The Man Who Listens to Horses – Monty Roberts

My battered but well-loved copy of Monty Roberts’ The Man Who Listens to Horses is a book I’ve been reading and re-reading since I was twelve years old.

Having first picked it up when owning a horse of my own was nothing more than a distant dream, I rifled through it continually for help and support in my first few years of owning my own pony, and have kept it close ever since, carrying it to the two occasions where I’ve been privileged enough to see Monty work live – with two groups of friends at different livery yards years apart – and at one of those had it signed, a couple of decades after it first became a staple on my bookshelf.

 

 

In the horse world, there will always be those prominent role models who we are most inspired by, and love to watch and learn from. For me, there are several who stand out from the rest – Nick Skelton is a huge one, a showjumper whose posters were on my wall when I was nine years old – carefully pulled out of Ponies Forever magazine – and who, decades later, I was elated to watch (standing side by side with Charmer in his stable after work, phone propped up streaming the big moment) winning gold in the 2016 Olympics with the beautiful Big Star, post-recovery after his previous accident and rounding off a dazzling career. Luca Moneta, with his unique approach to communicating with his horse even in the most high-calibre of competitions, promotes a refreshing brand of horse-welfare-focused horsemanship. Monty Roberts is without a doubt one of these role models too, having been such a huge part of my early forming of ideas about how best to relate to horses, and in particular to my own – who I was blessed enough to find myself responsible for when we were both only young, and who I was determined to do the best I could for.

The Man Who Listens to Horses is a captivating story, I’m sure for those not involved with horses as well as those who are. Beginning in California in the 1940s, at a time when the balance of life was about to be upset considerably by the arrival of the war years; it focuses initally on Monty and his brother Larry’s childhood on a large competition yard, their work there and their own competing as they grew up, describing the unique opportunities afforded to Monty through his life with the horses in local rodeo events and even in roles in some of the huge cowboy films of the time while doing stunt work for actors like James Dean and Roddy McDowall.

The true heart of this story, however, is Monty’s desire as he grew older to break out from what was the norm in both his upbringing and the culture of the time of horse-starting – or “breaking”. Finding himself determined to find a new and more peaceful method of doing this, he discovered as he did a new path in more aspects of his life, and a deepening desire to reduce violence in the world not just for horses but for people too.

Monty’s outlook is by no means unique – a few years ago I read another very interesting book, Talking with Horses by Henry Blake, which was written in the UK some years previously and focused on many similarly peaceful approaches to communicating with his horses. However, I do understand that in his circle at the time he grew up, to Monty his efforts to break out of the way things had always been done were a constant struggle, and the resistance he met led to a difficult journey for him.

Towards the end of his teenage years, Monty recounts what seems to have been a very defining experience in his life with horses – having the opportunity through summer herding work to watch a group of mustangs interact with one another entirely in the wild – first becoming intrigued by this when observing an exchange between a “trouble-making” young colt “misbehaving” in the group and the dominant mare who dealt with this:

“The dun mare didn’t hesitate. In an instant she pinned her ears back and ran at him, knocking him down.. while this chastisement was going on, the other members of the herd didn’t turn a hair. It was as if they didn’t know it was happening. She ended by driving him out of the herd.. I was amazed. She kept her eye on his eye, and faced up to him… he was terrified to be left alone…. he stood there, and I noticed there was a lot of licking and chewing going on, although he hadn’t eaten anything. I remembered the foal and how it had snapped its mouth, which is an obvious signal of humility as though it was saying “I am not a threat to you.” This colt was saying the same thing to his matriarch… To my astonishment the dun mare was now grooming the colt. She’d let him back in, and now she was keeping him close by and giving him lots of attention…”

Some of these behaviours, and many more witnessed over several years in the natural setting of herds, would go on to form the basis for “Join-Up”, a method for relating to horses, particularly those unsettled for any reason, as other horses would – in doing so putting them at ease, removing the element of fear and bridging any gap in understanding; and in turn providing a solid foundation for building the relationship between horses and humans – one which involves both of us learning so much from each other, and one which is so incredibly rewarding. 

