‘The Man Who Listens To Horses Is Coming To South Africa’ read the ads. For those who don’t know ‘The Man Who Listens To Horses’, that means Monty Roberts! Here! Live in person! Speaking from personal experience, I can guarantee it’s absolutely, definitely not to be missed.
I first came across Monty Roberts and the term ‘horse whispering’ in one of my dad’s old racing magazines. It documented Monty’s tour to the UK and more particularly, his demonstration to the Queen and his work with her horses. I was captivated.
A Different Way
My experiences of horses being broken in could best be described as a bit rough and ready. Feeling that things weren’t quite right, but not having a viable alternative solution was a frustrating experience and had resulted in several heated arguments with my peers and elders! I was fascinated to read that here was someone – a man of all things – advocating a different way, a gentler way, using methods that my young mind hoped for and guessed at, but never quite managed to lay a firm finger on. Here – finally – was evidence that there WAS a better way and that it WORKED! I kept the article for ages, but like so many things, eventually consigned it to the mental folder of ‘fascinating, but unlikely to ever be a reality for me.’
Fast forward a few years and 19 year old me ended up taking a break from horses and following my contemporary hordes to London. Of course, you can take the girl away from horses, but you can never quite take horses away from the girl. Horse folk – and horsey women in particular – are possessed of many wonderful qualities, including the fact that you rarely miss one. This is because we make sure you don’t. If there was ever such a thing as a horsey secret service, we’d all be rubbish as horse folk generally need about 3 milliseconds before announcing that we like horses and enquiring whether the person we’re talking to might be a fellow tribe member. We stick out like sore thumbs and in any given group, everyone knows who the ‘horse person’ is.
So, despite my clean nails, smart suit and best attempts to blend in, it didn’t take long for the colleagues at my new job to know that I was a horse girl and boy, am I ever grateful for that. A chap called Tony Fossett was our resident East Ender and small-time punter and one day he passed my desk and dropped on it a copy of the daily paper, folded open to a page advertising a Monty Roberts demo. The mental folder marked ‘unlikely’ was about to experience some outgoing traffic.
The demo was outside Birmingham and would require an intricate and carefully coordinated set of Tube trains, National Rail, bus and taxi journeys – and the small matter of 3 hours to get there. However, there were still tickets available, so I begged the requisite hours off work and off I set. In the rain. To have my life changed forever.
The evening was a revelation. Monty demonstrated – clearly and repeatedly – that not only were all those things I’d hoped and dreamed actually true, but they worked to a formal, defined system. Monty called it the language of Equus. He explained that for his method to be deemed a recognised system, it had to be predictable, discernible and effective and then spent the evening demonstrating in no uncertain terms that it was. I even got to meet the famous Dually (the horse Monty named his headcollar after) as he’d come along to do a ridden demo.
I got home in the small hours, but was so fascinated that I repeated the whole rigmarole of begging my boss to let me leave early and travelling all that way cross country again just to make sure I hadn’t been mistaken the first time round. At the second demo, Monty announced that his protégée, Kelly Marks, was offering courses in his methods and I knew that no matter what it cost, I needed to attend. I scraped together my limited funds and spent the last bit of my visa and my savings on a glorious week with Kelly and the Intelligent Horsemanship team in Oxfordshire.
Trying it out
Back home, my dad was kind enough to let me loose on a small draft of 3 year olds that were ready to go into training. Flying solo, I wasn’t at all convinced that the methods would work without my trusty IH team supervising and backing me up, but unbelievably it did. As Monty is fond of saying ‘it’s as though they all read the manual.’ I backed and started all our horses successfully using Monty’s methods that year and have subsequently started all my horses the same way.
A few years later, I found myself back in the UK and back at Monty demos and Intelligent Horsemanship, eager to learn more. The work was so compelling that I even persuaded Kelly to tour South Africa twice in 2007 and 2008 and we had enormous fun doing it.
