Monday, August 25, 2014

Horse Whisperer

I've done some research on horses to help with our book on disciple-making, entitled Enough Horses in the Barn. Ann Gillette recommended Monty Roberts auto-biography, The Man Who Listens to Horses: The Story of a Real-Life Horse Whisperer. I got a few nuggets that relate to disciple-making and our book. But beyond that, it was an enjoyable read.

The heart of the matter is Roberts' radically different approach to "breaking" and "training" horses. (Roberts doesn't like the former term, preferring "starting" [244]. "Starting" or "breaking" are negative terms-- getting horses to stop undesirable behavior; "training" is positive.) At least by his account, his efforts were revolutionary and much more effective. By any account I can imagine, his approach would be much more humane than the traditional ways. (He describes his father's general approach as universal and violent/oppressive [39-40].)

In a word, Roberts claims to communicate with horses--understanding them and being able to convey his wishes, to gain their trust, and to get them to do what he wanted.

In Roberts' lingo, the climactic moment is "join-up": when he breached the gap between distrust and trust with the horse (169-171, 244-249). Not surprisingly, he described the moment as always satisfying: as a teacher, it never gets old to get past certain barriers.

I was struck by his strategy of "leaning" on horses (particularly wild ones)-- pursuing them and then retreating-- in both catching and training them. When he retreated, they would follow at a distance. After repeating this process for awhile, they became easier to control (7, 25, 68).

Along the way, Roberts shares his brushes with fame, including doubling in movies as a child for Roddy McDowell, Elizabeth Taylor, Mickey Rooney and Charlton Heston (43-44); and working with John Steinbeck, Elia Kazan, and James Dean (who became a close friend) in "East of Eden" (101-104). Chapter 7 is devoted to his time with the Queen of England (including people there trying to mess with him).

Roberts also spends a lot of time on his influential relationship with his father. By Roberts' account, his father was a cruel man-- both as a father, a policeman (killing a man in cold blood), and as a horse trainer. In many ways, Roberts (gloriously) overcame his father's influence. Even so, the scars are still (sadly) evident in his writing.

Two small things: 1.) Roberts is color-blind. Later in life, he realized that it had been a blessing to him, crediting it with his ability to "perceive movement more clearly" and to "see better at night" (105). 2.) Roberts extended his methods to deer-- a remarkable story relayed in chapter 6.


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