Monty Roberts: how horses are helping damaged war veterans

  • Monty Roberts is the renowned master of natural horsemanship and he used a recent visit to Britain to demonstrate his ongoing work with war veterans suffering with post-traumatic stress disorder.

    British veterans Stefan Pearce and Thomas Carroll (video, below) have both served in Iraq, but the experiences have left them with devastating consequences.

    Having never been near a horse before their military life, they are both now relishing the equine therapy on offer to them and fellow servicemen in their positions.

    Stefan’s partner for the masterclass — being held at the Sunset Polo charity event at Cowdray Park — is Gladiator and Monty begins by highlighting the importance of relaxing around the horses and gaining their trust.

    “Your horse needs to know you’re happy and relaxed — he needs to believe in you,” Monty tells Stefan, who “sends the horse away” by slapping the lead rope on his thigh.

    Keep eyes on eyes, your shoulders square and fingers open,” Monty explains before telling Stefan to change the direction Gladiator is going.

    The trainer’s core concept of his method is the “join-up” whereby the horse chooses to approach the person.

    “I do this by turning my shoulder away from the horse and then just drift away a little — I want the horse to take a chance on me. He will want to follow me because of my conversation with him. He feels safe and trusts me,” Monty explains.

    “I don’t break horses, that is a method using violence and prevents their ability to fight back. Do you do your job best when you want to or when you’re forced to do it? The horses that are not forced will give you a better performance.”

    Stefan turns his back on the horse and as Monty has predicted Gladiator lowers his head and follows Stefan, before a pat concludes the “join-up”.

    Stefan finished his tour in Iraq in 2003 after seven months, however, it wasn’t until 2014 that Stefan began to suffer repercussions of his war days and was haunted by flashbacks.

    Horses are now my life — just to know that the horse trusts me and is not making any judgement, that’s what it’s all about,” says Stefan who credits equine therapy for saving his life during his darkest days.

    The power of equine therapy

    Monty works with Thomas and his equine partner Barry using the same techniques — focusing on gaining trust from the horse.

    Thomas experienced 21 combat tours including Iraq and Bosnia, before a stint in private security. However, an improvised explosive device (IED) left him not only with physical damage but also psychological issues.

    “Relax and keep a forward motion — walk with a deliberate motion but stay relaxed,” Monty tells Thomas.

    “The four gestures we are looking for are a lowering of the horse’s head, licking and chewing, moving onto a smaller circle and ear movements,” he explains. “All of these gestures are of a horse who wants to negotiate with us.”

    Thomas describes the feeling of working with horses as simply “brilliant”.

    Monty, who has around 80 instructors across the world, offers three-day courses to war veterans and believes in the power of equine therapy to overcome issues caused by their past duties.

    “The greatest gift we can give is to help the next generation,” he says. “The next generation of war veterans need our help the most in society.”

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