Academy 2014 Speaker: Monty Roberts
Saturday Morning, June7, 2014
The “man who listens to horses” can often be found spreading his message of nonviolence around the world. When he’s not at his horse-training farm in the beautiful Santa Ynez Valley, he’s speaking to incarcerated youth in a juvenile detention facility, gentling his 15,000th horse at a demonstration, teaching his techniques to the growing number of students at his Equestrian Academy in Solvang, California or advising executives at Fortune 500 companies.
Why have millions of people from all walks of life responded to his PBS television shows, books, demonstrations, and media appearances with such passion? What makes Monty’s message so compelling that everyone wants to invite this cowboy to share his experiences with their executives and leaders?
Perhaps it comes from the undeniable power of personal experience, of having witnessed too many horses “broken” in using violent, traditional methods. Perhaps it’s having experienced an abusive childhood himself.
Monty first learned to listen to horses while observing wild mustangs in Nevada at the age of thirteen. Sent there to round up horses for a rodeo, he spent hours silently watching the feral horses interact with each other. He began to realize that they used a discernible, effective and predictable body language to communicate, set boundaries, show fear and express annoyance, relaxation or affection.
In a moment that would change his life and the lives of horses and people forever, Roberts understood that utilizing this silent language would allow training to commence in a much more effective and humane manner, encouraging true partnership between horses and humans. Later, he would name this moment of partnership “Join Up,” and it would become the foundation for his work with horses and people.
After this revelatory moment with the wild horses, Roberts returned home to his family’s riding school in Salinas, California. There, he had grown up watching his father “break” horses using traditional methods involving pain, control, fear and coercion. Testing his new insights into the nature of horses, Monty tried out some of his new ideas and was promptly punished for challenging his father’s traditional methods.
Monty remained undeterred from his vision and later became a champion Western horseman. Hollywood hired him as a “stand in” rider and stunt double for stars such as Elizabeth Taylor in National Velvet and many other films. He even worked with James Dean during the pre-production and filming of the acclaimed movie East of Eden.
Monty knew that his future lay in working with horses, and he commenced an incredible career in thoroughbred racing. Throughout the years he worked with many champions (including the famed “Alleged”) and opened a training facility, Flag Is Up Farms, on 154 acres in the Santa Ynez Valley in 1966. He and his wife, Pat, enjoyed immense success training thoroughbreds, becoming the leading consigner of two-year-olds-in-training at the Hollywood Park Racetrack for 18 years. Even today, the walls of Monty and Pat’s offices are covered with artwork, newspaper clippings and other memorabilia from their years on the track.
In the 1980s a phone call came that again changed the direction of Monty’s life. The call was from the offices of Queen Elizabeth II. She is an avid horsewoman and had heard about Roberts’ work. She invited him to come to England to share his “Join Up” method with her staff. The Queen was so impressed by his demonstration she urged him to write a book. That book became “The Man Who Listens to Horses”.
Published in 1996, his book became a full-blown phenomenon, spending 58 weeks on the New York Times Bestseller list, and was eventually translated into 15 languages. The book sold 5 million copies. Suddenly, Roberts and his training methods had skyrocketed into the limelight. The phone lines were jammed at the farm and the media was clamoring to get an interview; but more importantly, hundreds of thousands of horse lovers heard the message that there was another way.
The PBS and BBC television networks aired documentaries about his work, four more books were published and became best sellers, and countries throughout the world translated these materials, sharing his message that violence is never the answer. Over the past several years, Monty has toured the United States and has raised over $1.6 million for horse-related charities, including 4-H and therapeutic riding organizations.
Monty still demonstrates “Join Up” around the world. His fourth book From My Hands to Yours: Lessons from a Lifetime of Training Championship Horses is a textbook format of his “Join Up” training principles. His learning center, the Monty Roberts International Learning Center, located at Flag Is Up Farms, trained more than 140 students last year using his non-violent methods.
Monty never forgets the lessons he learns from the horses. In his fifth book, Monty recounts the stories of his best-loved horses, chosen from the tens of thousands he has worked with throughout his lifetime. The Horses in My Life is a celebration of the horses he has learned the most from, as well as those that have impressed themselves most indelibly on his memory and in his heart.
On June 11, 2011 Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II honored Monty privately for his service to the Royal Family and Her Majesty, and for his service to the racing establishment. Monty was made an honorary Member of the Royal Victorian Order. The Queen gives the Royal Victorian Order to people who have served Her Majesty or the monarchy in a personal way.
Today, Monty remains steadfast to his goal: “to leave the world a better place than I found it, for horses and for people, too.”