Roberts, Monty 1935-
ROBERTS, Monty 1935-
PERSONAL: Born 1935, in Salinas, CA; son of Marvin (a horse trainer), and Marguerite Roberts; married; wife's name, Pat (a sculptor); children: Deborah Loucks, Laurel, Marty.
ADDRESSES: Office—Monty & Pat Roberts, Inc., P.O. Box 86, Solvang, CA 93464. Agent—Jane Trumbull, 13 Wendall Road, London W12 9RS England. E-mail—[email protected]
CAREER: Horse trainer, lecturer and writer. Body double for Elizabeth Taylor as a child, National Velvet, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1944; extra and technical advisor, East of Eden, Warner Bros., 1955; producer (with wife, Pat), Join-Up (instructional video).
The Man Who Listens to Horses, introduction by Lawrence Scanlan, Random House (New York, NY), 1997.
Shy Boy: The Horse That Came In from the Wild, photographs by Christopher Dydyk, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1999.
Horse Sense for People: Using the Gentle Wisdom of the Join-Up Technique to Enrich Our Relationships at Home and at Work, Viking (New York, NY), 2001.
From My Hands to Yours: Lessons for a Lifetime of Training Championship Horses. The Definitive Guide to Violence-Free Training (horsemanship manual), Monty & Pat Roberts, Inc. (Solvang, CA), October 2002.
SIDELIGHTS: At an early age, Monty Roberts learned from horses how to train horses, and learned from his father, a horse trainer, how not to train horses. His work was the model for Nicholas Evans's 1995 novel, The Horse Whisperer, but in 1996, in England and Australia, Roberts published his own story as an autobiography, The Man Who Listens to Horses. In its first two weeks, the book was number four on the London Times bestseller list, and it stayed in the top ten for over twenty-two weeks. It was published in the United States in 1997 and immediately went to the New York Times bestseller list where it remained for over 52 weeks. The book was published in Canada in 1997, again appearing on the bestseller list. It has also been published in Germany (remained on the bestseller list for more than two years), Austria, Japan, Italy, Portugal, Czechoslovakia, Sweden, France, Norway, Finland, Spain, Holland, Denmark, Poland, and Greece. Shy Boy: The Horse That Came In from the Wild, another bestseller book, has been published in eleven countries and Horse Sense for People has been published in nine countries.
The Man Who Listens to Horses is the chronology of a man's life and the story of his gift—the ability to communicate with horses. Roberts grew up on the grounds of a rodeo competition center in Salinas, California, and he grew up knowing horses. He won his first riding championship at age four and worked as Elizabeth Taylor's double in the movie National Velvet when he was eight. He had ridden in rodeos and herded wild mustangs in Nevada by the time he reached fourteen years of age. Five years later James Dean was sent to Roberts's parents' family training facility by the producers of East of Eden; Dean and Roberts became friends, and Roberts and his future wife played extras in the movie. Roberts did movie stunt riding, competed in rodeos, worked with race horses and polo ponies, and eventually became a consultant to horse trainers worldwide. In the western division, he has won 12 world championships and in thoroughbred racing, he has produced over 200 international stake horses. In 1989 Queen Elizabeth summoned Roberts to Windsor Castle, where he trained some of her cavalry horses and some of the Queen Mother's racehorses. In all of this, Roberts communicated with horses, using their own silent but very expressive language, which he calls Equus.
Roberts begins The Man Who Listens to Horses in the Nevada desert, where he had persuaded adults back home he could round up a herd of one hundred and fifty mustangs for Salinas Rodeo's annual Wild Horse Race. Lying on his belly, the thirteen-year-old boy watched a herd with binoculars, day and night, and learned their hierarchy, discipline, and language. He derived much of his method of "joining up" (or "breaking" a horse) from the dominant matriarch of the herd; from the way she angled her body and used her eyes to discipline a colt, he began to understand the way horses communicate. Subsequently, Roberts developed an "Equus" vocabulary of over one hundred gestures which includes such subtleties as the twitch of an ear and domination through eye contact.
Roberts's father used harsh forms of discipline and would beat his son with horse-training chains. The senior Roberts "broke" horses with similarly cruel methods typical of the trade and of that day, and young Roberts's fear of his father was shared by the horses his father trained. The son developed his own beliefs that gentleness toward horses was humane and right, and he honed his skills to the point where he could persuade an untrained horse to accept a bridle, a saddle, and a rider in half an hour. He writes, "It was almost as if I wanted to be a horse myself, so thoroughly had I taken their side."
Writing in Nation, J. Quinn Brisben remarked in a review of The Man Who Listens to Horses, "Roberts has nearly the skill with words that he has with the body language of horses, and can explain complicated and subtle phenomena well enough to be understood even by those who have limited contact with quadrupeds. These lessons from horses are the best news I have heard about the human race in some time."
