Monty Roberts, known as the “Man Who Listens to Horses” has led an extraordinary life. An award-winning trainer of championship horses, best-selling author, Hollywood stunt man, foster dad to 47 children (in addition to three of his own) and creator of the world-renowned and revolutionary equine training technique called Join~Up®, Monty Roberts could now, in his later years, be resting on his laurels – but that’s not his style.
Roberts has won countless awards and received immense worldwide press coverage, put three books on the New York Times best-seller list, trained some of Queen Elizabeth II’s equestrian team in England and been awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Zurich. But if you go looking for Monty Roberts, you won’t find him lounging in his favorite chair high up in the hills overlooking his horse-training farm in the beautiful Santa Ynez Valley.
The “Man who listens to Horses” is more likely to be found somewhere on the globe continuing to spread his message of nonviolence. You’re more likely to find him speaking to incarcerated youth in a juvenile detention centre, starting his nearly 15,000th horse at a demonstration, teaching his techniques to the growing number of students at his Equestrian Academy in Solvang, California or advising executives at Fortune 500 companies.
Why have millions of people from all walks of life responded to his PBS television shows, books, demonstrations, and media appearances with such passion? What makes Monty’s message so compelling that everyone from the C.I.A. to Volkswagen invite this cowboy to share his experiences with their executives and leaders?
Perhaps it comes from the undeniable power of personal experience, of having witnessed too many horses “broken” in using violent, traditional methods. Perhaps it’s having experienced an abusive childhood himself.
Monty often expresses that his goal in life is to leave the world a better place for horses and for people. With energy and enthusiasm, he gets up every morning, most often in a hotel in some town far away from his home, his horses, his family and his farm, to keep talking . . . and listening.
Monty first learned to listen to horses while observing wild mustangs in Nevada at the age of thirteen. Sent there to round up horses for the Salinas Rodeo Association’s Wild Horse Race, he spent hours silently watching the feral horses interact with each other. Soon he realized that they used a discernable, effective and predictable body language to communicate, set boundaries, show fear and express annoyance, relaxation or affection. In a moment that would change his life and the lives of horses and people forever, Roberts understood that utilizing this silent language would allow training to commence in a much more effective and humane manner, encouraging true partnership between horses and humans. Later, he would name this moment of partnership “Join~Up®,” and it would become the foundation of all his work with horses and people.
After this revelatory moment with the wild horses, Roberts returned home to his family’s riding school at the Salinas Rodeo Grounds in Salinas, California. There, he had grown up watching his father “break” horses using traditional methods involving pain, control, fear and coercion. Testing his new insights into the nature of horses, Monty tried out some of his new ideas and was promptly punished for challenging his father’s traditional methods.
Monty remained undeterred from his vision and later became a champion Western horseman. Hollywood hired him as a “stand in” rider and stunt double for stars such as Elizabeth Taylor in National Velvet and many other films. He even worked with James Dean during the pre-production and filming of the acclaimed movie East of Eden.
Monty knew that his future lay in working with horses, and he commenced an incredible career in Thoroughbred racing. Throughout the years he worked with many champions (including the famed “Alleged”) and opened a training facility, Flag Is Up Farms, on 154 acres in the Santa Ynez Valley in 1966. He and his wife, Pat, enjoyed immense success training Thoroughbreds, becoming the leading producer of two-year-olds-in-training at the Hollywood Park Racetrack for 18 years. Even today, the walls of Monty and Pat’s offices are covered with artwork, newspaper clippings and other memorabilia from their years on the track.
As the couple raised their own family of three, over the years Pat and Monty also took in 47 foster children. Many of them still return to Flag Is Up Farms for visits, and credit Pat and Monty with helping to turn their lives around. Today, Pat and daughter Debbie (with her husband, Tom Loucks) run the multi-dimensional and international family business from offices on Flag Is Up Farms.
By the 1980s, the Roberts and their extended clan were living their lives on the farm, happily collecting accolades for their work with racehorses. Then a phone call came that once again changed the direction of Monty’s life forever.
The call was from the offices of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, who is an avid horsewoman. She had heard about Roberts’ work and invited him to come to her country and show her staff his Join~Up® method. The Queen was so impressed by his demonstration she urged him to write a book. That book became “The Man Who Listens to Horses”.
Published in 1996, “The Man Who Listens to Horses” became a full-blown phenomenon. The book went on to sell nearly 5 million copies. Suddenly, Roberts and his training methods had skyrocketed into the limelight. The phone lines were jammed at the farm and the media was clamoring to get an interview; but more importantly, hundreds of thousands of horse lovers heard the message that there was another way.
