Horse Sense for People : The Man Who Listens to Horses Talks to People

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  • Edition: Reprint
  • Format: Paperback
  • Copyright: 2002-06-01
  • Publisher: Penguin (Non-Classics)

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Supplemental Materials

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This is Monty Roberts's long-awaited sequel to The Man Who Listens to Horses. In this fascinating book, Monty Roberts shows us how to use the "Join-Up" technique-his amazing method for persuading a wild horse to accept a saddle, bridle, and rider-as the model for how best to strengthen human relationships. Full of memorable encounters with horses and humans, Horse Sense for Peoplehas at its core a belief in the power of gentleness, positive action, nonviolence, and trust. Roberts provides thought-provoking guidelines for improving the quality of our communication with one another, for learning to "read" each other effectively, and for creating fear-free environments. With demonstrations of the Join-Up technique selling out arenas all over the world, Monty Roberts continues to inspire enthusiasts and convert skeptics. Sure to draw many new readers, Horse Sense for Peopleis the book Monty Roberts's fans-be they horse enthusiasts, business managers, or book lovers-have been waiting for. "I'm no horseman, but I know miracles when they happen. I've watched this magician of nonviolence change the wild rearing beasts into gentle horses under their riders, time and again, in minutes. Here he hands us some powerful lessons about healing and gentling ourselves and our relationships." (Richard Bach, author of Jonathan Livingston Seagull)

Author Biography

Monty Roberts has worked with horses for more than fifty years and has demonstrated his Join-Up technique all over the world, sharing his landmark philosophy with the likes of Her Royal Majesty Queen Elizabeth, as well as thousands of corporate executives.

Table of Contents

Forewords vii
Acknowledgments xiii
Monty Roberts's Ideas to Live By xxi
From Horses to Humans xxv
Join-Up: The Journey
A Story: The Mustang Mare
How to Achieve Join-Up
Join-Up: The Journey
Join-Up in the Workplace
A Corporate Experience: Paradyne
A Corporate Experience: Transit Mix
Father and Son
Discovering the Language of Equus
Body Language
A Story: Cadillac
A Story: Reading Each Other
The Round Pen
Why We Need Join-Up
Imprinting Our Young
A Story: Barlet
Against Violence
The Road to Columbine
Violence Through the Generations
A Story: PB
What We Achieve Through Join-Up
A Story: Blushing ET
A Story: Tina
A Corporate Experience: CSX and Tropicana
A Story: Betrayal
A Story: Brownie
Intrinsic Versus Extrinsic Learning
The Blackboard System
A Story: The Trouble with Harry
A Story: Where Do I Sign?
The Good Parent
Spare the Rod
A Story: The Water Glass
A Story: There Are No Back Doors in Life
A Story: Margaret's Chore Chart
A Story: The Boy with Baggage
Greg Ward
A Story: Don't Judge a Book by Its Cover
Crawford Hall
The Muckers' Story
The Art of Listening
Slow Is Fast
A Corporate Experience: Change and the Nature of Leadership
Conclusion 206(4)
The Power of Gentleness
Bibliography 210(2)
Appendices 212
Corporations That Have Visited Flag Is Up Farms
For Further Information



It took almost my business lifetime to begin to understand the tremendous power that can be leveraged when people's individualism, creativity and wisdom are unleashed.

In recent years there has been a growing appreciation of enlightened forms of leadership that seek to engage, involve and inspire, as opposed to the long-standing practices of "direct and control."

Meeting Monty Roberts and absorbing his philosophy was a really magical moment for me-I am inspired by his beliefs and impressed by his actions. He clearly demonstrates that kindness and respect for the horse are superior to the traditional breaking of the animal's spirit. Monty's notion that the teacher (or leader) must create an environment in which the student can learn and grow is simple, direct and honest-it fit perfectly with a style of leadership that I have been experimenting with since the early eighties.

Monty Roberts certainly listens to horses but, in my humble opinion, he delivers a powerful message to people and, in particular, people at all levels of leadership. What he achieves with a horse is a metaphor for a style of management-employees will produce exceptional results if they are treated with dignity, respect and honesty.

In the world of organizations and business we make the mistake of putting people in boxes and limiting their abilities and creativity-we need to find a means of changing the way people think about themselves, their jobs and how they work as individuals and in teams. I suggest you couldn't start anywhere better than this book.