Roberts has risked not only his professional reputation as an advocate of horses, but has faced legal troubles as well. As an employee of publishing magnate Hastings Harcourt, Roberts designed and ran Harcourt's ranch. However, "Harcourt suffered from mental illness and would be seemingly normal and lucid for months and then would snap suddenly," wrote Trudi Miller Rosenblum in Billboard. When Harcourt inexplicably ordered Roberts to kill all the horses on the ranch, "Roberts pretended to have done so, but secretly sold or gave away the horses and was later arrested on a trumped-up theft charge," Rosenblum said. Roberts won his farm as part of the settlement of the case.
"The message of The Man Who Listens to Horses is that gentleness is stronger . . . than aggression," commented Laura Thompson in the Times Literary Supplement. She added that this message "resonates in every passage that describes the way in which men abuse horses for their own profit.... Monty Roberts has won many battles against these abuses, but he shows quite clearly that the fight is never-ending. It is for this reason that, despite its optimism, his book is infused with sadness."
Roberts's 1999 book Shy Boy details his experiences with a wild mustang that he "joined up," or trained, for a PBS special. The book covers the joining up process in greater detail than The Man Who Listens to Horses, covering Shy Boy's gentling and life as a ranch horse, wrote Nancy Bent in Booklist. "Roberts speaks eloquently of the differences between a mustang and a domestic horse," Bent wrote, "and of Shy Boy's adjustment to captive life." The emotional high point of the book—and the proof of Roberts's training technique—occurs when the horse is given a choice to stay with his band of wild brethren or "join up" with Roberts. "The mustang's choice—after an overnight romp—makes for an unforgettable climax that will leave no dry eyes," wrote a Publishers Weekly reviewer. "Plainspoken yet powerful," the reviewer concluded, "this remarkable story is one of those very rare books that can restore one's faith in humanity."
Roberts's career has not been without controversy. Close family members dispute his claims of abuse by his father, wrote Evan Moore in the Houston Chronicle, and have pressured the publishers of The Man Who Listens to Horses to "withdraw the book or reissue it as fiction," wrote Nicholas Hellen in Sunday Times (London). Participants in the Shy Boy documentary have claimed that some parts of it were staged. Some horse owners have accused Roberts of mistreating their animals, wrote Christopher Goodwin in Sunday Times (London). Traditional trainers frequently express doubts about his methods. But "Roberts said his detractors have had no discernible effect on his following," Moore wrote.
For more than fifty years, Roberts has used his unique methods to train thousands of horses throughout the world. His pupils have won world championships in horse show rings, in cutting, working cow horse, reining, and hackamore events; and more than 250 have won championship horse races. He has shown that his understanding of non-verbal communication applies to human relationships as well, and he has served as consultant on such communication to over 250 corporations, including General Motors, Disney, Merrill Lynch, Volkswagen, IBM and the CIA's Polygraph division. But "in actual fact," Roberts said in an online interview, "I feel I understand the language of the horse far better than I understand the language of people." Indeed, a critic writing in Publishers Weekly called Horse Sense for People: Using the Gentle Relationships of Join-Up to Enrich Ourselves at Home and at Work an "earnest but unsatisfying effort at self-help," marred by "redundant writing and plodding sentences [that] obscure Roberts's simple and sensible principles." Still, corporations and executives continue to benefit from Roberts's approach to training and management. In the late 1990s, for example, Volkswagen "made a remarkable comeback in the U.S. market," wrote Ann Marsh in Forbes. "At least some of the credit goes to a kind-hearted horse trainer," Monty Roberts, who taught Volkswagen executives such fundamental truths as, "No teacher can push information into an unwilling brain. There's no such thing as teaching. Only learning."
Commenting on Roberts's belief that "the absence of communication between man and horse has led to a disastrous history of cruelty and abuse," John Oaksey in the Spectator wrote, "[The Man Who Listens toHorses] is partly an apology for causing the horse to endure our lack of understanding and partly an attempt to supply the absent link. No one has ever done more to achieve those aims than Monty Roberts."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Amusement Business, August 3, 1998, Athena Schaffer, "Original 'Horse Whisperer' On Tour Promoting Book," p. 6.
Billboard, August 16, 1997, Trudi Miller Rosenblum, review of The Man Who Listens to Horses, p. 63.
Booklist, March 15, 1999, Ted Hipple, review of The Man Who Listens to Horses (audio), p. 1350; May 15, 1999, Nancy Bent, review of Shy Boy: The Horse That Came In from the Wild, p. 1653; September 1, 1999, Sue-Ellen Beauregard, review of Monty Roberts, A Real Horse Whisperer (video) p. 154.
Book World, August 24, 1997, review of The Man Who Listens to Horses, p. 7.
