Monty Roberts at the Royal Stud

 

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Monty Roberts took horse whispering to the masses. But his groundbreaking methods would never have gone very far if it hadn’t been for the Queen of England who convinced him to start writing books to spread the word.

 

Interview and photos Camilla Alfthan

 

 

As a former child actor in Hollywood Monty Roberts knows how to dress for the occasion. At the Royal Stud in Sandringham he has replaced his cowboy hat with a classic tweed cap and his bright blue shirt is tucked into his pants with a silver buckled belt which is engraved with his name.

23 years after their first meeting, Monty Roberts is in England to work with the Queen’s yearlings.

While the stud workers are watching from the sidelines of a wooden corral, Monty manages to get even the most difficult horse to accept a saddle and a first rider in only a few days.

When he communicates with the horses he’s mostly silent, as he’s using his eyes and his body in a language that he’s named Equus after he learned it as a child from the wild mustangs in the desert of Nevada.

 

STARTING TWELVE YEARLINGS IN FIVE DAYS

 

This is the second year that the 76-year old horse whisperer has come to Sandringham to help with the yearlings. And he is more than happy to do so as it was an invitation from the Queen in 1989 that changed his life for good.

After having read about Monty Robert’s work in America, the Queen invited him to spend five days at Windsor to demonstrate his concept. Initially, she had planned to watch it on video, but somehow she ended up spending all the five days at the corral along with the Queen Mother.

That was also the very first time Monty Roberts worked in front of an audience. Since then, he’s made thousands of demonstrations all over the world.

“The Queen instilled in me in a strong desire to educate in my concept. She thought that the industry deserved it,” he tells in between two horses.

When people traditionally “break” horses, Monty “starts” them – using his eyes and his body in a muted language that he learned from the wild mustangs in the desert of Nevada. In Sandringham he’s starting 12 yearlings over the course of five days. Each time the procedure is more or less the same; like a carefully choreographed performance.

 

Monty’s basic philosophy is to make the horse a willing partner rather than an obedient participant.

His procedure is always the same.  He starts by provoking the horse’s natural instinct to flee. He looks it in the eye while he throws his reins like a lasso, so that it startles and jumps away from him.  When he shifts the reins from one hand to the other, the horse changes its direction. When he opens his hand to look like a predator it picks up speed, and the opposite happens when he moves his eyes away from its neck to its hind quarters and it starts to relax and slows down.

Eventually, as the horse lowers its head in acceptance, it is time for what Monty Roberts calls Join-Up; when he rubs its head softly with his hands and then starts to walk away, and the horse decides to follow him as if it were led by an invisible rein.

Some twenty-five minutes after they began one of his helpers enters the corral with a saddle that he carefully slips on its back. The horse is ready for its first rider, and if Monty not completely sure he straps a dummy onto its saddle before it carries a real person. On the second or third day it’s time to try the starting stalls that are situated in a fenced corral a few steps away.

Things that would normally take weeks, happen in a few days. The secret behind it all is methodical steps that the horse observes and then accepts.

“Horses have survived for 50 million years because they are extremely observant.

The general view is that they can only think in the moment. That is not true. They can make decisions and they can bond with a predator,” he tells.

 

A SLOW PROCESS

 

With more than 5 million sold copies, Monty Roberts’ first book ‘The Man Who Listens to the Horses’ was an instant bestseller when it came out in 1996.  Six other titles have since followed and 2011 ago the Queen made him a Member of the Victorian Order for his services to the Royal Family.  
More than two decades after Monty Roberts introduced his methods to the public scientific studies have shown that horses that are trained his way have the lowest pulse rate when they enter the starting stalls.

“A lot of people are sceptical about the way I work so it’s been a slow process getting everybody on board. For twenty years I was at Gestüt Farhof in Germany and the first seven or eight years it was nearly zero. It was only seven years after a corral was built that they starting using it. At first they were against it because they thought it would look ugly but you can make it as beautiful as you want, and put hedges around it or make it with wood like here. Now that they’re using my methods the difference in their horses is amazing. Now they’ve had 28 champions produced from it.”

 

“Horses don’t hate the stalls but they hate what happens when they get there.” 

 

Monty Roberts points are simple. Horses don’t hate the stalls but they hate what happens when they get there. You can either work with it now or deal with it at the races, he says.

“If the horses only know your training and it’s the third day they are ridden, it’s imprinting, isn’t it? So the day the go to the races they’re OK. Today, Schiergen’s, Farhof’s and Wohler’s horses are looking at the others going; “What are they stirring up about?” Now they’re finding that it’s a bit of a disadvantage because they’re making them go in first. And they stand there for an interminable long time before they stuff in the other bad actors. It should be the other way around; the bad actors first. You’re giving them a reward, really, for being bad.”

 

“The Queen instilled in me in a strong desire to educate in my concept. She thought that the industry deserved it"

 

 

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