Clive Warrilow Volkswagen North America CEO and President

Chapter 1: From Horses to Humans: My Philosophy of Join-Up

I suppose all readers of this book have the right to ask what gives me the authority to expound my theories on human-to-human communication. To many people, my only claim to fame, if there is one, is as a horse psychologist. As I write this book, it is my sincere hope that I will give the reader the understanding that there is a balance between all living beings on this earth and that we are all one family. If my work only brings to light certain limited connections between human and horse, then I am very disappointed. Humankind has the most complex brain of any species on earth, and with such incredible cerebral power we must be able to apply what we learn from animals to ourselves.

The first book in which I wrote about my ideas wasThe Man Who Listens to Horses, published in 1996. In 1989 I had been invited to demonstrate my training methods to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. Since my methods break with tradition it seemed to be a refreshing sight to her to watch me cause untrained horses to calmly accept their first saddle, bridle and rider in about half an hour, although traditional methods take four to six weeks. Possibly even more intriguing was the fact that I used no pain or restraint, even though the methods used for approximately 8,000 years have been loaded with both those elements.

The queen was curious as to how I had learned these things and what had brought me to the conclusions that are now the basis of my work. She encouraged me to write a book chronicling my concepts. The prospect was daunting, since I'd never viewed myself as a writer. Approximately six months later I returned to England to work with some of the royal horses and hoped that the queen had forgotten about my writing a book. Not so! One of her first questions concerned my literary efforts and progress to date. I resigned myself to producing the story of my life.

Since that life is chronicled in The Man Who Listens to Horses, I will only touch on it here.

I was born in 1935 to parents who were in the horse business. My father was a trainer and riding instructor who had an agreement with the city of Salinas, California, to manage its competition grounds. This was a large equestrian facility and home to one of the major rodeos in the United States. I was up on a horse with my mother shortly after my birth and was in competition when I was four years of age.

Traditional trainers worked on the principle, "You do what I tell you or I'll hurt you." As I grew up I came to the conclusion that it is far more effective to wait for horses to do something right and reward them. I began to experiment with training techniques that disciplined the horse by putting him back to work, never by applying force. I refused to inflict pain of any kind. I believed that horses, these wonderful flight animals with no agenda to cause harm to anyone, could teach us that violence is never the answer.

Throughout my career, horses have been my allies and they have done the talking for me. Champion after champion came my way, both in the show ring and on the racetracks of the world. The raising of three biological children and dozens of foster children educated me further in the concepts that the horses were so freely, by their example, communicating. I've spent many years now working with horses to communicate those same concepts to people as individuals, in the family and in the workplace.

On tour, I do demonstrations of my work, using horses I have never seen before. At these events I sign books and answer questions from attendees. One of the most frequent requests has been that I should produce a book that relates my concepts to humans. This book is my attempt to answer the call of literally millions of people around the world to extend the concepts of Join-Up and nonviolence to people.

Fundamental to my development of what I have termed Join-Up-a nonviolent method of communicating to establish a partnership with a horse-was an early recognition that the horse must always be allowed the freedom to choose whether or not he will cooperate. It seemed to me, as I watched my father and other traditional horse trainers work, that their entire focus was on telling the horse that he had no choice. Pain is not a choice any healthy being makes, and inflicting pain forces the horse to understand that absolute obedience is the only choice. Pain can achieve obedience and compliance, but I believe that compliance alone is not sufficient for outstanding performance. Blind obedience is not pleasurable nor does it produce a sense of accomplishment.

Communication with horses in Join-Up is largely based on the fact that they are flight animals. Using the horses' language I proceed one step at a time and respect their natural patterns of behavior. I understand their desire to flee from what they perceive as danger and, going along with their natural instinct, I ask for and offer respect. The horse is then left to make the willing decision to Join-Up with me.

This idea of choice is one of the root principles of my work. No one has the right to say, "You must or I will hurt you," to any creature, animal or human.

These concepts of nonviolence, respect and choice are important and can be equally effective in the human arena. Join-Up allows us to see and understand that violence and confrontation are never the answer. When observing, for example, how organizations often recruit and train new employees I often see similarities to the traditional method of breaking a horse. We need to realize that a harmonious partnership in the workplace, in the family or in any other social context is far more productive than one of force and intimidation.

When it comes to the crucial question of choice, there is yet another similarity between human-to-horse partnerships and human-to-human partnerships. If I have been at all successful, I must attribute much of the credit to my early recognition that when we partner with a horse we are asking him to do things that are threatening and against his very nature. To saddle a horse, for example, is to provoke the sense that he is being attacked by a predator and this leads him to act in self-defense. To inflict pain for behavior that is a natural response simply confirms the horse's fears. Yet books on traditional horsemanship consistently recommend whipping the horse when it acts out against its first saddle. I searched instead for ways to communicate to the horse that choosing to accept tack and equipment was a reasonable decision. I realized that I had to communicate to the horses that they could trust me, and I had to earn that trust. I found, time and again, that I could cause the horse to discover the joys of working together, all without coercion and pain.

