by Jeff Rogers

What can we learn from a horse? Plenty, says internationally renown “Horse Whisperer,” Monty Roberts. All we have to do is listen.

“The horses are talking…just listen.”

Monty Roberts, Horse Whisperer

What Are Horses Trying to Tell Us?

Monty Roberts has been working with horses for more than a half-century, championing a horse-training technique called Join-Up. Roberts contends that what works with horses works with humans too. The lessons he learned training thousands of horses provides the basics for effectively teaching people…helping them to learn more effectively, to communicate better, and to get along with others.

“The horse has an important message for humankind.”

Monty Roberts

Even as a boy, Roberts recognized that horses speak to one another, a language he called “Equus.” It was a non-verbal form of communication, using a silent language, but extremely effective nevertheless. What Roberts wanted to know was if horses and humans could speak to each other too. Over the years, he found horses had something all humans needed to hear.

“Violence is never the answer.”

Monty Roberts

Roberts’ early work on what would become his Join-Up method for training horses was an effort on his part to stop the traditional use of “breaking” horses to get them to learn. Breaking horses makes use of violent means, which typically includes tying them up with a rope around their neck, hitting them repeatedly with whips or straps made of a course material, and even, if necessary, hobbling them by binding their legs so they cannot run away. Dominance, intimidation, punishment, fear, and pain were for many years the most common way horses were “taught” to be obedient.

Roberts was convinced there had to be another way, a better way, or more gentle approach. What he found was that through communication, relationship building and gentleness, a horse could achieve even greater accomplishments than mere obedience. Join-Up, without pain or force, persuades horses to accept a saddle, a bridle, and a rider. Through verbal body language, the Join-Up trainer begins by simply talking to and being with the horse, inviting it to follow his or her lead, essentially laying a very basic foundation of mutual trust through increasing familiarity.

Ultimately, continuing the process of relationship building, called “partnering,” structures of mutual concern and respect develop as well. The horse basically chooses to be with and to follow the direction of the trainer. Instead of using the techniques of domination, Roberts approach makes use of the power of non-verbal communication and does so in an environment that encourages and invites compliance.

How Can Join-Up Apply to Teaching Humans?

Not just horses, but humans too, according to Roberts, learn best in a safe and cooperative learning environment. And the effects are long lasting too. Lessons learned in a state of fear and submission tend not to last outside the environment of forced obedience. Like horses, humans like most to have a say in the matter…then the learning becomes theirs.

Besides horse trainers, schools, corporations, government agencies, and even hospitals, have used Robert’s Join-Up method as a model for working with students, employees, and doctors and nurses too, to improve how they regard themselves and one another, and work together.  

“Monty’s principles really amount to common sense and immense patience. He believes that children and horses have the same behavioral patterns. They are both naturally ‘flight’ animals. If you frighten them and resort to confrontation, you’ll lose them. Simple one-on-one assurances and praise reap long-term dividends that can all be undone with the quick slamming of a book on a desk or shouting back,” explains Join-Up representatives.

For further exploration, check out the following books by Monty Roberts, The Man Who Listens to Horses, Horse Sense for People, and Shy Boy.

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