Farm Ireland

Monday 20 November 2017

Hands on with the whisperer

Learn from legendary horse communicator Monty Roberts as he prepares to wow the RDS crowds at the Dublin Horse Show

Caitriona Murphy

Caitriona Murphy

Visitors to the Failte Ireland Dublin Horse Show at the RDS this year will have the chance to experience at first hand the one-man roller coaster that is Monty Roberts.

Known throughout the world as 'the man who listens to horses', Roberts is credited with changing the attitude of millions towards horses and their training.

Creator of the world-renowned 'Join-Up' technique, he has a CV long enough for 10 people, never mind just one.

Monty was all but born in the saddle, growing up on a working horse farm, where he quickly became a child riding prodigy.

Between 1939 and 1944, he acted as a stunt double for Mickey Rooney, Roddy McDowall, Charleton Heston and Elizabeth Taylor in films such as National Velvet and others.

However, at home on the farm he was a first-hand witness to traditional, often violent methods of horse training and breaking the spirit with an abusive hand.

As he grew older, he rebelled against his father's and others' traditionally accepted cruel methods of breaking horses.

In 1948, he spent considerable amounts of time observing

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wild Mustang horses in the Nevada desert and studied their communication system. He called their silent language 'Equus' and used his understanding of that language to create a new method of training based on respect and natural herd behaviour. His motto became 'violence is never the answer'.

He graduated from California State Polytechnic University in 1959 with honours in three major subjects: animal science, biological sciences and agri-economics.

Between 1966 and 2004, Monty's primary occupation was that of a racehorse trainer, based at his 'Flag Is Up' farm in California. The farm produced dozens of top horses, including champions in the United States, New Zealand and Europe.

However, his unorthodox training techniques and non-violent approach were becoming a bigger part of daily life and he set about teaching other people.

The first public demonstration of Join-Up was staged in Vancouver, Canada, in 1986.

The technique attracted interest and within three years Monty had been invited to Windsor Castle by Queen Elizabeth to demonstrate his novel approach and train her staff.

In 1996, Roberts published his first book, entitled The Man Who Listens to Horses. The book remained on the New York Times bestseller list for a staggering 58 weeks.

Three years later, he followed up with another book called Shy Boy: The Horse That Came in from the Wild, which again made the bestseller list.

Almost as well known as his trainer, Shy Boy was a 13.2hh mustang that was born and raised in the wild on the Nevada plains.

Rounded up by the Bureau of Land Management, Shy Boy was the focal point of a bold experiment: could Monty conclusively prove his theory and achieve Join-Up in the wild?

The goal was to 'start' (break) Shy Boy, without using the usual round pen or any enclosed space. All Roberts would use was his ability to communicate in the horse's own language.

The dramatic story, shot over three days and around 100 miles of Nevada desert, was documented in a BBC/PBS programme called Monty Roberts: The Real Horse Whisperer.

The famous picture of Shy Boy dropping his head to allow Monty to touch his face has become one of the most iconic images of alternative horsemanship.


A second video, filmed a year later, showed Shy Boy being released back into the wild and rejoining the herd, only to return to Monty the following day. Since then, Shy Boy has been known as the horse that came in from the wild.

Monty's story has huge appeal to the public at large, not just to horse people. This appeal comes from his personal experience, of having witnessed too many horses 'broken' by violent, traditional methods and having experienced an abusive childhood himself.

Now a one-man empire, Monty has reached millions of people from all walks of life through television shows, books, demonstrations, and media appearances.

As an international speaker, he has been booked by everyone from the CIA to Volkswagen to tell his story to executives and leaders.

He has moved from being a talented rider to a winning trainer of championship horses, best-selling author and Hollywood stunt man to being a foster dad to 47 children, in addition to having three of his own.

Visitors to the RDS Failte Ireland Dublin Horse Show from August 4-8 will have the opportunity to watch Monty demonstrate his technique on a selection of horses.

The sessions will include a demonstration of Join Up with a young horse that has not previously been saddled or ridden, a trailer-loading session with a difficult horse that refuses to load, and ridden and non-ridden remedial sessions with problem horses.

The specific animals being used for the demonstrations were chosen from a range of problem horses offered by individual owners around Ireland.

The audience will have the opportunity to ask Monty questions after the completion of each demonstration and Monty will also be available for further questions and autographs each day at his trade stand in Simmonscourt.

The RDS has organised the Monty Roberts' demonstrations as part of the RDS education and entertainment programme which is being developed to complement the already wide range of events that take place during the annual show.

To book your ticket to see Monty Roberts at this year's Fáilte Ireland Dublin Horse Show, visit or call the ticketline on 0818 7 19 300.

Irish Independent