High-profile horse trainer Monty Roberts has responded to criticism of his training techniques in an Australian study, citing a study published in the journal, Anthrozoös, that found his techniques less stressful than conventional British training methods.
It found Monty Roberts’ methods to be less stressful on horses in a comparison with what the study described as a conventional UK technique for training riding horses.
Roberts was moved to respond after Australian researchers suggested this month that two techniques in his training applied emotional pressure to horses, and their responses were based on fear and safety.
The training system of Roberts, who wrote “The Man Who Listens to Horses“, are used worldwide and is referred to as Join-Up.
Cath Henshall, a Master of Animal Science candidate in the Faculty of Veterinary Science at the University of Sydney, who led the Australian research, criticised aspects of round-pen horse training used in the Roberts’ method, saying their research indicated training outcomes were achieved as a result of ‘pressure-release’ and not the ability of the trainer to mimic horse behaviour.
“Put simply, pressure-release works because the horse finds the pressure applied unpleasant and therefore the removal of the pressure rewarding,” said Henshall. “Although it is appealing to think that horses in the round pen choose to follow their trainers because they are responding to us as though we are a horse, we believe that the use of fear has no place in genuinely humane and ethical horse training.”
Roberts responded to the criticism by citing a British study published in the peer-reviewed journal, Anthrozoös, which provided support for his techniques.
The study found that horses trained using the methods of Roberts had significantly lower maximum heart rates when taking their first saddle and rider when compared to a British conventional training method.
The paper, written by Drs Veronica Fowler, Mark Kennedy and David Marlin, is entitled, “A comparison between the Monty Roberts technique and a conventional UK technique for initial training of riding horses”.
“Initial training of young horses, in particular the first time a horse is saddled and ridden, has been recently reported in the scientific literature as a significant stressor in terms of the impact on the welfare of the horse,” Fowler noted.
“It is therefore vital that we fully evaluate the techniques which are practiced around the world to identify those which have the potential to cause compromised welfare and suffering during foundation training of horses.”
The study found that horses trained using Roberts’ methods had significantly lower maximum heart rates during both first saddle and first rider when compared with the conventional training method.
Horses trained with Roberts’ method also had lower heart rates during the period between first saddle and first rider – a finding never previously reported in the scientific literature.
“The heart rates observed from Monty Roberts-trained horses during first saddle and first rider are currently the lowest reported for any training regime reported in the literature to date,” Fowler said.
Fowler noted at the time the paper was accepted for publication that the use of the round pen and, in particular, the technique of Join-Up have been frequently criticised and reported to be another significant stressor due to the perceived opinion that this environment and method overtly activates the flight response.
“Our study could find no evidence that the use of the round pen or, indeed, the technique of Join-Up, was fear-inducing and thus a significant stressor to the horse based on heart rate alone.
“In fact, we found that the heart rate of horses during this technique were considerably below the maximum heart rate for horses of this age and breed.”
After 20 days of training – 30 minutes per horse per day – the study horses undertook a standardised ridden obstacle and flatwork test and a ridden freestyle test.
Heart rates recorded during these tests for both training regimes were not significantly different.
However, Roberts-trained horses scored significantly higher in all three tests as determined by a panel of judges who were unaware of the study or the trainers involved in the study.
“Our manuscript therefore provides peer-reviewed scientific substance to indicate that the Monty Roberts’ training technique is highly efficacious in terms of the effect on the welfare and performance of the horse undergoing foundation training.”
“The Man Who Listens To Horses“, a New York Times best-seller, chronicles Roberts’ life and the development of his horse-training method.
He grew up on a working horse farm as a firsthand witness to traditional, often violent methods of horse training.
Rejecting that, he went on to win nine world championships in the show ring. Today, his goal is to share his message that “Violence is never the answer”.
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