Ask Monty Roberts

 January 30, 2013  



Achieve a good Join-Up with every horse that has a phobia to be dealt with. One might accomplish three or four good Join-Ups and so create a horse willing to follow you around and happy to be in your presence.


~ Monty



leading with a smile Why does Monty recommend that we 'put a smile in the line' when we lead a horse? Find out in this week's video lesson on Monty's Equus Online University.


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This Week's Question:

After 20 years of raising children, I have returned to the world of horses that I missed very much. I started with lessons to build confidence and have recently purchased a 15 year old gelding named Ralph who is a great fit for me as a rider and new owner. Ralph is very well 

trained in dressage and has good ground manners. However, he has issues with riding in the indoor arena.  


He is easily distracted and 'spooked' by various things. There is a vinyl banner sign at one end that he dislikes. I can't keep him on the track when passing it. And even when shortening the track keeping us about 3-4 feet out, he will skirt sideways quickly or run forward when passing it. Also, when he kicks up the dirt footing when trotting along the track, the sound of it hitting the tin wall causes him to run forward. Sometimes we can get a good chunk of a lesson in for about 10-15 minutes of focused attention and it is wonderful but then he will overreact to something again.  


For example, during a very good lesson, another student in the lesson was too warm and took her vest off and placed it in the corner. When Ralph and I came around that corner again he stopped dead, spread his forelegs wide, leaned his head down and flared his nostrils. I pushed him on forward and it took about 6 circles in the same corner for him to accept it as non-threatening. And for the rest of the lesson every time we passed it, he was slightly distracted. I have been told that I need to accept that he is simply a 'looky' or 'twitchy' kind of horse and to ride ready for anything. He has probably always been that way and will always be that way, but I'm not sure I believe that. Maybe I just don't want to believe it because it's taking the fun out of riding.  


What's happening now is that my own anxiety is climbing which is contributing to the problem. And I find myself wanting to ride with crop and spurs now (which I have never done). But I know this is simply a reaction to my own fear and wanting to control the horse or intimidate him into being more scared of me than what he is already afraid of so I haven't yet. My concern is that my own escalating anxiety will escalate his as well.


So, finally, my question is: how do I desensitize Ralph to an entire environment? I have watched the online videos at the Uni and I understand the incremental approach when it involves a 'stream' or plastic bag or poles, etc but I am having a hard time translating that approach to an entire structure and the environment of the indoor riding arena. Any advice is greatly appreciated!


Monty's Answer:  

Welcome to the real world of dealing with a spooky horse. My riding these days is limited to a horse you have probably seen on my Equus Online Uni lessons called Nice Chrome. He is a 'twin brother' to your horse where touchy, feely, and spooky is concerned. I can't' count the number of times I have been told that it is hopeless to deal with his issues. They say just acknowledge it and get over it.


Chrome is still spooky, touchy and feely but I am able to contend with certain challenges that were impossible when I took him over at three years of age. There is still a high pulse rate and adrenalin level but the volatility has subsided substantially. We do not have to accept danger with this personality feature. It is, in fact, a fantastic advantage when seeking a horse that is able to rise to world class performance.


Sensitivity is essential to achieving high marks in virtually every discipline that we deal with. Horses that lack elements of sensitivity are wonderful for therapeutic riding and educating entry level riders but it's difficult to cause them to rise to laudable performances in the areas of competition which include dressage, show jumping, reining, cutting and the like. It is important however that you remain safe.


In a high percentage of cases regarding horses that are less than comfortable in indoor arenas, it happens that they express their concerns because they had bad experiences in that building. This is not always the case but it is well over the majority. The challenges that you have outlined in your question would indicate to me that one could deal with these elements, while remaining safe, if the horse was being led by another horse with a rider on his back.


I am thinking of things like the sand on the wall in particular. Spending time actively in the building without the rider on would tend to reduce the anxiety level. I might also suggest that one consider, if possible, placing some sort of enclosure in the building and causing the horse to spend substantial periods of time just existing in that building. Each of these suggestions would follow a litany of ideas that I recommend for spooky horses.


My Equus Online Uni has several lessons that outline the procedures that I typically utilize for spooky horses. A horse like this would complete that list over and over again and in various locations to more deeply imprint the acceptance of them. Good luck, stay in touch and let us know how it's going.







January 30-Feb 3, 2013: Global Meet-Up of Monty Roberts Certified Instructors at Flag Is Up Farms. This year, teaching from Monty will focus on Wild Horse and Mustang gentling in a state of the art Gentling Pen (remodel courtesy of Mark and Beth Hebner of IFA)
February 5-9, 2013: Monty Roberts special course for Brazilian students at Flag Is Up Farms with Mundo Equestre / Monty Roberts curso com Mundo Equestre (BR); for information, please email: 


February 16, 2013: Bury Farm Equestrian Centre (Afternoon demonstration); Mill Road, Slapton, Bucks, LU7 9BT, UK     


February 20, 2013: Merrist Wood Worplesdon, Guildford, Surrey, GU3 3PE, UK     


February 24, 2013: Solihull Riding Club (Afternoon demonstration); Four Ashes Road, Bentley Heath, West Midlands, B93 8QE, UK     


March 2, 2013: The Hand Equestrian Centre; Davis Lane, Clevedon, Somerset, BS21 6TG, UK  

March 6, 2013: Corporate Night of Inspiration at Flag Is Up Farms (private)  

March 16-17: Monty Roberts and Charlotte Bredahl Clinic at Flag Is Up Farms, California. Classic Dressage and Western Riding in Harmony with Your Horse. Call 805-688-6288 for details.


March 22-24, 2013: Another FREE 3-day clinic for war veterans with Monty at Flag Is Up Farms! or for info.   


April 6, 2013:  Monty Roberts Jubileums Show, Flyinge Equestrian Center, Sweden


May 2013: Possible Tour Dates in Germany  


May 11, 2013: Possible Tour Date in Holland  



For information about Monty's worldwide demos and the courses held at Monty's farm in California go to: 
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My greatest teachers have always been the horses. I  

have followed your methods since I was ten, I am only twenty six now so that hasn't been long. I wanted to tell you that while I like to learn from all people as well as books, my greatest teachers have always been the horses. Thank you for setting me on this path.  


I have an Arabian and an Appy who have taught me more in my path of being their guidance then I believe I have taught them. I know I wouldn't have had the courage or ability to be strong for them if I hadn't have learned some important things from you. Thanks for your help; my ability to train now at such a young age wouldn't have been furthered in success without some basic things that you have taught me.



Emily McDonnell



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Name the Leadership Traits that Help You with Horses


A thought to consider:

Dominated horses respond from fear. They give you what you ask but no more. They will 

be relieved when you go away.


Partnered horses respond from desire. They give you what you ask and more. They will 

happily go anywhere with you.


Which would you prefer?


~ Vicci Holbrook-Hughes



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Thank you for changing my life and my horses with your work, books, demonstrations and online university.


I have a question about my horse who I've had for nearly 20 years. He's an Irish Thoroughbred out at grass all year. When he is fed his food in a bucket he paws the ground and digs himself a hole!


I have tried giving him space but not a lot makes a difference. I watch other people on my yard with their horses standing next to them with a whip and smacking then each time they do it. Clearly that doesn't work.  


Some people put wheelbarrows next to the horse to stop it and again it doesn't work.

Does my horse do this to protect his food from others? Is there anything I can do to stop it or make him feel less anxious around feed time?

I look forward to seeing you on tour in February where I will be bringing one of my PTSD patients with me to see your work!!

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Christopher Dydyk