Archive for March, 2013


Fergus the Spooky Horse Asks Monty…

Thursday, March 28th, 2013

The big word “desensitization” is proving challenging for Fergus the Horse! So he decided to seek professional help from Monty Roberts.

fergus and Monty

 Dear Mr. Roberts,
I know most of your questions are from people, but I’d like to ask you something too, if that’s OK, because I’ve heard, and read, that you know some things about horses. You see, there’s a big human word that I’m having a great deal of trouble with: “Desensitize“. My people don’t say it to me, they say it to each other. What they say to me is: “Easy, does, it Fergus, it’s OK.” But it’s not OK! Because when they come to me saying that, they are tense and nervous, and I know they are going to show me something horrifying! It is going to be something that moves, makes suspicious noises, and wants to touch me. I’d rather leave, but I cannot because of the lead-rope that they’ve named “relationship”. Often, “relationship” is strained. I really want to relax and be an “Easy does it, Fergus…” but it is impossible because they themselves are not relaxed, and they want to “desensitize” me every day with something new and dreadful. I dream about it at night. This is really hard. Is there anything you can say to my people about “desensitize”?

fergus signature

Dear Fergus,

Thank you for (somehow) writing to me with your concerns. Most people think I help people with horse problems, but more often I help horses with people problems. I hope to help you get past this confusion about what we humans are asking of you, and why. When they say ‘Desensitize’, they want to help you worry less about spooky items you come across on the trail and in the yard. That’s a good thing, Fergus.

Being spooky is one of the most natural conditions in the world of equine behavior. Just as with so many terms in the horse world, it seems appropriate to define the term spooky. It seems important to me to be clear so that these words can be understood worldwide. We horsemen in America tend to say things like, “He sure is spooky.” We expect everybody to immediately understand that this means, ‘to be frightened.’

There is a big word in psychology for your fear of unfamiliar things, Fergus. The word is ‘neophobic’ which is a persistent and abnormal fear of anything new. Horses are neophobic but people can be, too. Young children like their world to remain constant and elderly people often cope using long established habits and don’t want to learn “new tricks”. You are big and strong, Fergus, and people worry you might hurt yourself, or them, if you “spook”. This is why they introduce you to new things. My goal is to help people learn to do this with adrenaline and heart rates that are low.

After my first book, The Man Who Listens to Horses, was published in 1996, I was asked to conduct demonstrations on a worldwide scale. One of the remedial problems brought to me on a regular basis was “the spooky horse.” While I had dealt with this sort of training for more than fifty years, I had no idea how serious the condition was until I began to travel extensively. Cases representing fear of plastic bags, birds, airplanes, trucks, tractors, umbrellas, cattle, sheep, hogs, and even the fear of bicycles, were brought to me on a regular basis.

The plastic shopping bag has become the definitive object to assist me in desensitizing the horse to objects that cause him to spook. They are extremely light and therefore can’t physically cause the horse any harm. I attach several bags to one end of a discarded rake handle (a small wooden pole approximately 1.5 meters or five feet in length). You can train the bag to go away Fergus. Here’s how.

After you and your human have accomplished a Join-Up, they show you the plastic bag on a stick. It will be scary at first, but when you relax and accept it, they will take the bag away and relax. You can too. When I do this with horses, soon I can swing a massive collection of plastic bags at the horse evoking no flight response. And soon the horse will accept other scary objects if I stay relaxed and he trusts that nothing painful will happen.

Recognizing that we are dealing with the true nature of the horse will soon produce a non-spooky individual. It is important to eliminate blame from the mind of the trainer. I instruct my students that the horse can have no fault in these matters and with that mindset one can expect positive results.

Over the past 20 years the more than 8000 horses I have dealt with in front of public audiences have virtually all come to me with a spooky mindset. I think that it is fair to say that there have been no failures. It’s important that we humans respect your nature, Fergus, and your right to fear unfamiliar objects while you journey to overcoming spookiness.




Tuesdays with Monty on HRTV

Tuesday, March 19th, 2013

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Are You Too Old for Horses?

Tuesday, March 19th, 2013

Question: Do you think with age come limitations in being able to become a better rider/ handler? I ask this because I am 46 years old and up until I bought Honey 5 years ago I hadn’t ridden or handled a horse in more than 20 years. I always think there is so much more to learn about horses but I wonder if I have left it all too late. I came to see Monty at a demo recently and it made me realize that it has taken him a lifetime to get where he is today and you too have had a wealth of experience.


