Question: What do you do with a mare that pins her ears when you feed her?
Monty’s Answer: If a horse should own any part of the day, it’s when they’re eating. When you feed a horse, leave them alone. Get the feed to them as easily as you can without mixing in at all, and then leave them alone. If they tend to get impatient when you feed them, take them out of the stall first, feed the stall and then return your horse to the stall. This is not a time to train your horse.
This is not a time when they ought to be pleased with having you in their lives. Horses that are cranky when they’re fed are cranky because they want you out of their territory and they want the tranquility of being able to eat without being bothered by a human being. You wouldn’t want them coming and hanging their head over your table when you’re having lunch, and they feel the same way. So, it is best to leave your mare alone when you feed her.
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Watch this fantastic video about Monty’s experience working on stage with the War Horse cast. Monty advises the puppet operators on how to move like a live horse at the National Theatre in London. The main equine character of War Horse, Joey, interacts with a live horse, American Pie, owned by Kelly Marks, and Pie seems to believe that Joey is alive!
From Monty: The request for me to assist the authors of War Horse, the play, came as a huge surprise while I was on tour in England. The message said that the authors had used my books as a road map to the stage production which chronicles the challenges horses faced in assisting English armies to fight World War I. It was an exciting message and one which opened a subject for me that I had never dreamed would come my way.
The request was to train the cast regarding how to operate the 1 ½ life size equine puppets created to play the roles of the War Horses. One should know that the cast was 100% city raised individuals most of which had never even touched a horse. I remember the first day so well and the feeling that this was an impossible task and that I never should have accepted this challenge because after one day I was convinced that it would end in failure.
After 3-4 days, while we achieved some progress, I strongly felt that the best outcome would be a short play run, completed without extreme embarrassment. I kept telling myself “We can get through this but it probably won’t be pretty.” In the second week of my work (another 3-4 days) I saw something happening. These young men were beginning to understand the language, Equus. I thought, maybe we’ve got a chance.
These were fit young men; three puppet operators per horse. What became obvious was that they came into my life as a clean slate. They didn’t have any preconceived notions about how horses moved or what motivated them to act in any particular way. They began to operate as a unit and as one actor put it, “Monty taught us the language and we began to move organically.” He was so right, as I watched them depart from the script.
In the third week I asked them to visualize in their minds a school of fish and how this cloud-like structure took on different shapes, silently and without great fanfare. These young men began to work without cues. One was on the head, one on the shoulders and four legs while the third operated the rear quarters. Imagine the challenges of putting that all together and making it look like a real horse. I saw it happen. I didn’t make it happen.
Later I was asked to do a platform performance with a live horse called American Pie owned by Kelly Marks. The theatre was sold out when Pie met Joey, the star puppet. It was incredible to watch Pie believe that Joey was a live horse. The ears moved, the legs moved, the neck got longer and shorter, lower and higher and Pie reacted exactly as if he was with a real horse in a field somewhere. I was blown away with the sense of reality the cast had created.
After the platform performance and I met theater goers in the lobby for a signing and to answer questions. They consistently said that 10 minutes into the play they discarded all ideas that these were puppets. They told me that they came to believe they were real horses on a real battlefield. Please put yourself in my place and try to imagine how gratifying this journey was becoming. Time would prove we had a runaway hit on our hands.
Subsequent to the opening, I have seen about five full performances with three separate casts involved. In every instance I saw people crying big tears down their faces. I recall saying to one lady “They’re just puppets.” She told me to be quiet and leave her alone with her thoughts about this wonderful species called Equus. I gave her a hug and followed her advice. She was giving me the greatest gift I could imagine. I was quick to apologize.
While I was not involved for one moment with the movie, it is my hope that Mr. Spielberg will experience the same level of gratification that I did with his production. Before my experience, I would have easily said that it would be far more challenging to do on a stage with puppets than to do with real horses on open fields. I am not so sure about that statement at this point in time. With that in mind I plan to see it as soon as possible.
Free workshops with Monty Roberts for veterans. Monty Roberts has developed an equine assisted program for veterans with symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The three-day workshops take place at Flag Is Up Farms. It is provided by the Wood-Claeyssens Foundation. Please share this news today so veterans will benefit!
Question: How would you clip a big horse who is terrified of the clippers without doping him?
Monty’s Answer: Thank you for sending this question to me. In the past two years my menu of procedures has grown tremendously where this problem is concerned. Yes it’s true; at 76 I’m still learning. There was a time when I recommended Join-Up® schooling to the Dually halter and then the use of the hair dryer to cause the horse to be more comfortable with electric motor sounds and the feel of the air on sensitive areas of their body.
These early procedures worked well and have served to improve the lives of countless horses all over the world. Some of my instructors came up with an additional procedure that I have found to be extremely effective. It is the use of a battery powered toothbrush. There are no sharp edges and you can get ones that have a very low volume so far as the electric motor is concerned. For the extreme case, taping the toothbrush to a bamboo pole can help one be more incremental in their approach.
Recently, I discovered all on my own, the addition of a gentle gelding that I could ride while massaging my equine student with the electric toothbrush. It seems that frightened horses will allow you to do much more from the back of another horse than they will when your feet are on the ground. We have been calling it the Monty Roberts Centaur effect. It has been an extremely valuable addition to the list of procedures I already had in place.
I am not asking a student to eliminate any of the early procedures. I am only suggesting the addition of those that I have listed here. Please do not use clippers while mounted on your quiet gelding as clippers have sharp edges and many have attached electrical cords. I do not recommend the use of an electrical cord until your equine student is perceived to be around 90% cured of the clipper phobia. The use of battery powered clippers should be employed before any cord is brought into play. Good luck. Keep us informed as to the outcome of employing these measures.