Friday, October 02, 2009

Seeing the Man who Listens to Horses

Last evening I went to see a demonstration by Monty Roberts. Monty Roberts in case you were not aware advocates non violent methods in training horses. He is all about understanding the horse and helping it overcome its demons. A real horse whisperer if you like but he doesn't whisper to horses, he listens. No cameras allowed because of the problems of nervous horses and flashes.
And yes, when you see him in action, he makes it look easy but then he is a true outlier. He has had many thousands of hours training horses and perfecting his understanding of them. There is a calmness in his manner. Where others were wearing chest protectors and hard helmets ( because of health and safety) he went into the round pen with a flat cap. He joke he was born with a hard head, but then because of his father's actions Mr Roberts suffered 71 broken bones before he was 18.
He took a horse which had never had a saddle on its back let alone a rider from a nervous state to having a rider within 30 minutes. This is not to say the horse was ready to go out riding with just anyone on its back, but rather he demonstrated how quickly horses could accept things.
Because my friend is a member of the Intelligent Horsemanship, I was able to see the private horse demo which was done by his associate Kelly Marks. She is not as skilled as Mr Roberts but then she has not been doing it as long so it was interesting to see how she had to keep going back to the basics to gain the horse's trust, but she did.
One of the things that made me laugh was in England, Mr Roberts wears a flat cap as he was told that people would not respect him and what he had to say if he wore his cowboy hat. He pointed out that the horses do not care what sort of hat he wears! However, as he did want to get his message across and not just be dismissed, he does wear the flat cap when in the UK. This is a man whose talents at race horse training etc are second to none and who ought to listened to regardless of headgear.
He also rode. To see that man and Kelly Marks ride their horses is to see what true horsemanship can do. I used to think seeing a horse spin very fast was probably trick photography. Nope. The horse was wonderful and moved on fishing line. (Although Mr Roberts got his lines tangled because it was the first night of the tour and he held them to slack as the horse spun the first time!) And Kelly Marks' rescue pony Pie was super -- jumping through a fake blowing fire to get to her and generally doing tricks like walking a teeter - totter bridge.
For me a big highlight was hearing Mr Roberts voice as he is from Northern California originally and showed plus seeing him ride Western. Made me quite homesick.
Anyway, I am thoroughly motivated about training my puppies as PICNIC (Positive Instant Connotations Negative Instant Connotations) and lightness and motivation works for dogs as well as horses.
Equally Mr Roberts is a wonderful role model -- an aspirational leader who inspires love and commands respect. Who says alpha males have to be domineering and horrid.
If you can go, go and see him do his work or otherwise visit his website and see what he is about.


Carol Townend said...

That was fascinating, Michelle!
What a lovely thing to see. I love horses and used to ride but had to stop because sadly I'm allergic to them! :(((

Carol Townend said...

PS That doesn't stop me writing about them though ;)

Anonymous said...

Here's a reading list for you:
For more information:
'Horse Whispers & Lies' at; the Feb. 1999 issue of Horse & Rider magazine's expose, 'Horse Whispers or Horse Feathers?' (might be online at or you may have to get a back issue from H&R); San Francisco Examiner Article: 'BIOGRAPHY CALLED UNBRIDLED FICTION' January 11, 1997; "Horse of a Different Color" by John Skow & James Willwerth, Time Magazine Dec. 14, 1998; "Now! Read the True (More or Less) Story!" Tuesday, February 24, 1998 The New York Times; and "A Peddler of Court Gossip May Pay the Piper" by Jonathon Turley at

The Horse & Rider article was the most exhaustive examination of the controversy. Roberts sued the magazine but then asked for an out of court settlement. Part of the settlement was that H&R agreed to give Roberts a full page ad. In the ad, Roberts used text that gave readers the impression that H&R had either lost the lawsuit or had been the ones to ask for a settlement.

Years later, H&R editor Juli Thorson posted on the Pleasure Horse Journal forum, "There is no issue with a court-ordered apology by Horse & Rider, because the court did not order one. This case was settled out of court, with the request for settlement coming from Mr. Roberts prior to trial. Horse & Rider was fully prepared to go to trial. I was among the people deposed prior to the trial and have copies of all the depositions from both sides. Plaintiff and defendant both agreed to keep all settlement terms confidential."

Yet just the other day, someone who works for an organization that has partnered with Roberts, emailed to me, "By the way so far I have found out that Horse and Rider printed a full
retraction and apology and actually gave Monty free advertising after their publishing of the article almost 10 years ago."

As you can see, what he was told perhaps by someone in Roberts organization, is diametrically opposed to what Horse & Rider editor Juli Thorson said happened.

It seems that many people are unaware of the controversy. If you find Roberts' horse training advice to be helpful or inspiring, that's a good thing. You might want to hold back on nominating him for sainthood, perhaps.