ArticlesAbout Monty Roberts
Monty Roberts, known as the “Man Who Listens to Horses,” has led an extraordinary life. An award-winning trainer of championship horses, best-selling author, Hollywood stunt man, foster dad to 47 children (in addition to three of his own) and creator of the world-renowned and revolutionary equine training technique called Join~Up®, Monty Roberts could now, in his later years, be resting on his laurels -- but that’s not his style.
Roberts has won countless awards and received immense worldwide press coverage, put three books on the New York Times best-seller list, trained some of Queen Elizabeth II’s equestrian team in London and been awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Zurich. But if you go looking for Monty Roberts, you won’t find him lounging in his favorite chair high up in the hills overlooking his horse-training farm in the beautiful Santa Ynez Valley.
The “man who listens to horses” is more likely to be found somewhere on the globe continuing to spread his message of nonviolence. You’re more likely to find him 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 from the C.I.A. to Volkswagen 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 often expresses that his goal in life is to leave the world a better place for horses and for people. With energy and enthusiasm, he gets up every morning, most often in a hotel in some town far away from his home, his horses, his staff and his farm, to keep talking . . . and listening.
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 the Salinas Rodeo Association’s Wild Horse Race, he spent hours silently watching the feral horses interact with each other. Soon he realized that they used a discernable, 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 of all his work with horses and people.
After this revelatory moment with the wild horses, Roberts returned home to his family’s riding school at the Salinas Rodeo Grounds 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's and Pat’s offices are covered with artwork, newspaper clippings and other memorabilia from their years on the track.
As the couple raised their own family of three, over the years Pat and Monty also took in 47 foster children. Many of them still return to Flag Is Up Farms for visits, and credit Pat and Monty with helping to turn their lives around. Today, Pat and daughter Debbie (with her husband, Tom Loucks) run the multi-dimensional and international family business from offices on Flag Is Up Farms.
By the 1980s, the Roberts and their extended clan were living their lives on the farm, happily collecting accolades for their work with racehorses. Then a phone call came that once again changed the direction of Monty’s life forever.
The call was from the offices of Queen Elizabeth II, the reigning monarch of England and an avid horsewoman. She had heard about Roberts’ work and invited him to come to her country and show her staff his Join~Up® method. 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, “The Man Who Listens to Horses” became a full-blown phenomenon. The book went on to sell nearly 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, three 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® across the globe. His fourth book was recently released, “From My Hands to Yours: Lessons from a Lifetime of Training Championship Horses,” a textbook format of his Join-Up training principles. His academy, the Monty Roberts Equestrian Academy, located at Flag Is Up Farms, trained more than 140 students last year using his non-violent methods. MREA is run by the new nonprofit organization, Join~Up® International, Inc. which has set out to insure that Join-Up principles will be available for generations to come.
Today, Monty remains steadfast to his goal: “to leave the world a better place than I found it, for horses and for people, too.”
©2005 Monty and Pat Roberts. All Rights Reserved.
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