Monty’s Answer: Thank you for sending through this question inquiring as to the potential for becoming a good horse person at the age of 46. Given recent experiences I’ve had, I’m very pleased to answer this question, as I believe that it has the potential to help many ladies and gentlemen too. To give you my feelings on this subject I would like to eliminate myself, as much as possible, from the scenario.

My life on a horse’s back began well before I could speak and it has been seven decades now of intense riding and the studying of horsemanship and equine behavior involving many disciplines and virtually all breeds. It is my students and acquaintances that I would like to report on. First let me say that I appreciate your concern and I hear within your question an attention to safety and what you can physically expect to accomplish.

This is a good attitude and we should always respect the potential for moving forward only when we’re as safe as possible and as comfortable as we can be with the activity that we’re pursuing. Having said that, let me state categorically that I consider 46 to be a child. It is important that if there are years of reduced physical activity then it is a good idea to get one’s body in the best shape possible.

Pilates and other forms of core stability fitness can be a tremendous advantage in the area of safety and even enjoyment. Getting fit is great for one to enjoy their middle years and riding horses is simply a bonus in terms of increasing the potential for pleasure in those years. Do not lose sight of the fact that the choice of a safe horse is critical. Furthermore, the assistance of knowledgeable coaching is a major factor.

The right coach will see to it that you are equipped appropriately which is another factor that definitely needs to be attended to if you are to enjoy your activity and remain safe while conducting it. One should do strong diligence on the individual chosen to assist in this effort and they should have significant experience with horses and the coaching of riders as well. If you desire to take up riding again, then with the above-mentioned factors in place, you should charge into the project with great excitement. It can be a wonderful experience, as I will point out using two of my acquaintances as examples.

Charlotte Bredahl was born in Denmark, rode as a child and came to the United States in 1979. She had been studying dressage and was considered a potential for high-level performance in her chosen discipline. Charlotte went to work in her 20s and made the US Olympic Team. She was the recipient of the bronze medal in dressage in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. After returning to the US, Charlotte put riding on the back burner.

As a realtor, Charlotte placed business at the peak of her interest and while she rode it was not her primary activity. Charlotte lives near our property in California and I watched in the past two years as she moved back into the area of serious horsemanship. Charlotte is now well over 50 and I watched her riding high-level dressage today. She is now riding five top class dressage prospects each day and having a lot of fun with it.

Charlotte emphasized the fact that she worked hard at getting fit again and I can attest to the fact that she is in fantastic shape now, feels well and is having the time of her life with her favorite past time. It is a pleasure to watch Charlotte ride. The second example that I am choosing to bring to you is an acquaintance that, to me, demonstrates amazingly well the answer to your question. The subject lady is 76 years of age at this writing.

She rode occasionally through her teens and then took up, principally, Western pleasure riding in her 20s. She rode occasionally until 1970. At the age of 34 she launched a successful career as an artist. Our subject remained a popular artist and is to this day. In 2009 at the age of 73, she decided not only to ride again, but also to ride in Western competition.

She did get herself in good physical condition and acquired a horse that was appropriate for her. She enlisted top notch coaching as well. This past year with three years completed in her reentry into riding our subject vintage lady won a year-end championship in the Western division of nonprofessional “Working Cow Horse.” This means that she was working cattle at top speed and under conditions that would be considered challenging for anyone including riders in their 20s.

She stated to me that she feels she is riding better now than she ever did in those early years of her horsemanship. She told me that she was now able to actually think things through more clearly and learn at a greater pace than she ever could in those early years. She respects her need for safety and has competed without negative incident.

It is important for me to state that these are two extreme examples. I am not suggesting that anyone, man or woman, needs to include competition with their riding, whether it is the beginning of their career or, as in this case, a reentry later in life. One may choose to ride strictly for pleasure or enter into activities that are slightly competitive, or, in fact, full on competition and as long as it is safe and enjoyable, I am all for it. In England, one of the slightly competitive activities is BHS Trek. There are many more fun elements of horsemanship, which are only slightly competitive. Probably the most often activity chosen is to simply ride with friends for the fun of it.

At 77 I can say that I feel myself still learning and I still ride. It is my opinion that while I can’t physically do many of the things that I did in my early professional career, I can understand the mental processes of learning better now than I ever could. Someone coined the phrase, “Use it or lose it” and I think that this is a fair statement to make. Your question gives me the chance to advise many individuals in that mid-life range that horses and riding can be a part of extending life and causing our vintage years to be more enjoyable if we choose to treat it with respect. I gave you two examples but believe me there are thousands out there, “Go for it, girl.”