Learning how to manage behaviour from a different discipline can bring insights into the work of any educator.

While reading this book written by a master of horsemanship, I became reflective of practice, confirming in my mind the need for educators to be more questioning of directed teaching, enforcing rules and how we deal with conflict if we are to help improve behaviour and attitudes towards learning. To go a step further, and as a horse rider myself, I was provoked into thinking how could I bring animals and their needs into the curriculum for everyone’s mutual benefit? The evidence from Monty’s pioneering work is that we can learn to live together in harmony from observing and interacting each other and by using a common shared language. Monty Roberts is primo facto an advocate of non-violent communication.

Horses live with the principles of trust, loyalty and mutual concern, says Monty in his book. Their experience with humans, however, is often one of mistrust, domination and unnecessary violence. Monty’s pioneering work has been to untangle these false precepts and share with the world how human and horse can live and learn together using non-violent methods. In front of huge audiences Monty has demonstrated taming a wild horse and putting on a pad, saddle, bridle, and even a rider in thirty minutes. Traditional methods would take up to six weeks and often cause a lot of pain and distress to the horse and trainer. Queen Elizabeth II was so impressed that she asked Monty to show her his method and help sort out problems with nervous and uncooperative racing horses.

How is this all achieved?

Decades of being with these creatures brought insight and method to the language the horse uses, which Monty calls Equus. Monty became the horses friend and invited the horse to ‘join-up’ with a trainer using their understanding of visual cues and herd behaviour when dealing with a predator. The result is an invitation to the horse to cooperate and mutually benefit from being with humans. No whip or harsh words or physical violence of any sort is used. Monty’s work with helping racehorses overcome fear is equally admirable. For example, horses can overcome fear of the stall with a blanket that protects their flanks, removing the sensation of being attacked which causes them to panic dangerously before starting. Again, Monty listens to the horses needs and finds a successful solution.

And for educators?

‘It is the teachers duty to create an environment in which the student can learn’ says Monty. This is a big question because do we create appropriate learning environments? Do we include time for conversation, developing trust and cooperation during the day? How do our actions support improved behaviour management? Have we risen our voice too much? Have we heard the other’s story yet? Have we done something fun to change the temperature? Have we even had chance to go outside yet? I understand the idea of ‘violence’ to be the existential threat presented when ignoring an individuals needs.

This book contains much to disturb any reader; accounts of child abuse related to Monty by members of the audience, his own experience of neglect and violence met from his father, the cruelty and ignorance of horse trainers, and the complex lives of the children he and his wife Pat fostered. He presents a researched response to these problems from his own personal experience as parent. In these cases it is to be remembered that he is dealing with individuals often at a close emotional proximity to his own life. For a teacher these issues have all been encountered in the classroom too, except we have a professional distance, a strong reflective stance and professional help when necessary.

My favourite maxim in this book is when Monty describes horse training as, ‘slow is fast and fast is slow’. I think all educators can relate to this!

My own practice

I always note how children relax more when outdoors. This is a great time for those important conversations, and dealing with more challenging behaviour. Developing empathy with creatures is vital in helping children see anothers point of view and coming to a mutual understanding. While no ponies come to school we can link up with animal experts in projects and exchange methods. My Nature Citizens club have an adopted reindeer to communicate with his herders in the Arctic.

An important principle

After reading this book I thought how important all this is if we are to begin to instill non-violence as a principle in all we have to deal with at school, because it will ultimately influence how we deal with each other at work and in the home. It is a mindful principle.

A truly remarkable read.


Photo: Cindy at Ickleford Equestrian Centre, and the first horse to greet me there.