Let's face it-in most work situations, we are asking humans to make choices that are equally unnatural, equally threatening. Considerable conditioning is required before we can live by a regimented schedule or sit and perform repetitive motions for long periods of time. It is not natural to follow a rigid set of rules and guidelines and to have our security and future in the hands of people we don't know or perhaps even like. This is not what the human body and mind are naturally equipped to do. Many of the behaviors employees resent in employers are simply the result of natural resistance to unnatural conditions. One of the goals in human-to-human Join-Up, then, is to create, through communication and behavior, situations where the satisfaction of cooperation outweighs the negative reaction to unnatural conditions.

This search for ways to create partnership and healthy choices is more complicated in the human world. Humans can either be fight or flight animals: because of our make-up, we are constantly deciding whether we are predator or prey, whether flight or confrontation is the most prudent course. This dynamic is ever present in both our personal lives and the workplace. We usually don't have to fear being eaten, but we face many other threats.

An easy way to test this is to observe your physical and emotional reaction the next time you are told unexpectedly that the boss wants to see you in his office. You are likely to find yourself immediately in fight or flight mode. This response has long been understood in the study of human stress. By providing a third alternative, i.e., "partnership," Join-Up creates a way out of the dilemma.

At first glance what I do with a horse in the round pen (the structure in which I work with the horses) may seem miles away from the complex interactions that occur between people, but the parallels are closer than most people think and encompass the full gamut of human existence, from political parties to classrooms and even families.

There is a constant struggle between the need to be an individual and the need to belong to a group. Both needs are natural and healthy, but the struggle between them is at the heart of much of the difficulty of organizational, family and social life. We want to be an individual, but we resist being isolated. Our relationship and commitment to work is a constantly moving tension between engagement and disengagement. Experiences either draw us in or push us away. They either create resistance, which results in fighting or fleeing, or they create commitment and collaboration.

I could easily have written two books-one relating what I've learned from horses and applying it to life in the workplace and management practices and another book on how those lessons shed light on personal and family relationships. Ultimately I believe we live one life-our lives aren't separated off into "nine to five" or "five to nine." We carry the emotional baggage of the one to the other. In this book I want to stress that what we are in the one flows straight into the other, and although too many of us are now apt to forget it, five to nine is just as important as nine to five. If our relationships with our husbands or wives, our parents or children are fractured or unsatisfactory, of course we carry those worries and problems through our working day; and we all know we take the dissatisfactions and anger of the day home at night.

While the violence dealt out by man to horses is largely physical violence, human beings have many ways of exhibiting violence, which can be as harmful and pernicious: verbal abuse, which may involve belittling, or dismissiveness or threats, can be as crippling to the human spirit. Human beings too often use physical violence, but verbal abuse is also a common tool of those in positions of authority-parents or employers, for example. Man has spent many years of his relationship with horses trying to dominate them. There is a potential danger of violence whenever a relationship involves a dominant partner and a weaker partner, whether in emotional family situations or in the workplace. Such dominance can be one of physical power, gender, age, so-cial position, work hierarchy, wealth or race, but wherever it is found it all comes down to one human being saying "you must" to another.

By acknowledging the power of people to choose, and by learning to communicate without coercion, the philosophy of Join-Up provides a way to resolve tension and struggle. By presenting the invitation and by freely allowing people to make choices as to how to be, we honor them and allow them to fulfill themselves and their role and responsibilities of Join-Up; we honor both needs.

There is, however, one striking difference between human-to-horse and human-to-human Join-Up and it concerns this mat-ter and the difference between compliance and commitment by choice. When I work with horses, I ask them to make choices about cooperation: whether or not to be saddled and ridden, for example. When our work is finished, the horse is essentially free to be himself-he is free of the responsibilities and commitment I asked of him. But for an organization to be successful, we depend on groups of people making the right choices even when they are on their own, just as we also depend on our children learning to make right choices when on their own.

As a person sits in his or her cubicle or office, or works on the line or in the field, it is his or her right to decide how much energy to put forth, how much brainpower to engage or how much attention to pay to detail. The difference between compliance and commitment is the difference between making the choice to do just enough to get by, and doing enough to excel.

I have long believed that the essence of what happens in the Join-Up process with horses is equally valid when initiating and sustaining human relationships. But even I, at my most optimistic, was hardly prepared for the level of interest that my ideas would generate outside the horse world.