The Man Who Listens to Horses is an intriguing book, part autobiography, part textbook, and spans decades of a life spent working with horses and learning from them. It is one I have carried with me throughout my life, and which has helped me find perspective on many ups and downs of my own life with horses.

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Late summer evenings and fresh starts to the day 🌳🍂

In the last week or so, while we’ve still had (mostly!) warm sunshine through our days, there’s been a subtle change in the air as night falls, earlier and earlier, around us.


The creeping in of darkness as we reach the end of August and into September never ceases to surprise me. Suddenly 8.30pm field checks are done in half-light, the strings of streetlights across the water glinting and dusk already falling as I greet my boy with his usual treats and bits and pieces.


This is a wonderful time for him – the midges finally easing up slightly, the flies kept at bay, and he starts to settle into the coolness again with a relaxed toss of his head, enjoying these days that are not quite the full force of summer anymore but don’t have the new challenges winter brings either. 💜


At home, the colours around us are shifting, barley fields golden in the morning light and combines working long into the evenings, lit up and rumbling across the skyline, night after night. 


Right across from our house, the sheep are grazing closer than ever and it’s lovely to be able to spend the morning coffee times, out with an extra warm jumper now if it’s right at the break of day, watching and listening to them. 


Before I even get there though, while the kettle begins to boil, it’s good morning from the never-still-enough-for-a-good-photo rabble!


Perry, Jasper and Jet are all getting on fine and all well and truly settled together in their cage and full of fun of an evening when out and about. They love the breakfast routine and are always up and waiting from the first second the door opens to see what what the day will bring.💙

Hello from all of us and hope you all have a good Friday and a wonderful weekend. X 

Summertime blues 💙

Summertime on our little farm by the sea brings with it blue skies, blue waters and long lazy days to watch the sun rise and fall across them. 💙 It’s a beautiful season in the horses’ world, where they’re content with nothing more than the outdoors and the grass that grows endlessly beneath them; and it’s a time, nomatter how much extra care and support they’ll need again come winter-time, that they can thrive on fresh air and spend all day outside “living horse”. Even as a lover of the cosier autumn and winter seasons, I love to see the daylight extend on the farm come summertime, the fields dry up and the grass grow.

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And yet, for Charmer it is a difficult season in some ways, even while he enjoys it in so many others. Every year with the return of the flies and midges to our world comes the challenge of keeping them at bay – for all horses, who get well and truly pestered to some extent, but especially for the 10% in the UK – a huge proportion of whom are in our country, contending with the infamous Scottish midge – my boy included, who suffer from sweet itch.

We’ve been battling with the midges since we first took on Charmer back in 2000, my parents helping me browse the daunting shelves of creams and sprays on offer in our local saddlery in our first week of horse ownership. When he was younger, Charmer used to lose his mane and the hair at the top of his tail every year to the itching that came from his allergy to the saliva of midges, and it made summertime difficult for him.

These days, a combination of the condition improving as he’s got older and of finding the best deterrents and aids to help him particularly (as what “works” often varies from horse to horse), have meant he has a much easier time of enjoying his summer – but it’s still a balancing act, and we couldn’t make it through the April – September months without a little help from our tried and tested products.

Definitely the best sweet itch specific cream we’ve found for Charmer is Carr, Day & Martin’s Killitch, which is excellent for slathering along his mane and tail to protect him, especially earlier in the summer when his winter coat is still coming out and it’s lovely for him to be able to be out of his winter turnout rug but not yet needing to be wrapped up in his fly sheet – just getting to enjoy being caked in mud, sunbathing and rolling in the grass before shaking out all his fluff of the darker months.

Power Phaser too is an excellent spray we use liberally in the summer months – working amazingly well to keep flies, midges and cleggs alike at bay.

A summer fly rug is usually one of the best answers to the problem, keeping him well protected and being light enough not to restrict or overheat him on the warmest days – in fact a white rug to deflect some of the warmth of the sun at its peak is probably quite a relief to a black horse!

