(Update February 28, 2006--I hadn't looked at this post for some time, until the comment posted below. I have now cleaned it up--look for italic indications of changes.
Disclosure #1: I have spent a weekend with Monty at Flag is Up Farms, with two horses--my opinionated little hunt mare, and a former racehorse turned dressage mount. This was after a friend had taken several of her warmbloods down. Neither one of my horses really joined up--the technique is based on pressuring the horse's cardiovascular fitness, and both horses were exceptionally fit. The former racehorse could have kept going for hours. I found Monty to be exceptionally personable, and his ideas intriguing, but hardly new--my colleague had spent quite a bit of time training with Tom Dorrance and found Monty's ideas quite similar to Tom's.
Disclosure #2--my point in posting this is looking at ineffective ways schools spend money. If Mr. Roberts provided his services to GEMS free of charge, I'd have no comment.
Monty Roberts is popular in some circles, and held in contempt (Joyce Renebome--Mr. Roberts' aunt) in others. He has some similarities to Ward Churchill -- the stories don't hold up, but each of them have lived with the stories so long, perhaps they have come to believe them.
However, it has made a splash in a large, for-profit international firm, Global Education Management Systems
Article from The Observer, a British publications: The Horse Whisperer is called in to tame children
The article references the film, The Horse Whisperer, which was based on the novel of the same name by Nicholas Evans. (In real life as opposed to film life, there have been generations of "horse whisperers" such as John Solomon Rarey, who worked in the mid-ninetheenth century)
Now the techniques revealed in The Horse Whisperer are to be harnessed to improve discipline in school classrooms.
Sir Mike Tomlinson, the former chief inspector of schools who headed the government's review of A levels, is one convert, as is Dr Elisabeth Passmore, a former Ofsted director of inspection.
Monty Roberts, the original whisperer who inspired the film
and has tamed more than 70,000 wild horses,
Wow. I have no idea where that number comes from. It seems bogus. Monty claims: "gentling his 15,000th horse at a demonstration"
flew to Britain last week [March, 2005[ to hold a three-day workshop for Global Education Management Systems (GEMS)
(Gems), one of the biggest operators of independent schools in the UK. Gems hopes that its teachers will agree to adopt his ideas.
'Some people might think it's wacky to turn to an approach best known for horses, but this also has interesting things to say about children,' said Tomlinson. 'We think it's worthwhile listening to Roberts's opinions and to expose our headteachers to different and interesting people who have ideas that might be of use to them,
'We want to try everything that is innovative and interesting for headteachers; we want to encourage them to question current practice. We want to explore difficult and different areas [in education].'
In Roberts's programme, children are encouraged to draw up two contracts: one for positive, the other for negative, behaviour. If they behave badly, they know precisely the penalty they pay, such as a missed playtime, because they will have negotiated this in their contract.
The key to Roberts's approach to horses is what he calls 'join-up': the moment a wild horse chooses to initiate contact and nuzzles the trainer. He said teachers must achieve an identical moment of breakthrough with children.
'It takes a leap of faith because here's a cowboy with ways of working with horses, then he starts talking about children,' he said. 'It's a difficult leap for some people, but not for me.
'I am not for a moment suggesting that animals and humans are the same but, psychologically speaking, their behavioural patterns have more similarities than they have differences.
'Horses and children are almost identical emotionally and psychologically: they are both flight animals who wish to avoid trouble, but will become first bashful, then aggressive, if intimidated.'
According to Roberts, the main fault with most education systems is that they call for a high level of achievement in children, then punish them for not succeeding.
'We used whips to punish horses for not doing what we decided they must do, and we use words to punish children for exactly the same reason,' he said. 'I enable the children to create their own road map to excellence, and then my role is to help them achieve what it is they want. Sure, there will be children who draw up a mediocre road map, but most children, when treated right, will excel to a higher level than we could have predicted.'
