A horse whisperer who must be heard; BOOK OF THE WEEK

The Man Who Listens To Horses by Monty Roberts (Hutchinson, pounds 16.9 9)
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The Independent Online
Wild horses should not drag you away from finding out more about Monty Roberts. He is the best friend they've got. As for humans, he can educate us about a species towards which we appear to have been showing spectacular ignorance.

Roberts, from California, today begins a month's tour of Britain seeking disciples for his cause. In the world of horses Roberts wants a revolution and while here he will be demonstrating his alternative to cruel methods of ``breaking-in'' horses.

Instead of inflicting fear and pain until an untrained animal has his or her spirit broken and submits, this former rodeo champion relies on communication. Roberts can persuade a previously unhandled horse to trust him and then to be willingly saddled, bridled and ridden - all in a far shorter time than achieved by conventional means. There is improvement, too, in the animal's attitude.

Many people are already familiar with an outline of the Roberts approach. This book gives the detail: how he rebelled against his father's brutal ways of breaking horses, how he gained an awareness of equine body language by observing wild mustangs in Nevada, and provides a step-by-step guide to how other people can ``start'' (his word for ``breaking-in'') horses his way.

These days, though, this eloquent 61-year-old finds it far easier to calm a frenzied colt than break down some of the barriers put in his way in Britain and elsewhere. His technique has attracted Luddite suspicion. Even when he gained the opportunity to exhibit his skills, often has been the time when he has been asked to work with a particularly aggressive beast, perhaps psychologically damaged by ill-treatment.

Here, Roberts would have been the target for ridicule from establishment quarters but for a startling contradiction - the Queen can be counted upon as one of his staunchest admirers. Equine recruits to the Household Cavalry are started his way, and the Queen's racehorses increasingly so.

With this ``By Royal Appointment'' on his calling card, Roberts has been able to enter many doors that would previously have been closed. A persistent difficulty, however, is that Roberts, together with horsemen and horsewomen he has trained to use his methods, are still widely seen as people merely to be called in to deal with ``problem'' horses, such as those with an aversion to starting stalls on race tracks.

But like any true revolutionary, Roberts wants to start with the root cause and to put our relationship with the equine world on a new footing. As someone whose own limited riding experience ended abruptly 30 years ago, when a chestnut called Ivanhoe threw me headlong into a bush in Breconshire, I'm all for that.

Information on venues and times for Roberts's demonstrations can be obtained by calling 01684 594800.

Chris Corrigan

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