey and palomino horses on a dirt road between corn fields on a clear sunny day
Riding through the corn fields

Without any formal teachers, she learned to care for and train her horse through self-developed methods. Her journey is reminiscent of children's books about the dream of having horses, filled with determination and love for the animals. After a while, she decided to sell her share of the horse, and with this money, she bought herself another horse, but definitely not less challenging!

Important: Karoliny does not work with volunteers or any other helpers. This was solely a visit with the intention of learning about her life with horses in Brazil as a female horse trainer.

Gaucha in indoor arena riding circles on a black and white horse
Karoliny riding Apache, the horse that helped her get to where she is today

Discovering her calling

At 18, Karoliny sold her horse to pursue biomedicine in Lages. However, city life left her feeling empty without horses. She turned to drawing, sharing her art on social media. As her followers began buying her artwork, she found a new source of income. Despite her parents' skepticism, her art became her primary income source.

Realising biomedicine was not her true calling, she returned to her roots; her home at the beach. There, she met Apache, a Pinto horse who became the catalyst for her career in horse training.

Gaucha with long brown hair riding her palomino horse by the river through lush green grass
Riding in the beautiful surroundings around the Fazenda 

Breaking into the Gaucho Culture

While in Lages, Karoliny sought work with horses. During a bike ride with a friend, she found a place where she offered to tame and shoe horses. Initially met with skepticism, she was given a challenge: ‘If you can ride this problematic horse to that gate, then she’s yours’. Rising to the challenge, she worked her magic over time and proved her worth by successfully riding to the gate, earning the horse, and respect in a male-dominated field.

Karoliny's innovative methods, developed through her own experiences, involve listening to the horse and creating a bond. She focuses on flexibility, desensitisation, and breaking down movements into segments, leading to more responsive and confident horses.

Gaucho riding her horse in green fields at sunset, with cattle watching from a distance
Sunset ride 

Life at the Fazenda

Today, Karoliny lives with Leandro Baldissera in São Paulo, an area influenced by American cowboy culture. Leandro, a 12-time winner of the Barretos rodeo, which is one of the most famous rodeos in the world, featuring bulls and horses. He works alongside Karoliny to train horses considered complicated or untrainable. Their fazenda combines traditional gaucho culture with modern cowboy techniques.

Palomino horse galloping in a sandy arena going around barrels to train for a barrel racing competition
Karoliny training one of their young horses for barrel racing  

The Intersection of Gaucho and Cowboy Cultures

At their fazenda, two distinct cultures meet: the traditional gaucho and the modern cowboy. Karoliny appreciates the advanced techniques of American cowboy culture, incorporating them into her training methods. Her goal is to create well-rounded horses capable of performing various tasks, from fieldwork to opening gates.

Gauchos riding horses towards a field of cows on lush green grass on a cool cloudy evening
Evening ride, checking on the cows

The (now) Tame Palomino Gelding

When visiting their place, I was riding a beautiful palomino gelding. Most of their horses are stallions and geldings. As we came back from a ride, Leandro said that they received the palomino in December as he couldn’t be tamed. Six months later and I was now hanging on his neck trying to avoid branches while looking for horses, and he took great care of me. It was truly an honour riding their horses. It was very impressive to see the work they had accomplished with their horses and how they gave the horses a second chance. 

Gaucho riding palomino horse on a clear sunny day through a field of grass surrounded by trees
The Palomino gelding

Karoliny's Plans for the Future

Aside from training horses, they cultivate corn, soybeans, and raise cattle. Karoliny's future plans involve buying, training, and selling young horses, ensuring they are versatile and well-trained for various tasks. Her plans for the future are to buy and train young horses and sell them when they are fully trained. She trains them to be able to do everything. This might seem very basic to you, but they are trained and tamed so you can walk up to them and catch them, ride them, open gates. They also need to be good in the field when working with animals. In general, she works mostly with the Criollo horses. She starts by introducing them to the halter and desensitising them, teaching them to follow her around. She doesn’t use a leather strap in the mouth as the first step, as most gauchos do. First, she makes them flex with a halter, and when they are comfortable with it, she introduces the bit. 

Gaucho riding a black horse and pushing a buffalo out of the way
A neighbours buffalo had gone onto their property and Karoliny was demonstrating how to push it back out. 

Overcoming Challenges as a Woman in a Male-Dominated Field

Karoliny has faced significant challenges as a woman in horse training. Despite her proven results, she encounters skepticism due to her lack of formal certification. She also avoids offering training courses to prevent becoming a target of bullying from critics.

This didn't come as a shock to us. After traveling through South America since 2018, one of the biggest difficulties we encountered was making Latina friends. Firstly, there's a noticeable gender gap in horse riding and working with horses. Secondly, there's a tendency for jealousy and competitiveness among women. So, when Karoliny shared that she faced the same difficulties in making female friends, it didn’t come as a shock, but anyhow still quite surprising, as she is South American and not a foreigner.

Gaucho shoeing a horse at a stable
Karoliny also has a basic knowledge of shoeing

The Horse that Opened all Doors for Karoliny

Karoliny bought Apache when he was 11 and she was 21, and he was the kickstart to her career. Today Apache is 18. He was a difficult horse to ride, as he had a tendency to be very hard in the mouth and would always bolt off when riding. She started using her own techniques by listening to the horse and create a bond. Identifying the weakness and helping overcome the challenges to create a stronger and more confident horse.

Today Apache is very responsive, being ridden with light pressure on the reins, and reacting more to the movement of the rider’s body. Her accomplishments with Apache have opened many doors, leading to job offers and recognition. Karoliny's approach emphasises trust and communication with the horse, setting her apart from traditional methods that focus on domination.

Horse trainer on pinto stallion in an indoor arena
Another one of the horses they have in training

A Passion for Art and Horses

Karoliny is not only an incredible horse trainer but also a talented self-taught artist. Her drawings, primarily of horses and dogs, have gained a substantial following on social media. Her art provides a glimpse into her deep passion for horses and her unique approach to training them.

When working at an estancia, she was participating in a reality show, where she and three other women had two weeks to break in a horse each. It’s very moving and you can truly see her passion, and even though it's in Portuguese, it's truly worth watching. You can feel her deep passion for her horses and appreciate her brilliant approach to training them.

Gaucha tacking up a pinto horse in a traditional stable with a traditional Brazilian saddle and tack
Karoliny and Apache

Karoliny Lopes' story is a testament to perseverance, passion, and innovation. From a surfer girl in Florianopolis to a renowned horse trainer and artist, her journey inspires many. Her methods, focusing on trust and communication, challenge traditional norms and showcase the potential for a more compassionate approach to horse training.

Follow Karoliny on Instagram to witness her remarkable journey and see more of her incredible art and horse training techniques. Head over to Stine's Instagram and click on the "Brazil" highlight for more videos and photos from our visit.

Gauchas playing cards in a bar
In the evenings we would play cards, listen to Brazilian folk music and drink beers
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