Monty Roberts’ Join-Up Equestrian Program
By Kelly Beasley
Simply put, Join-Up is a nonverbal communication between human and horse achieved through body language and respect.
Cautiously, the big chestnut ex-Dressage horse followed the girl leading him by a lead line, following the petite, albeit sturdy, woman into the large round enclosure, not knowing what to expect. He tentatively followed this girl into the round pen. The other students and I stood high above them on the deck, looking down and into the cavern, anticipating their demonstration of “Join-Up.” In seconds, the girl unhooked the lead, locked her eyes on the horse, squared her shoulders and advanced upon the 1,500-pound animal in a way that universally said “Go away, I am a threat!” and the giant took off…
A quarter of a mile. That’s the average flight distance of a wild horse. He will run, then he needs to stop, either to reassess the situation or to avoid the risk getting lost, running out of energy, or being separated from the herd (a lone horse is a dead horse). The distance is instinctual, whether the horse is wild or not.
After moving from her for about a quarter of a mile, this magnificent, skinny and unsure creature finally broke down into a trot, locked an ear to her, started to lick and chew with his mouth, and sort of came off the rail, moving closer to her, saying in his language, “I’m showing you some respect (the ear)—see, I’m an herbivore, so you don’t have to fear me (licking and chewing).” He slightly lowered his head, showing more signs of “OK, I need help… Can we renegotiate? I will make you the chairman if we could…?” Seeing that the horse was ready to ‘talk,’ the woman changed her position to offer for him to ‘come in,’ and he immediately turned to her and walked right up. He would then ‘follow up’ with her, walking so close behind her she could reach out and stroke his head.
The trust that is created between horse and human with Monty Roberts’ Join-Up method is powerful and real. The implications are amazing—Roberts can take a wild mustang that has not been ridden or even handled much, perform Join-Up with him, and have a saddle on his back and a rider on usually in about thirty minutes—without any force or cruelty. The horse is WILLING. He trusts!
What is unbelieveable is that there are still many “horsemen” out there who feel the need to stick with tradition, which usually involves violence and cruelty. Traditionally, a horse is tied up to a large post so he cannot flee, and broken down physically and emotionally through beating and scaring the fear out of him until he has no other choice than to submit to the man’s will. Sometimes it takes days, and the horses are left powerless, exhausted, and certainly broken in spirit. They can be ridden only because man broke their will. There is no joy, no willingness, no partnership. (I think these “horsemen” should have the same done to them.)
Thanks for reading, I will expand more on Join-Up and my experiences in the program in following posts!