Christian Science Monitor, July 9, 1998, Caryn Coatney, "One Man Wins Trust of Fellow Beings," profile of Monty Roberts, p. B6.
Daily Telegraph (London, England), October 7, 2000, Sebastian O'Kelly, "Joined-up Riding: On the Hoof Special Half an Hour with Monty Roberts, 'the Man Who Listens to Horses,' Convinces Sebastain O'Kelly to Give Up His Whip," profile of Monty Roberts.
Entertainment Weekly, September 5, 1997, "Holding Our Horses," p. 71.
Forbes, May 4, 1998, Ann Marsh, "The Man Who Listens to Horses," profile of Monty Roberts, p. 122.
Globe and Mail, August 7, 1999, review of Shy Boy, p. D17.
Houston Chronicle, October 27, 2000, Evan Moore, "From the Horse's Mouth: Controversial Trainer Wants Animals to Speak for Him," profile of Monty Roberts, p. 31.
Kirkus Reviews, July 15, 1997, review of The Man Who Listens to Horses, p. 1100; April 15, 1999, review of Shy Boy, p. 614.
Kliatt Young Adult Paperback Book Guide, January, 1999, review of The Man Who Listens to Horses (audio), p. 50.
Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service, March 30, 1998, Liz Stevens, "Monty Roberts, Author of The Man Who Listens to Horses and Lifelong Cowboy, Turns Horse Breaking into Universal Lesson in Morality," p. 330.
Library Journal, January, 1999, Gordon Blackwell, review of The Man Who Listens to Horses (audio), p. 184; October 15, 1999, Gordon Blackwell, review of Shy Boy, p. 121.
Los Angeles Times, September 8, 1997, Paul Dean, "Hitting Only Taught Monty Roberts Fear As a Child. The Same Applied to Horses, He Figured. So He Learned to Reach Them in Other Ways," profile of Monty Roberts, p. 5.
Miami Herald, August 24, 1997.
Nation, February 23, 1998, J. Quinn Brisben, review of The Man Who Listens to Horses, p. 34.
New York Times Book Review, September 21, 1997, Maxine Kumin, review of The Man Who Listens to Horses, p. 12.
Observer, March 23, 1997, Heather Mills, "Whisper Sweet Nothings into a Horse's Ear and It Will Jump to Your Command," profile of Monty Roberts, p. 11.
Parade, May 24, 1998, Gail Buchalter, "Learn to be Gentle," profile of Monty Roberts, pp. 8-9.
People, April 14, 1997, Curtis Rist, "Neigh Sayer," profile of Monty Roberts, pp. 93-97.
Publishers Weekly, December 2, 1996, Judy Quinn, review of The Man Who Listens to Horses, p. 17; July 21, 1997, review of The Man Who Listens to Horses, p. 195; August 18, 1997, Daisy Maryles, "Behind the Bestsellers," p. 18; September 1, 1997, review of The Man Who Listens to Horses (audio), p. 41; April 12, 1999, review of Shy Boy, p. 64; April 23, 2001, review of Horse Sense for People: Using the Gentle Relationships of Join-Up to Enrich Ourselves at Home and at Work, p. 64.
Rapport: The Modern Guide to Books, Music & More, March, 1998, p. 35.
San Francisco Chronicle, September 29, 1997, Patricia Holt, "Listening to Horses, Hearing about Life/Real 'Horse Whisperer's' Story Beats Best-Seller," review of The Man Who Listens to Horses, p. E1.
School Library Journal, May, 1998, Betsy E. Pfeffer, review of The Man Who Listens to Horses, p. 178; October, 1999, Carol DeAngelo, review of Shy Boy, p. 182.
Spectator, January 11, 1997, John Oaksey, review of The Man Who Listens to Horses, p. 38.
Sunday Times (London, England), September 6, 1998, Christopher Goodwin, "BBC Hit by Talk of Cruelty in 'Horse Whisperer' Programme," p. 22; February 13, 2000, Nicholas Hellen, "Horse Whisperer Was 'Taking Us for a Ride'," p. 3.
Time, December 14, 1998, John Skow and James Will-werth, "Horse of a Different Color," p. 106.
Times Literary Supplement, December 6, 1996, Laura Thompson, review of The Man Who Listens to Horses, p. 27.
Washington Post, August 24, 1997, Sharon Curtin, "The Lessons of the Mustangs," review of The Man Who Listens to Horses, p. X07.
Animal Liberation NSW Web site,http://www.animallib.org.au/ (January 6, 2002), Claudette Vaughan, interview with Monty Roberts.
January Magazine Web site,http://www.januarymagazine.com/ (January 6, 2002), Linda Richards, interview with Monty Roberts.
Monty Roberts Web site,http://www.montyroberts.com (January 6, 2002).