Monty himself is nearly impossible to book. His mantra is that he wants to leave the world a better place for horses and for people too, so he has dedicated himself to travelling the world to teach his methods. He is so in demand that he travels for 300 days out of every year. That would be a pretty big ask for any normal person, but Monty will be 81 in May, which makes it all the more remarkable. Given Monty’s schedule and the not inconsiderable risks of travelling to South Africa, I reluctantly filed the idea of seeing him out here in my ‘unlikely’ folder. However, it seems I may have to rename that damn thing as someone has finally talked Monty into a visit. That person is Keith Lawrence of Cardinal Events Management. As I’m more than a little excited about seeing Monty on home soil, I chatted to the force behind the tour de force to find out more.
Keith Lawrence is Australian and has had horses for over 50 years, with a particular interest in Australian stock horses. He discovered Monty somewhat by accident about 14 years ago when his mother-in-law came back from the library with a book which she thought Keith might enjoy. He turned the first page at 9pm and by 3am he’d finished the book – it was of course, ‘The Man Who Listens To Horses’, the story of Monty’s life. Much like me, Keith heard that Monty was coming to Australia, with the small snag that Monty was doing a demo in Queensland and Keith was on the opposite side of the country in Perth. However, he moved heaven and earth to make the trip and once he’d seen Monty in person, decided they simply had to have him in Perth too. Keith went to a demo in Sydney to see how it all worked and then brought Monty to Western Australia. Monty simply has that effect on people. Keith had become a regular part of Monty’s Australian team and progressed to becoming Monty’s tour organiser, when Monty offered him the job of handling the merchandise as well. “To be honest, I didn’t really want to, at that stage I was already doing the shows, advertising and marketing, so it was a natural progression.”
Asked what he thinks makes Monty so special, Keith replies, “I think he’s the best horseman I’ve ever met in my life. I’ve never met anyone like him, ever. And he’s the same with people, too. He’s forgotten more about horses than most people will ever learn!. I was a ‘school of hard knocks’ kind of person, but the difference Monty and his methods have made is just amazing.”
“I’ve been asking him for two years to go to South Africa. I think it’s very much like Australia and has a similar number of horses. It’s unchartered territory, but I felt it’s something he should do before he gets too old.” It’s sobering to think that someone who has had such an enormous impact not only on my life, but so many others, may not be around forever and as Keith says, “I don’t know what’s going to happen when he’s not around anymore.”
The team are planning two demo dates each in Cape Town and Johannesburg. The Johannesburg demos will be held on 4 and 5 June at the Equidome. The Cape demos will be held at Mistico Equestrian Centre (out near the old Steadfast Stud) on 28 and 29 May. There is a website up and running (www.montyrobertslive.co.za) and tickets go on sale through Computicket from 1 February 2016. VIP tickets will be in the region of R950, with general admission somewhat less, and under 12’s cheaper still.
Demos usually follow a fairly standard format of Monty demonstrating Join-Up and starting an unbacked horse. The middle section of the demo is reserved for a horse with problems and this can cover anything from horses that buck, bite, are hard to catch, clip, pick their feet up – almost anything one can think of. The last part of the demo is dedicated to horses with loading problems (something most horse folk can relate to!). The team are appealing for demo horses, so if you think you own, or know of a suitable candidate, please apply via the website. There are always opportunities to talk to Monty and to ask questions and I can guarantee an evening of the most educational entertainment you have ever had.
Keith explains, “While every demo follows a similar format, each is completely different, because every horse is different. One of our biggest problem is that Monty is so good at what he does that he makes it look too easy! We have all sorts of problems with people saying demo horses have been trained or prepared in some way, but in actual fact, Monty never sees the horses until he walks into the arena. The methods simply work – 100% of the time – even if some horses need a few minutes longer than others. In fact, the worse the horses are, the better for us – they make for a better demo. He has an absolute gift at communicating – to horses and to an audience. Having spent as much time as I have with Monty, I can tell you that one to one he’s no different out of the ring to what he is in the ring. That’s just who he is. It’s pretty extraordinary, really.”
He will put on a show
Keith says that Monty was a bit nervous to begin with, but now that he’s committed, is very excited about his South African tour. “Given his age and the logistics of getting him here, it’s unlikely that he’ll be back, so believe me, he will put on a show. He will be travelling here from England and will probably travel from South Africa to Germany.” Monty will make himself available to professional organisations on request (any queries or bookings can be made via the website or by contacting Keith directly by email on firstname.lastname@example.org). Take it from me and book twice.