Researchers urge rethink of 'Monty Roberts' horse training method

Jul 13, 2012
Researchers used a remote control car to mimic the actions of a trainer using the Join-Up method, undermining the idea of a human-horse connection.

(Phys.org) -- Aspects of a horse training method made famous by Monty Roberts, author of the The Man Who Listens to Horses, have been called into question by research at the University of Sydney.

"This training technique was popularised worldwide by Roberts as the Join-Up method and was used by him to train 's at her personal request," said Cath Henshall, a Master of candidate in the Faculty of at the University. Henshall led the research and is presenting her findings at the International Society for Equitation Science conference in Edinburgh on 17 July.

"Two main features of the method, also known as round pen horse training, are that it depends on the human trainer being able to communicate with the horse using 'horse' , and that it is a humane form of training. Our study casts doubt on both those claims.

"We believe that our research highlights the unpleasant underpinnings of round pen horse training and for that reason we caution against its widespread use because it uses fear to gain control of horses."

As currently practised the technique relies on the trainer using movement and noise to drive the horse around the perimeter of the pen. The trainer gradually reduces their aggressive movements, after which the horse will eventually slow down and approach them.

The researchers used remote control cars to mimic the technique and to eliminate the assumed essential role of the humans speaking the language of the horse.

"We 'rewarded' the horses for stopping and turning towards the car with a period of 'safety', when the car didn't chase them as long as they kept facing it. We trained some horses to actually walk up to and touch the car," said Henshall.

"Given that we could train horses to produce similar, though not identical responses to those seen in round pen training, but in reaction to non-human undermines the claim that the human's ability to mimic horse behaviour is an essential component of the technique."

The researchers believe that the training outcomes were achieved as a result of 'pressure-release' and not the ability of the trainer, or a remote control car, to mimic horse behavior.

"Put simply, pressure-release works because the horse finds the pressure applied unpleasant and therefore the removal of the pressure rewarding," said Henshall.

The response the horse makes immediately before the pressure is removed is what the horse thinks made the pressure go away. When put in the same situation in the future, it is likely to perform that same behaviour to obtain the outcome that it values - safety.

"Although neither Monty Roberts' method nor ours uses pressure applied directly to the horse's body, both apply a form of emotional pressure by scaring and then chasing the horse."

Proponents of Join-Up and similar methods claim not only that they are humane because no equipment is used on the horse's body but also that the horse can choose whether to approach the trainer.

"Our results indicate that because these methods rely on fear and safety, the horse is forced to choose between being repeatedly frightened or remaining with the trainer. We question whether it is humane to rely on fear and its termination to train horses," said Henshall.

"Although it is appealing to think that horses in the round pen choose to follow their trainers because they are responding to us as though we are a horse, we believe that the use of fear has no place in genuinely humane and ethical horse training."

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User comments : 12

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kima_holland_3
1 / 5 (1) Jul 14, 2012
how does one share this on fb ?
kima_holland_3
1 / 5 (1) Jul 14, 2012
Once again it takes researchers years to figure out what the people who spend time with horses already know
tkjtkj
3 / 5 (2) Jul 14, 2012
This is a MOST absurd project! As anyone knows who has read Mr.Roberts' books, his method is first a DRASTIC improvement in earlier 'beat the horse to submission' methods! AND even to suggest that a 'few inch-high' robot can mimic the dangers faced by a horse AND to suggest that this stupid robot will be mistaken by the horse for its 'herd' is so remarkeably outrageous as to suggest the authors ( perpetrators?) of this ridiculous excercise should lose whatever worthless academic degrees they might possess! Mr.Roberts' method DEPENDS on the horse seeing the 'robot' as an alpha female HORSE in the herd... Forgive me for laughter ..
The proof of the validity of Mr.Roberts' methods lies in its EFFECTIVENESS, not in the dimensions or wheel-tracks of a misplaced robot!
michael_mercede
3 / 5 (2) Jul 14, 2012
This is hardly good science. The aggressive approach and chasing of the robot is EXACTLY how other horses "speak" to young colts. Also, the idea that the horse experiencing "fear" as a bad thing is trying to apply human morality to an animal. It is anthropomorphising to think that human fear is the same as animal fear. Also, we need more info on the experiment. Does the horse associate the robot with a human? Finally, the conclusions around what is "genuinely humane" are ethical conclusions which are hardly scientific. All in all, this is BAD science.
grim_wickholm
not rated yet Jul 15, 2012
Where is this study published? Does/did it pass a peer-review?
Based on this article it is hard to say anything about the study...
CatrinW
not rated yet Jul 15, 2012
From the details provided this sounds like a totally unethical piece of research. If this is science, then the Faculty which permitted this research is seriously in need of an inspection.
Infinite Fractal Consciousness
5 / 5 (2) Jul 15, 2012
"Mr.Roberts' method DEPENDS on the horse seeing the 'robot' as an alpha female HORSE in the herd... Forgive me for laughter .. The proof of the validity of Mr.Roberts' methods lies in its EFFECTIVENESS,..."

