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A day with Monty Roberts

January 30, 2000

by Marilyn Bright

It was Wednesday 26 January 2000 and the long-awaited chance to see for ourselves in New Zealand the much-heralded American Horse Trainer Monty Roberts. We'd read the book with amazement, watched the TV Documentary with a certain degree of scepticism, and now it was time for the real test: a LIVE demonstration in front of a large and not-uncritical audience, with no chance for sleight of hand.

Could this amazing man really achieve what was claimed: educate an unbacked horse to carry a saddle and a rider within half an hour, with no stress, no confrontation, no violence, no fear, no sweat?

He could and he did. Twice in a row. In a round pen in the indoor arena. Before our eyes. Explaining as he did so that the half hour timescale was purely for the purpose of the public demonstration: the SPEED was not the criterion, the object of the exercise was NON-VIOLENCE: co-operation achieved through communication, rather than dominance achieved through intimidation and torture.

How does Monty Roberts work this miracle? Monty's own words are "Join up". The trainer COMMUNICATES with the horse by body language, based on horse-to- horse communication in the wild, and a rapport is established. The trainer takes on the role of Team Leader, the horse signals his/her willingness to submit, and the training begins one simple step at a time.

If there is a misunderstanding, then the steps are repeated and consolidated until the horse signals its acceptance to go one step further. Praise and reassurance reward sucessful completion of each step of the training.

Punishment is not a concept. Chastisement is replaced with REPETITION of the previous steps, followed by reassurance and praise when the horse accepts and elects to submit. What could easily be a stressful and traumatic experience becomes relaxed and comfortable. It is sheer magic to watch.

Just as good to listen to. Monty Roberts keeps up a quiet commentary, answering our doubts and questions as we think them, and interpreting the horse's questions and the trainer's responses for our benefit. One thing we have to remember when we try this at home is to keep our adrenalin levels down. If we act quiet, calm and confident at all times, and we will inspire calm and confidence in our horse. Nothing new in this - but to watch Monty Roberts put it in to practice, was something else again.

It was not all without drama though. Both the horses in the demonstration took to their first saddles like bucking broncos, dispelling any doubts that the audience might have had about the veracity of the owners' claims that their horses were indeed unbacked. But the bucking only lasted about a minute, the horse unrestrained in the round pen. The saddle stayed in place, Monty Roberts remained unperturbed and still in the centre of the pen, the horse quickly realised that nothing was actually hurting, and came back to his trainer requesting reassurance and VOLUNTEERING for the next phase. It had to be seen to be believed.

A simple snaffle bridle seemed to present no problem at all to either horse or trainer, and within minutes a lightweight young lad was on board and the horse was walking - and in one case even trotting - calmly round the pen as if he'd been doing it all his life, not a buck in sight. Nice calm halt. Rider dismounts and off comes the gear. Unbelievable, almost no sign of sweat to be seen. Everything done by mutual consent, with minimal stress and NO VIOLENCE.

The NO VIOLENCE message is Monty Roberts' Gospel. It is the Legacy he hopes to leave to horses worldwide. And he is putting his money where his mouth is. Monty Roberts has registered as a non-profit operation. After a generous donation to R.D.A., proceeds from the Ti Papa demonstration were being channelled to the Waikato Polytechnic School of Equine Studies, where the Monty Roberts methodology will be taught by one of his Advanced Students.

The Finale of the Ti Papa demonstration was the problem-solving display. How to load a rebellious horse onto a truck. Just like that. It was a show stopper. The audience response was that admiring rueful laughter that follows a virtuoso jazz solo, where every instrumentalist in the house appreciates just what a difficult feat has been made to look so easy, and how it would take us 100 years to achieve the same thing, if ever. Yet Monty Roberts tells us it is all within our grasp. All we have to do is listen, learn -- and don't lose our cool or the plot.

 

 

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