Monty Roberts gained worldwide fame as a self-appointed Horse Whisperer, after writing The Man Who Listens To Horses. Following its 1997 release in the United States, Roberts toured the globe, touting his book, and performing demonstrations on horses purportedly never ridden before. In his book, and at his interviews and demonstrations, he contended that as a child, he suffered terrifying abuse at the hands of his father Marvin. He also accused his father of using cruel training techniques on horses.
With support from Dateline, Random House and Public Broadcasting, a compassionate, naïve public, quickly became captivated with The Man Who Listens to Horses, and the videos that followed. They attended Roberts’ demonstrations in droves and soaked up his sermons like sinners at an old time revival meeting, complete with fainting women. As the public sympathized with his fictional tales of woe, his accounts of abuse increased from demonstration to demonstration, and from interview to interview. Roberts had found his niche, as a modern day Charlatan.
This may have been tolerable, noxious perhaps, but tolerable, if The Man Who Listens To Horses was a true autobiography. However, not only were the majority of Roberts’ tales of adventure, and claims of abuse, complete fabrications, the very essence of his methodology, as he related it to wild horse behavior, was based on fiction. He didn’t spend one day in the Nevada desert studying wild horses at thirteen years old, as he described in his tainted autobiography. The only wild horses Roberts came in contact with, were the wild horses brought in each year for the rodeo in his hometown of Salinas, California.
Roberts’ told his readers that he developed a great friendship with deceased actor legend, James Dean, during the filming of East of Eden in Salinas. He boasted that Dean stayed at his house for weeks prior to the filming. If that anecdote wasn’t tall enough, he claimed the producer hired him to tutor Dean in the ways of a Salinas farm boy. In reality, Roberts was simply an extra, like many other Salinas residents. While his imagination was in high gear, he threw in a few more fanciful tales. He persuaded readers that he worked as a child stuntman in hundreds of movies, which included doubling for Elizabeth Taylor in National Velvet. He wowed them with an unbelievable account of traveling in a boxcar with a tutor and groom, to horse shows throughout the west. He wrote that he rarely went to school, because his parents kept him home to work. Roberts’ most vile lie, described his father as a racist who beat a man to death. All of these tales have been proven false. There are innumerable additional lies, or serious embellishments, throughout his book.
Those who knew better, were concerned that Roberts’ ruthless disregard for the truth would have long-term consequences. Most of all, they were concerned about how Roberts had demonized his father. They knew left unchallenged, his lies would become truth for future generations. These people were not only family members, such as Roberts’ brother, Larry, they included many past students who had spent most of every day at the Roberts’ Stables. They saw Roberts on a daily basis; they knew he wasn’t off to Nevada, or riding in boxcars, or suffering from injuries from his abusive father. These witnesses knew, beyond any reasonable doubt, Roberts’ memoirs came from a very active imagination. It’s common for people to say, no one knows what goes on behind closed doors, but Marvin and Marguerite Roberts’ house and hearts were open to the public, twenty four-seven.
This concerned group provided the inspiration for the book, Horse Whispers & Lies, written to restore honor to Roberts’ parent’s reputation. Their reputation and the lessons they taught, for over fifty years, was their legacy to the horse world.
Human nature tends to accept the written word as truth. Roberts’ despicable depiction of his father, as a violent child and horse abuser, has caused at least one author of a horse-training book to use Marvin as an example of a brutal horse trainer. This impression will become accepted as fact, the longer it is repeated. For this to happen to a man that was never anything but kind, to both horses and humans, is a disgrace against mankind.
Following the success of The Man Who Listens to Horses, Roberts adopted a wild horse he named Shy Boy, for the purpose of proving he could catch and train him in the wild. He convinced British Broadcasting Company, to film him in the process. The BBC documentary video, ‘Monty Roberts, A Real Horse Whisperer’ was seriously compromised in the making. Shy Boy was hobbled on all four legs, roped and choked, all out of the camera’s view. Roberts may have fooled the BBC crew, but the Wranglers that were working for him, know the truth.
In fairness to Random House, after all the discrepancies and inaccuracies in The Man Who Listens To Horses, were brought to their attention, and Roberts was unable to satisfy their concerns about its authenticity, they did not publish Roberts’ follow up book, Shy Boy. However, it was a case of shutting the barn door after the horse was out. Even though Roberts repeated many of his fabricated tales in Shy Boy, the lure of a possible bestseller, was enough to get Harper-Collins to pick it up.
Not satisfied conning horses lovers; Roberts has brought his act to our Public School System and our Government. In the fall of 2001 we received many e-mails from schoolteachers across the United States. When our education system endorses an individual, to teach our educators, they should make certain their credentials are not based on lies. Those who knew the truth about Roberts were outraged to be required to listen to his seminars and tapes, on how to join-up with their students. Roberts was invited to speak at the National Convention of the National Association of Elementary School Principals, in April of 2002. Our efforts to have NAESP cancel Roberts¹ appearance were disregarded. Once again, Roberts supposedly non-fiction, bestseller, validated him.
Quite a few articles came out exposing Roberts’ fabrications, however, a segment by 20/20 that was to air in September of 2000, that would have given national exposure to this literary fraud, was inexplicably cancelled. The 20/20 crew had spent days interviewing and filming childhood friends and family of Roberts. We may never know the real reason it was cancelled, but we do know, one of Roberts¹ supporters at the time, was a friend of Hugh Downs.
Since the publication of Horse Whispers & Lies, we have received hundreds of letters from people all over the world applauding us for standing up for what is right. Strangely, the few negative writers would invariably ask, what difference does it make if Roberts lied? It was a disturbing question, that shouldn¹t call for an explanation.
