Peer-reviewed study backs Monty Roberts' techniques

October 6, 2011

Horses trained using the methods of Monty Roberts had significantly lower maximum heart rates when taking their first saddle and rider when compared to a British conventional training method, researchers report.

Monty Roberts
A research paper comparing Roberts' methods to a traditional training regime has been accepted for publication in the peer-reviewed journal, Anthrozoös.

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".

Before appearing in Anthrozoös, the study will this month be presented at the International Society of Equitation Science, having been accepted by its scientific committee, and also at the Centre for Animal Welfare & Anthrozoology, at the Department of Veterinary Medicine at Cambridge University.

Fowler said the study compares the effectiveness of the Monty Roberts horsemanship technique to what she described as a conventional British training technique for the initial training of 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," she says.

"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.

"Our study reports that horses trained using Monty Robert's methods had significantly lower maximum heart rates during both first saddle and first rider when compared to a UK conventional training method."

Horses trained with Roberts' method also had lower heart rates during the period between first saddle and first rider - a finding which has never previously been 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 said 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 heart rates observed from Monty Roberts-trained horses when they are first saddled and first ridden were the lowest reported, researchers say.
Roberts first gained widespread fame with the release of his "New York Times" best-seller, "The Man Who Listens To Horses".

It is a chronicle of his life and the development of his non-violent horse training method called Join-up.

Roberts 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's championships in the show ring. Today, his goal is to share his message that "Violence is never the answer".

He recently launched his Equus Online University; an interactive online lesson site that is already being considered the most effective educational tool for horsemen on the web.

Fowler spent nine years at university gaining a Bachelor of Science, with honours, in Animal Science at the University of Reading), a Master of Science in Equine Science from Hartpury College, and a PhD in Infectious Diseases of Animals (Royal Veterinary College).

She now works as a post-doctoral research scientist at the Institute for Animal Health, and as an Equine Science consultant specialising in equine behaviour, welfare and physiology.

Fellow researcher Mark Kennedy, BSc, PhD, started his career by leaving school to train as a riding instructor. Having gained equestrian skills he continues to use, he decided to embark on a path of academic study of the horse, culminating in his Doctorate from the University of Cambridge.

His first love and professional interest continues to be the horse. Now based at Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge, his research focuses on the effect of accepted and novel management practices on equine behaviour, welfare and reproduction.

He has recently launched an equine reproductive behaviour consultancy.