This weekend I was fortunate enough to attend a two-day horsemanship seminar at beautiful Boneo Park Equestrian Centre. It was conducted by the legendary Monty Roberts, aka The Man Who Listens To Horses. He’s a proponent of natural horsemanship, and I’ve been a fan of his forever. Of course natural horsemanship has also been around forever, at least for as long as humans and horses have been partners, about six thousand years. It’s a way of interacting with horses using minimum force, and designed not to stress or upset them. Unfortunately, it’s not the only way.
So eighty-year old Monty Roberts didn’t invent natural horsemanship, but he has been a decades-long proponent. He developed his particular method by watching wild mustangs interact with each other. He recognised a body language among the horses that was used to communicate and set boundaries. He found he could predictably read their fear, anger, irritation, relaxation and affection. Using this silent language allowed training in a more effective and humane manner, encouraging true partnership between horses and humans. Monty calls this language Equus. He inspired both the book and film The Horse Whisperer, and holds doctorates in human and animal behavioural psychology. By personal request of Queen Elizabeth, he trained the palace horses and has since spread his non-violent training techniques all over the world.
Monty Roberts is also an author. His first book, The Man Who Listens to Horses spent fifty-eight weeks on the New York Times Bestsellers list. It was translated into fifteen languages and sold more than five million copies worldwide, His other books include the best-selling Shy Boy: The Horse That Came in from the Wild, Horse Sense for People, From My Hands to Yours, The Horses in My Life and Ask Monty. Oh, and did I mention that he and his wife of fifty-eight years have also fostered forty-seven children 🙂
I was curious to see the man in action, and was not disappointed. Monty performed his signature ‘join up’ liberty technique, a round yard trust exercise, with over a dozen very different horses that he’d never met before. It was astonishing how predictably each animal reacted: cocking an ear towards him, narrowing the circle, licking its lips and finally bowing its head. At this point the horse sought out Monty and reliably followed him – joining the herd. This was the precursor to some pretty amazing things. Youngsters calmly saddled and ridden for the first time, within the space of half an hour (four of them!) Dangerously spooky horses willingly following Monty over ground tarpaulins and past scary objects without lead ropes. Notoriously difficult loaders nonchalantly entering floats. This was truly impressive. One horse had taken four people and five hours to load it the previous day. Monty had it trotting, yes trotting, into the float of its own accord within fifteen minutes. More importantly, its young owner then replicated this success.
And Monty Roberts, at eighty years old, did all of his own horse-handling. I’d expected him to delegate much of the teaching. He was most generous with his time, answering questions and giving me some wonderful advice on a training issue I’m having with one of my mares. I’m convinced! He seems to be on an urgent mission to make the world a better place for both humans and horses. That is a wonderful thing!
‘For centuries, humans have said to horses, ‘You do what I tell you or I’ll hurt you.’ Humans still say that to each other — still threaten, force and intimidate. I’m convinced that my discoveries with horses have value in the workplace, in the educational and penal systems, and in the raising of children. At heart, I’m saying that no one else has the right to say ‘you must’ to an animal — or to another human.’ Monty Roberts