At a National Book Awards dinner in 1997, there was much discussion about the consequences of truth in non-fiction works. It prompted Suzannah Lessard, to declare from the podium, “Fact is the underpinning of morality.”
It takes a colossal effort to counter evil, however, it is time for people in power who are concerned about truth in publishing, to step up to the plate. The consequences of The Man Who Listens To Horses, being published as a non-fiction work, have been shocking. The detailed, distressing, and often heartbreaking stories, of the many people that were traumatically and adversely affected by Roberts’ tainted memoirs, are being compiled for a tell-all book, or possibly a television movie.
The fallout of his mantra has caused the public to believe that most horse trainers are cruel and use archaic methods. This is a terrible injustice to thousands of honest trainers. One such trainer criticized by Roberts, was Rex Peterson, who trained the horse Pilgrim, for the movie The Horse Whisperer. Peterson’s horses perform out of love, and anyone who has worked on movie sets with Rex, can vouch for his patience with horses. Peterson took the criticism very personally, and has made it his quest to spread the word on the real Monty Roberts.
In reference to the book and movie The Horse Whisperer, Roberts has told reporters from the onset, that he was Nichols Evans model for the character of Tom Booker. He said Evans¹s novel was 70% about his life. Evans denied this, claiming to have only met Roberts once. He said he knew immediately Roberts was not his vision of Booker. However, after months of Public Broadcasting, touting Roberts as the “Real Horse Whisperer”, most people, including the media, still believe Evans used Monty as a model for Tom Booker. This proves my point, that if something is said long and loud enough, it will become “fact”.
Roberts takes credit for inventing what he calls join-up. Roberts’ father, Marvin described the same approach in a book he wrote in 1956. Marvin was not the only one to use this approach; it has been done for years under different names, such as, hooking on, and advance and retreat.
Negative consequences can also come from an indirect angle. Celebrated columnist/author Dominick Dunne, and Dr. and Mrs. Levy, were indirectly affected. Prior to September 11, the news was full of the Chandra Levy (the Washington D.C. intern) disappearance case. Dominick Dunne presented his opinion on Levy’s disappearance on Larry King Live. Dunne’s theory was that Miss Levy had left her apartment on the back of a motorcycle. Shortly after Dunne’s appearance on Larry King, Roberts called him from Hamburg, Germany. He told Dunne he had just returned from Dubai, where he met a famous Arab man who was a procurer of women for important men in the Middle East and Middle Eastern embassies in Washington. Roberts told Dunne, this procurer had seen him on Larry King Live, and had videotaped the segment. Roberts repeated, at least three times, that the procurer thought Dunne’s motorcycle theory was absurd. He told Dunne, the procurer had seen a drugged Levy being put onto a Middle Eastern plane in Washington by five Arab men on the day she disappeared. He suggested she had been dumped in the ocean. Dunne had no reason not to believe Roberts’ story, after all, Roberts was a world renowned “Horse Whisperer” and a best selling author who had published several books. Why would he make up such a bizarre story? Why indeed?
Dunne passed the information on to the proper authorities. He followed through by traveling to England in hopes of meeting this procurer at a famous horseracing event. Roberts told Dunne, the procurer would recognize him from the video. Based on this information, the Levys hoped they would learn what happened to their daughter. Sadly, this was not to be. The trip did not produce the procurer, and Roberts got hostile when questioned. Months later, after Miss Levy’s body was found in a Washington Park, Dunne wrote about the bizarre phone call in his Vanity Fair column.
Dunne wrote that he might have been set up to discourage his motorcycle theory. Is this possible? Consider the likelihood of a connection between Roberts and Rep Gary Condit (who was implicated in the Chandra Levy case and questioned by authorities). One of Roberts’ goals was to be a speaker for government agencies. According to an article in the London Financial Times, dated, June 24, 2002, Roberts was invited to speak with members of the CIA and other Government executives in Washington several months after his phone call to Dunne, It’s also worth noting, that Condit was a member of the Federal Intelligence Committee at the time.
Ultimately, Condit filed a ten million dollar lawsuit against Dunne for slander. Why did Condit pick Dunne to sue? Was it a coincidence that it involved a story initiated by Roberts?
Of all the serious consequences of publishing a dangerously tainted memoir, one of the most worrisome, is the message it sends. Is the reader’s desire to be entertained sending us down a slope so slippery, we will never be able to get back. Are we creating a recipe for bogus bestsellers? If you don’t have a dark secret, simply create one. Add several tall tales of adventure and woe. Mix them all together, and weave them through the framework of a memoir. Perhaps stretching the truth, a twist or tweak here and there, may be an acceptable and even common practice, but to create highly developed fictional scenarios in a non-fiction work is to cheat and deceive the reader. Some may even call it fraud. Lies that have done irreparable harm can never be justified.
Has it gotten to the point where there always has to be a villain? If there is not a villain in a true memoir, is it now necessary to create one? If so, who better than someone deceased, who can’t defend his or her honor or name? We seem to be very willing to believe anyone who tells us they were abused, raped, or whatever. We want a victim we can feel sorry for. We want to believe good can overcome evil, and that we too could rise above adversity. James Willworth was one of first investigative journalists to do an article questioning the veracity of Roberts’ book, for TIME Magazine. At the conclusion of his investigation he made a very perceptive remark. He said the real story here, is the fact that Roberts’ book was published as a non-fiction work. It is our hope to bring awareness to the public, that they have an inalienable right to purchase a non-fiction book or watch a documentary on television, and be confident it is a reasonably true account of the facts. TRUTH MATTERS.
Note: Joyce Renebome is Monty Roberts¹ aunt.