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In the early 1990s, at the suggestion of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, my wife, Pat, and I began to write down our memories of what had happened in our lives in order to tell the world about my nonviolent training methods. The result was an autobiography, The Man Who Listens to Horses, which jumped onto the best-seller lists of about ten countries and remained on The New York Times list for fifty-eight weeks.
Unlike most authors, I was able to meet my readers at public demonstrations of my techniques, and I have now personally shown well over a million people that it is not necessary, and is in fact counter?productive, to use violence in training horses. While conducting these demonstrations, I often find myself talking about the horses that have meant so much to me throughout my life. I know of no one else who has had the opportunity to deal with horses from such a wide variety of disciplines as I have - racing, show jumping, dressage, rodeo, pleasure and trail horses and Western competition are just a few of the categories. I began to think the horses needed a book of their own.
It was an exciting prospect, but little did I know how much joy I would draw from delving deep in my memory to describe these wonderful members of our extended family. There are sad memories for sure, but most are happy ones. You don't have to be a professional trainer to have your life changed by a horse. Every child who has been associated with a horse is likely to cherish memories of the time they spent together. Those children and the adults they grow to be already know that it's OK to love your horse. I wish I could bring the world to realize that to force and dominate is simply not necessary, but it is quite appropriate, and more effective, to love and appreciate.
During the writing of this book, one of my main concerns was deciding which horses to include. As I pondered this question, a certain theme kept winding its way through my thoughts. For some reason - perhaps it had something to do with my Cherokee heritage - I constantly returned to an image of a necklace. My ancestors considered a necklace to be the circle of life, and the beads or stones that hung from it represented the circumstances that indelibly affected life. Now as I travel the world, I find that native people everywhere have a similar tradition. In North America, stones carved into images of animals, generally referred to as fetishes, hang from necklaces. Across the equator, the South Sea islanders wear jadelike stones carved to depict their life and to identify tribes and clans. The Arctic people carve the tusks of sea mammals, while Africans often use bone.
I imagined my necklace as a long, circular string with no knot, no beginning and no end. It would probably be made from the hide of a buffalo or a bull elk, and it would be virtually unbreakable. I had been riding horses before my memory kicked in, so my life with horses had no beginning. It simply appeared from the fog of infancy. I survived a difficult childhood by traveling on the backs of horses, and in adulthood the pattern didn't change.
Each significant horse in my life would be a stone in my necklace. I've used the lessons they taught me and gained strength from the relationships formed with them. Without horses, my necklace is simply a string. With time to reflect on this idea, I came to the conclusion that the rule I should follow when deciding which horses to include was that if a horse was left out and it created a gap in the necklace, causing it to fall apart, the horse should remain.
I remembered Ginger, my first horse. He would, of course, be included, as would the horses of international importance. The world champions and the ones the public have come to associate with me would be essential elements of my life's necklace, too. And while fame and fortune would constitute reasons for inclusion, so would the experiences provided by horses that were never famous but enriched my life nevertheless. Even horses with limited talent were, and will continue to be, my teachers. The horses that grace these pages have all affected me in a profound manner, and it is my pledge to conduct the rest of my life in a way that would not disappoint any of them.
I've since had the necklace of my imagination made, and each fetish is hand-carved in turquoise stone. This means that each one is unique, just as the horses in my life were unique. Each one brought me a lesson that was critical to my survival and contributed so much to who I am today. I invite you all to get to know the horses in my life and share with me the joy that I found with them.
In the life of every horseman, there can be just one first horse. In my case, his name was Ginger. He was around thirteen years old when I met him, and I was two. I like to imagine our first meeting, myself an infant, not in any sense aware of what life had in store, while he was a true old professional. He was a retired ranch horse, a strawberry roan, born on the Uhl Ranch around 1924, and he had been shown in competition at ranch-hand gatherings in the late 1920s. God only knows what his breeding was. He appeared to be part Thoroughbred and part Spanish descent, but he had a little feather on his leg to suggest that maybe there was a draft horse somewhere in his family tree. He was about 15.2 hands in height and weighed around 1,150 pounds - he was no pony.
I don't have any memories of the start of our relationship - I was too young. But my mother told me that I rode Ginger by myself during my third year and I do have clear recollections of people exclaiming, "That boy is only three, and look at him ride!" Apparently, I was able to walk, trot and canter. I had every advantage - my parents lived and worked on the Salinas Rodeo Competition Grounds, which comprised over two hundred acres of land just outside the city of Salinas, California. This wasn't exactly a rural landscape, though; it was covered with buildings, all of them to do with horses. There was a full-size show ring with a grandstand for two thousand people, hundreds of box stalls, every size of corral and enclosure and a set of breeding barns. This land had been gifted to the city of Salinas on the condition that it be used as a riding facility by the townspeople. My family lived and worked at this establishment, training horses and running a riding school, so horses were part of our lives, twenty-four hours a day. It was in many ways perfect for a young child who liked horses, but it was also a lot of work and my father was a hard taskmaster. People had to be tough in those days. We were in the middle of the Great Depression and the Second World War was looming.
On June 15, 1939, when I was four, my father entered Ginger and me in a junior stock-horse competition in San Juan Bautista, a small community some twenty-five miles from Salinas. The other competitors ranged in age up to sixteen years. When it came to my turn, the judges asked me to complete an elementary reining course. Ginger and I did a couple of figures-of-eight complete with flying lead changes, cantered down to the end of the arena, stopped, settled and made the half-turn left. We cantered to the other end, stopped, settled and made the half-turn right. Then we cantered to the center, stopped and backed up eight to ten steps. When we left the arena I had a great big smile on my face, thinking I had done it all on my own. The truth was, of course, that Ginger had done it. We still have grainy film footage of Ginger executing those maneuvers and when I watch it now, I can see that I was just a passenger. Ginger did it all on his own.
Excerpted from The Horses in My Life by Monty Roberts Excerpted by permission.
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Posted June 17, 2009
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Posted March 17, 2009
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