The PBS and BBC television networks aired documentaries about his work, four more books were published and became best sellers, and countries throughout the world translated these materials, sharing his message that violence is never the answer. Over the past several years, Monty has toured the United States and has raised over $1.6 million for horse-related charities, including 4-H and therapeutic riding organizations.
Monty still demonstrates Join~Up® across the globe. His fourth book From My Hands to Yours” is a textbook format of his Join-Up® training principles. His learning center, the Monty Roberts International Learning Center, located at Flag Is Up Farms, trained more than 140 students last year using his non-violent methods. MRILC is run by the nonprofit organization, Join~Up® International, Inc. which has set out to ensure that Join-Up® principles will be available for generations to come.
Monty never forgets the lessons he learns from the horses. In his fifth book, Monty recounts the stories of his best loved horses, chosen from the tens of thousands he has worked with throughout his lifetime. The Horses in My Life is a celebration of the horses he has learned the most from, as well as those that have impressed themselves most indelibly on his memory and in his heart.
On June 11, 2011 Monty was honored privately by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II for his service to the Royal Family and Her Majesty, for his service to the racing establishment. Monty was made an honorary Member of the Royal Victorian Order. The Royal Victorian Order is given by the Queen to people who have served Her Majesty or the monarchy in a personal way.
Responding to the experience, Roberts said: “The ball is in my court now and it is my obligation to continue to earn the respect that my supporters have given me over this past 22 years since first meeting Her Majesty in 1989.”
In 2011 the Family Care Network honored Monty and Pat Roberts and their family with their “Circle of Serving” award to honor individuals who demonstrate exceptional leadership, vision and commitment by improving the lives of children and families, exemplifying the mission of the Family Care Network “To enhance the wellbeing of children and families in partnership with our community.” Monty and Pat Roberts are internationally known for many accomplishments, but most notable is probably the fact that not only did they raise three biological children, but they also opened their home over the years to 47 foster children.
On June 4, 2011 the California Air Force Association (CAFA) awarded Monty the Special Consideration Award for his support to veterans. This award is given each year at the CAFA State Convention to individuals providing support to military members and their families within the State of California. This is a very high honor and recognized Roberts’ outstanding efforts in helping veterans recover from their combat related deployments.
In 2012, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II became Patron of Monty’s non-profit 501c3 organization, Join-Up International. Her Majesty also honored nine individuals from several different countries for their contribution in supporting Monty’s mission to leave the world a better place by taking violence out of the lives of horses and people. This same year, Monty and Pat were invited as guests to Windsor Castle, where Monty participated in The Queen’s 60th Jubilee celebration parade.
The following year, 2013, Australian champion Thoroughbred Trainer, Gai Waterhouse called on Monty to work with some very high-profile Thoroughbreds. Monty made several trips to Australia and England to work with these top racehorses to further enhance their racing potential through force-free training. This effort culminated in November 2013, when Gai Waterhouse made history by becoming the first female Australian trainer to win the Melbourne Cup, Australia’s most prestigious horse race.
Also in 2013, and continuing to this day, war veterans and their families visit Flag Is Up Farms to experience the healing power of horses. Monty’s three-day Horse Sense and Healing clinics are free to veterans and first responders, helping individuals return to a normal life after 35 years or more of struggling with symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress. The horses have done their work with incredible efficiency and the outcome has been so significant that Monty is writing a book on the topic.
Continuing to tour in England, Germany, Brazil and Australia, Monty becomes Global Ambassador for The Brooke Animal Welfare organization and gives the keynote speech at the Humane Society International 2015 Expo in New Orleans.
Monty launched an additional program centered on the significance of horses in human endeavors. In conjunction with Dr. Sue Cain of the Corporate Learning Institute, Monty led round pen sessions about the powerful relationship of trust and communication between humans and horses, followed by special time with Monty and Pat in their home.
Major corporations have visited Monty and Pat at Flag Is Up Farms throughout the years to experience the concept of Join-Up® and enjoyed the results of this exposure back in their corporate headquarters.
In 2016, Monty and Pat Roberts attended the Royal Windsor Horse Show in celebration of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 90th birthday and stayed at the castle.
In 2017 Monty launched Lead-Up at Flag Is Up Farms, a program developed in Guatemala by Catherine Cunningham with oversight and inspiration from Monty’s Join-Up® concepts. Lead-Up is for youth ages 14-22 to create gentle leaders. Later that year Monty was presented with the EQUUS INTERNATIONAL Film Festival™ Icon Award for his dramatic and critical impact on horses’ lives.
Today, Monty remains steadfast to his goal;
“to leave the world a better place than I found it, for horses and for people, too.“