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Charmer modelling some of the many fly rugs he has worn – and muddied/ripped/destroyed with a new personal best time each year! – over the years

This year, we’ve had to add a face mask for the first time after poor Charm’s incessant face rubbing at midge bites opened cuts which were then swooped on by flies – so there’s now barely an inch of him not wrapped up in mesh; but the attack on all fronts seems to be a success, and he’s a fly-free zone… 🙂

We will keep up our campaign against them over the next few weeks, as we’re now well and truly in the swing of, but will enjoy too the uniquely summery pace of life at the farm while we can, and the cloudless skies and glittering sea – until the first tinges of auburn we can already see in the trees creep further around the field, and summer gives way to the freshness of autumn.

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Hope you are all having a lovely week. X

 

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The last week has been an absolutely packed one in our little corner of the world, and been full of all good things. I last wrote a week past Sunday just after the loss of our rat Marley, and our weekend then was a quiet one, lying low and doing our best to help Perry with finding himself alone in his cage.

He struggled more than we even anticipated he would, even though we knew how social he was – times out with us suddenly became the highlights of his day, and we made sure he was out nearly all the time we were in.

When out at the farm looking after the biggest boy too, I found, as ever, equine therapy to be truly the best there possibly can be. ❤️

On Saturday night, Charmer and I walked our favourite route, a meander down the track towards the water, stopping off at the ruined church at the bottom where I love to feel the sea breeze and the peace,  and he loves to enjoy the long grass on offer! On Sunday morning, it was new shoes time and a relaxed early morning at the farm chatting to the farrier while he worked as around us eggs were gathered, dogs walked and the earliest of risers waved off on their way out for gentle hacks in the mist.

On Monday, we had our mid-pregnancy hospital visit and scan, and had the incredible experience of seeing our baby again on the screen, and of hearing that all is going well, something that brought more joy to our little world than I can express.

The next few days were busy at work and at home but it became increasingly clear that we needed some friends for Perry and I threw myself into the project. In only 4 days alone he really struggled, sleeping less, not eating, and starting to form bald patches on his fur. I’ve never known a rat so devoted to his friends, and never seen one so much struggle with a short time alone – whenever I put my hand in his cage and stroked him in his bed he would suddenly flop down and fall asleep, so relieved to be able to, and it was clear he was on edge all the time he was alone.

I spent a few days looking to no avail – suddenly there were no local breeders with litters or gumtree or preloved adverts, and none at the SSPCA – even though one of my dangerous habits is keeping an eye on all of these places (“just out of curiosity”) and usually there are many! Eventually though, on Wednesday I found two boys in a Support Adoption for Pets centre not too far from us, and made the journey after work to bring home our two beautiful new additions, Jasper and Jet.

In the past I’ve found it difficult to bring home new pets sooner than we’ve felt we want to add more, when we’re still so much missing the ones we’ve lost; but both Jasper (a roan, one of my absolute favourite colourings) and Jet (such a beautiful jet-black and white, with a half-and-half tail to match, both dumbos); have already shown such huge and loveable characters that we’re so taken with them already.

And with Perry, they have been perfect. We sped up introducing them more than we usually would as he was so desperate for company, and they were all so good. Jasper and Jet’s ages are not known as they were handed in by a previous owner without them, but they do seem very young in themselves and still a little growing to do too, I think possibly around 5 months. They were both very submissive to Perry, who was himself very keen to get settled down; and only a couple of evenings in the bath – having some discussions about hierarchy – later, they were settled in their new cage and all enjoying the new mischief.

This week also brought with it my birthday, and a big one at that, turning 30. It was a wonderful chance to spend some time with family and friends and enjoy being at home in such lovely company, loved every minute of it. Was so overwhelmed with everyone’s kindness too, and one of the many very special presents I love so much is a picture made showing our little family – it is just the loveliest representation of exactly what our life was this summer, spent with Charmer, Reuben, Marley and Perry, looking forward to the changes ahead, and I couldn’t love it more.

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As the sun set on July, and rose on a new season – darkness creeping into the earliest mornings and latest nights once more, new babies settling into our home and our other new addition just around the corner – looking forward to so much and grateful for so much too.

Hope you are all having a really lovely week. Xxx