Pat Preedy, executive principal of Sherfield School in Basingstoke, Hampshire, and Gems's director of training and research, came across these ideas five years ago. 'I was sceptical about transferring Roberts's theories from horses to children until I saw him persuading a wild horse to make a connection with him out of sheer respect. Then the penny dropped,' she said. 'I realised that if we get it right with children, it could be utterly inspirational.'
Preedy, who has introduced Roberts's theories at Sherfield, invited him to demonstrate his skills to the heads and teachers of all 13 Gems schools in Britain.
'The Monty Roberts approach helps bring out children's potential by encouraging them to take responsibility for their actions, free from the threat of violence, punish ment or even raised voices,' she said. 'This is not a soft option. Monty is very kind, but extremely firm about children understanding the consequences of their actions. The most effective discipline is when the children have discussed it and agreed to it.
'Monty teaches us how to have a positive relationship between the children, and between children and teachers. He enables children to realise they are responsible in their own learning.'
Lee Sanders, the head of another Gems school, Brabyns Preparatory in Marple, Cheshire, is also planning to adopt Roberts's ideas. 'Obviously children are much cleverer than horses, but this is not a matter of talking to them, but getting into their minds and talking to them non-verbally,' he said.
'I have taken Monty's advice on avoiding direct eye contact with children and not facing them square on,' said Julie Lawford, a teacher at Brabyns for 20 years. 'I have realised that just as that sort of interaction is intimidating for horses, so it is for children.
'The contracts form a bond between teacher and pupils, and help children to respect themselves.'
Roberts was brutalised by his father, and compares his anger then to the feelings of horses forced into submission.
It is this last claim, that Roberts was mistreated by his father, that Joyce Renebome so objects to. "We've tried to restore honor to the names of Marvin and Marguerite Roberts who were wonderful people and deserved better. You can meet them on the pages of Horse Whispers and Lies" --more at Citizens for Justice
[material about Flip Flippen deleted and moved to another post]
What follows is a review of Horse Whispers and Lies
As an equine book editor, I take away one star for the occasional tiresome melodrama and even more occasional sarcasm. It weakens the authors' positon. But the facts are irrefutable. They tell you where you can find all the information to check out Roberts' stories.
The writers of the Horse & Rider article (Primedia Enthusiast Publications) could not substantiate even one of the points they investigated. Not even one.
Article: February 1999, Horse & Rider Magazine, "'Horse Whispers or Horse Feathers" by Ronna Snyder.
The point of the issue of Roberts' truthfulness is this. If he's lying about where he got his horse training methods and about other facts of his life, then how are we to trust his methods? What if he's guessing, or lucky, or working with horses who are not in fact strangers to him or unbroke? Are we to accept it when he, in effect, tells us, "Well, don't believe me about that other thing, but this time, I'm telling the truth"?
I saw the "gentling" of Shy Boy on PBS. He ran the horse down for days with the aid of a helicopter. What we saw in the end was exhaustion, not "joining up." The veterinarian that Roberts had doing behavioral commentary said that when we saw the horse put his head down, it was a sign of curiosity and submission. It's also a sign of fatigue, especially when coupled with lop ears and that much perspiration.
If Roberts has so much faith in his own training methods, why did he not get on the horse himself? Because of his age, the program said. Yet John Lyons rides the horses he's training. He's a grandfather, and walks with a noticeable limp. So do scores of other trainers who are Monty's age and/or with similar physical conditions, such as Bill Steinkraus and Tom Dorrance. It's very scary when a horse trainer says he's not in good enough condition to safely ride one of his own horses. And it's a bad sign when a trainer asks someone else to do what he or she will not.
If Monty was afraid of being thrown, perhaps Shy Boy wasn't ready to join up with him. To put his wrangler on the horse was cowardly. What Monty does is nothing new. But the rest of us (horse trainers) at least credit where we got our training methods, and we believe enough in our methods to put our fannies where our mouths are ... in the saddle.
So. Is Monty Roberts a believeable person? Are Monty Roberts' ideas about horsemanship generalizeable to children? Should school districts pay for instruction in these ideas? Decide for yourself.