Men and women, young and old, would line up for hours after a public demonstration to reveal to me how what they had seen reflected their own personal lives, or how they had learned, through my book The Man Who Listens to Horses, to confront and deal with abuse or violence in their lives.

Among those who attend my demonstrations or visit Flag Is Up Farms are a significant number of executives, business consultants and leaders from major institutions. In working with these leaders I have discovered an almost unbelievable hunger for better ways to work together.

There seems to be a tide of change sweeping through the world of human institutions that touches all groups of people: schools, prisons, political structures, even the military. The direction of these changes mirrors in a striking fashion my own experiences in Join-Up, and I believe this is why many people who have no interest in horses have read my books and come to me for advice.

When my horse-trainer father attempted to impress upon me, as a small boy, that "horses are dangerous machines," he could easily have been a CEO saying the same thing about his workforce. The idea that horses are wild, obstinate beasts that must be broken into submission is remarkably similar to the way managers have regarded workers over the years: often as the enemy, to be kept under control at all times, or as expendable parts of a machine.

Slowly we are coming to realize that such treatment of humans is archaic and counterproductive. Similarly, there is a growing acceptance in my world that horses will not intentionally hurt you unless you hurt them first. They deserve respect and gentleness and will respond more effectively without violence. The corporate world is slowly confirming that humans want to make a significant contribution in their collaborative endeavors. People want to be good, and if treated with respect, will rise to levels of performance beyond that which they themselves thought possible.

Based on my observations and conversations with leaders, consultants and human resource professionals, I believe that Join-Up has stimulated interest because it is in many ways the logical and full extension of this change in attitude. What I offer in human-to-horse Join-Up is a disciplined but gentle approach to obtaining willing cooperation, which gives profound respect to the "other." Join-Up brings to the table the very real possibility that we can banish the notion of domination and the resulting subservience.

In the early days I found it frightening when I began dealing with the complicated human mind. During the publishing of my first book individuals in the literary world warned me that I might be attacked by the fraternity of psychologists. I remember at those first book signings anticipating with terror the psychologists and psychiatrists who might show up and say that my theories were unacceptable.

Now the strongest supporters of my belief that what the horses have taught me can be applied to human beings are the psychologists and psychiatrists. In letters, debates and discussions I have heard the voices of these professionals louder and clearer than those of any other group requesting this human-to-human book. In writing the book, I've accepted the responsibility to explore the human benefits of what my work has taught me. If you believe, as I do, that people are extraordinary creatures who deserve respect always, and if you are committed to or willing to consider taking that stance, then we can, together, explore the potential of Join-Up in the human arena.

A Corporate Experience: Paradyne

Paradyne employs more than 800 people at its corporate headquarters in the Tampa Bay area of Florida in the United States and has regional offices around the world. Paradyne is a pioneer in high-speed network access and is revolutionizing the data communications industry. More than 50 percent of Fortune 500 companies, and businesses in more than 125 countries, have chosen Paradyne.

In 1997, Paradyne had a huge challenge on its hands. The company needed to adopt a new information management system, and get it up and working in eighteen months or less. The company had an archaic information system. It was necessary to install a new system, which would change everything they were doing, from giving a quote to organizing payment at the other end. John Guest of Paradyne brought in management consultants. They put together a team of people in charge of getting change under way and titled it "the foundation team." The consultants showed the foundation team my Join-Up video. They were not at all sure how the film would be accepted-after all, I was a cowboy talking about horses.

The consultants needed to stir up creativity and willingness, and began by exposing the team to metaphors from the horse world. Time was limited: they had only two days to put the team together. To take an hour out of those critical days to see a video about a horseman was a bold step for these consultants. Would the foundation team see the connection between the nonconfrontational methods I use with horses and its need for people to accept a completely new information system? The team was asked to write down all the connections they saw between the project in front of them and the film. Within two minutes people were nodding, then busy writing and listing the connections as they saw them-more than a hundred in all, including: a nontraumatic, noncoercive environment; allowing bucking to occur; expecting resistance; keeping the pulse rate down; establishing trust; and keeping the dialogue flowing. They recognized the value of never taking out their frustrations on a colleague.

The consultant team sat back at this point, breathed a deep sigh of relief and realized the message was getting through. Join-Up became a metaphor for the willing acceptance of change that the team sought.

The film helped to establish the tone of the workshops and the changeover to the new system went well. In record time, Paradyne was reaping the benefits of change, with a level of acceptance its executives had previously not considered possible.

Reprinted from Horse Sense for People by Monty Roberts by permission of Penguin Books, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright © 2002, Monty Roberts. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.

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