The Monty Roberts demonstration at the Stade Equestre du Pitray near Montauban last week was one of three demonstrations to publicise Adrien Maby as the second Monty Roberts instructor to qualify and set up business in France.
As millions know from reading the books and watching the films, Monty Roberts is not only a horse-whisperer extraordinaire, he is also a man on a mission - to leave the world a better place for horses. To do this he travels the world teaching people to listen and understand the mostly non-verbal language of Equus.
Of entirely secondary importance to animal-lovers like me is his parallel aim of also helping human beings avoid the damage caused by violence. Personally I think he's wasting his time on this one but when it comes to horses, he's a god. Monty smiles at some raving lunatic mare with her mane flying and her eyes rolling, and within minutes she is crooning "Daddy!" and shoving her nose into his armpit.
I could watch him handle horses all day long, perfectly content to accept his brand of black magic, but that's not Monty's aim. He really hates the idea that the thousands of horses he's gentled and trained were all responding by fluke to his personal magnetism. The whole point of his demonstrations is to show that his approach is not in fact magic at all.
The Monty Roberts method is, he insists, a carefully-constructed set of communication tools based on horse psychology which enable humans to convince horses that they have nothing to fear. Anyone, according to Monty, can learn this method.
The demonstration started in the afternoon when owners produced their problem horses and explained their difficulties. He bucks, he bolts, he won't box, won't accept a saddle, isn't backed, won't let me stroke him... The problems were endless and on top of that each and every horse was terrified of nasty rustling plastic bags.
Adrien Maby supervised in the ring and checked each horse over while Monty took notes and explained to the audience his interpretation of each animal's behaviour. This one was a rock star, he drawled, that one was a nice boy. Another had been kicked, another was simply ignorant. They all looked equally tricky to me but Monty really did seem to hear what they were saying and really did look like he was getting individual stories from each animal.
After this process, Adrien Maby demonstrated his impressive skills with one horse in the ring, and Johan Hofmans (the first Monty Roberts instructor in France) equally efficiently demonstrated how to persuade a reluctant horse to walk into a horse box without fussing.
Meanwhile Monty sat behind a desk patiently meeting and greeting his fans and I can testify that he really did spend hours doing this. If you go to one of these demonstrations, you really will get the chance to meet and chat to the man himself. Finally, after hours of signing autographs, shaking hands, listening, talking and advising, it was time for Monty to strut his stuff.
Now what can I say? If you're interested in animal training at all Monty is a must-see. Even if you're not a Monty fan, he's a must-see. (Check him out on YouTube if you don't know what I'm talking about.)
One horse after another came charging into the ring and Monty worked his magic with all of them; within minutes the horse had "joined up" with Monty and he was teaching it new things. This man has been around horses all his life and it shows. He can tickle them with plastic bags, lead them over huge rattling plastic groundsheets, saddle and ride previously un-ridden horses... honestly, he did it all. Horse after horse was seduced by him in spite of the fact that half the time Monty himself seemed more intent on explaining his theories to the audience than dealing with the animals trotting around him.
As for the mare which wouldn't walk into the horse trailer - "it took two hours to box her so we could come here today!" wailed the owner - it followed him in there like a lapdog on a lead. Monty even got her to follow her owner into the box without fuss.
It's not magic though. It's obvious that Monty knows what horses are thinking before they do. It's quite uncanny listening to his commentary. "Watch! I reckon her ear will flick my way," says Monty and seconds later the horse flicks her ear at him.
"I'd say her head's going to go down," and sure enough down goes the head.
"Now I'd say any minute now he's going to buck like Hell," drawls Monty just before a horse goes Bronco-bonkers trying to get a saddle off.
"He won't buck, you can ride him," says Monty and Adrien successfully mounts and rides a horse with a reputation for bucking everyone off.
"You can learn this!" insists Monty. "You can all learn this! It's not difficult, it's not complicated! And it gets results fast!"
I believe him and so do many others. The modern horse world in France is rapidly absorbing "ethology" into the mainstream, to the point where the FFE (Fédération Française d'Equitation: www.ffe.com) now offers an alternative to the classic "galops" (French riding exams) and modern kids can now pass their "savoirs" ("les savoirs d'équitation éthologique") instead.
There is a growing network of "ethological" riding centres in France (find them through the FFE site) and there are now two Monty Roberts instructors in France. Best of all, given that you can put a big-enough group together they are both willing to teach sessions anywhere around the country.
Adrien Maby's site is www.am-equineconcept.com and although the site is in French (the Google translation tool is as horrible as you'd expect) Adrien, having spent a long time training with Monty, speaks pretty good English.
Johan Hofmans' site is http://www.hommedecheval.com/page.php?18 and he speaks German and Dutch as well as French and English.
Monty Roberts won't be back in France for a while but he is touring the UK from Sept 24 to Nov 9th - if you happen to be over there this autumn - and more details are available on his site: www.montyroberts.com
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