His Method may be effective, just not for the reasons you think, according to this study.
tkjtkj
not rated yet Jul 16, 2012
"His Method may be effective, just not for the reasons you think, according to this study.


I am debunking this non-research! Nothing in it has any value whatsoever. To use it as critical of my comments would be illogical and a feeble attempt to 'validate' the article's nonsense.
But thanks for listening ;)
bellanotte25
5 / 5 (1) Jul 16, 2012
I'm not a big Monty Roberts fan, but this "research" is nonsense. A good trainer knows when to apply pressure and take it away. A trainer will build a horses confidence and trust.
JRBerry
not rated yet Jul 23, 2012
Using noise and movement to drive a horse around the pen until the horse turns and faces works fine--with ONE of the four Horsenalities. Anyone who has studied Parelli (not Roberts, he doesn't use behavioral philosophy but Parelli does) long enough knows, this doesn't work for ALL of the Horsenalities. One takes a different approach in the round pen with a Left-brained Extrovert than is taken with a Right-brained introvert.

It's not about the round pen, and it is not "training". It's about the SAVVY. Robots are mechanical. They have no savvy. (Neither, I fear, do their operators).

Honestly: how many of these researchers have devoted their lives to the study of horse behavior? How many are really qualified to read a horse and can tell the subtle differences between fear and dominance? My guess? None of them.

This is the most ridiculously flawed excuse for "research" I've ever read. My belly aches from laughing at it.
BillSandmann
not rated yet Jul 26, 2012
Let me begin by saying that I am not a Robertsite. But I have experienced training from the Amish to the Chines. This includes actually metting Mr. Roberts at Flag Is Up farm and seeing him work with horses. You cannot tell me the man and/or his methods do not work. You also cannot tell me "join-up" is not humane. The thought that Mr. Roberts uses fear to train..this is a statement created by ignorance and in my opinion, jealousy. Are there better (nicer) ways? Maybe.. More productive methods? Possibly..But as someone who has actually spent time with Mr. Roberts I will with confidence tell you that he truly is gifted. There is no doubt in my mind that his methods get results, and I mean spectacular and extraordinary results delivered in a humane way.
The fact is, the equestrian world is extremely pretentious. EVERYONE feels there methods are the best. And yes, this would include Mr.Roberts.
You don't like it? Develop a better method, PROVE him wrong. Dont just say hes wrong..
Taz101
not rated yet Aug 04, 2012
I find the comments on here very disappointing. You can't disagree with the facts because you don't like them, you can interpret them differently of course & debate is an important part of behaviour science. People who carry out equine behaviour research have years of training & experience in equine behaviour & use objective measures only to assess behaviour. Studies that are deliberately biased rarely find their way into journals and would be heavily critised by peers and ultimately papers can be withdrawn. Its not acceptable to accept popular horse training methods just because anecdotally they appear to work however good the intentions are. Only by carrying out behaviour research can we really understand what is going on & whether this is of benefit to the horse in terms of its welfare. At the end of the day without science any one of us could make up our own potentially incorrect or damaging theories about horsemanship that seam to fit with our experiences.