I have been in the horse business for over 35 years. Horses have been a major part of my life and livelihood. I spend most days with them, and many long nights, since a large portion of our work includes foaling mares. I see these wonderful animals from birth to maturity, and beyond. Through the years I have become very aware of their true nature, and I am in their debt, not only for a living, but simply for their presence. It would be a sad thing to imagine a world without them.
Humans could take a meaningful lesson from their behavior. How many of us would work all day for board only, forgive inept, even malicious handling, and have our love life supervised, just for starters, without severely objecting and using size and all those natural weapons in retaliation? To see horses misunderstood for personal gain, in my opinion, is very hurtful.
This brings me to the point of this writing. I recently watched a Monty Roberts demonstration. I had read his first book, “The Man Who listens to Horses”, and although it was very entertaining, it was not very believable, and since it has been published, more information has come to light that definitely proves a lot of his book is not based on actual fact.
However, I thought maybe the guy has something to offer a horse. After all this time he should have developed beyond the first videos I saw of him working with horses. I had hoped to see a tribute to this animal that has become so important to me. Instead, I was deeply shocked to witness an ASAP training session on an innocent, unsuspecting 18 month old colt. This colt, according to Monty, was a raw “unstarted” colt. How Monty could start any colt like he did that day is a puzzle to me.
Monty is smart, very articulate, and has had access to well-bred horses of his choosing. I was hard pressed to keep seated while watching this colt get snatched from the “get go” with Monty’s rather abusive halter, in preparation for, as I would soon see, a rush to “rider up” record of 27 minutes. I was suffering along with this colt, which was being hustled through steps that should have involved 3 or 4 sessions, at least. Especially at a year and a half. I couldn’t believe Monty’s complete lack of consideration for him. I also wondered how his owners, who were there, felt.
However, the air was heavy with an aura of commercialism. Monty’s lighted concession stand was highly visible below the bar. On display were his books, calendars, T-shirts, caps, etc. I asked myself, were the horses the “come on”? He sat on a raised lighted “signing stand”, autographing his books, and answering questions from the spectators.
One girl asked how she could get her colt started without a round pen. Monty didn’t try to save her some money by suggesting she find a trainer with a round pen or a stable with one that could be used. His answer was just 2 words. Get one! Of course, he no doubt meant one of his that was for sale there.
Back to Monty and the colt. Monty seemed unaware that this particular colt was “one sided”, no doubt reinforced by frequent harsh tugs on the “halter” mostly from the left side. This colt didn’t line out to the left. He had “shut off” Monty with his left eye and was very intent on making a hasty retreat to the right. Worse yet, after clumsily putting a snaffle bit in the colt¹s mouth for the first time, 10 minutes or less later, this colt was being driven (forced) with reins snapped into the bit that were more or less fixed downward, because Monty had previously tied the stirrups down next to the colt’s sides.
In the left direction, the colt struggled with a desire to walk his haunches inward to prepare for his departure to the right. His mouth (left side) took a lot of undue pressure, as Monty pulled on him in an attempt to prevent this from happening. The colt was successful, making the turn to the right in spite of the pressure from the bit, and had already turned his body partly to the right after about 4 crooked steps left.
A good trainer would have detected the left sided flaw and worked on correcting it in a way that the colt could understand. A good trainer would have made the first training session one that helped the colt to build confidence. A good trainer wouldn’t have gone to the next steps, until the first steps were completed. Monty pressed on with the colt totally unprepared for a rider, much less all of that equipment on him and got his “jockey” up on him (who held on to a handle on the pommel of the saddle), while this confused and troubled colt tried to buck him off. At 18 months of age, this was really “good” for his immature legs and body!
Prior to adding a rider to the colt’s back, Monty commented that 95-percent of his starters don’t buck. This colt was so rushed and tight, Monty should have chosen his words more carefully. In my opinion, what that colt went through that day was very detrimental and unfair. Mentally, this colt had been put on notice to be ready physically for the next encounter with a trainer. I saw no “feel” or recognition of the colt’s readiness for the next step from Monty.
I write this letter in this colt’s defense. Nobody spoke up for him while he was being subjected to Monty Roberts’ quick start demonstration fiasco, so I speak up now for this colt and hopefully, for other colts whose owners think they need Monty’s brand of commercialized short cut horsemanship.
The major focus of this demonstration appeared to be talking time for Monty, and selling time for his wares, (even the round pen had a contact phone number on it across from the spectators)!
I left after 27 minutes of “colt starting” and 1 hour & 20 minutes of Monty’s talking, not counting the 10 minutes his son used to describe his father’s pitiful early life.
There are many honest horse trainers out there that put the horse first – trainers who know how to read a horse, and train all of it carefully, in a step by step manner without a stopwatch. They may not talk a lot or require an audience to show off for, but you will be rewarded with a well adjusted horse with no hidden agendas created by “crash course” teaching methods.
Note: This demo was attended on Dec. 8, 1999 in Las Vegas.