Hero's hero

The Quiet Power of Love
A Hero's Hero Makes Horse Sense

by Susan Gabriel Bunn

Join~Up logo<br>Image courtesy of <a href=></a>
Join~Up logo
Image courtesy of

Monty Roberts is already a hero. Renowned throughout the world as a leader in nonviolent communication with horses and humans, Roberts is inventor of a training technique called ‘Join-Up ®’ that speaks silently to horses in their own language and inspires human beings to adopt the same methods for healing relationships outside the round up ring. Tamer of wild mustangs, bestselling author of a book tracking the origins of his great listening and training techniques to his life story, Roberts even captivated the Queen of England, who asked that the book be written.

Motivational speaker on nonviolent communication to groups as diverse as the CIA and Volkswagen, Roberts travels the globe. He has also found time to foster parent forty-seven troubled children throughout the years. Based at Flag Is Up Farms in Solvang, California, this Southern California native spent much of his young adult life sharing his cultural cowboy talent with the likes of legendary actor James Dean and director John Huston among others in Hollywood.

These are only a few of the highlights of the amazing world of Monty Roberts. However, it was something else that caused the writing of this story. Beneath the surface of incredible events came a discovery at the heart of an extraordinary turning point in Roberts’ own life.

It was during a not so amazing time in Roberts’ heavily burdened childhood. A dark time that promised no future at all. There were horses at home, and, family in the environment of his upbringing. But there was also severe abuse. Tumultuous violence perpetrated by his father. Seventy-one of Roberts’ bones would ultimately be broken. The horses on the property were also recipients of his father’s harsh ways.

Monty 4 years old on Ginger<br>Photo courtesy of Monty and Pat Roberts Archives
Monty 4 years old on Ginger
Photo courtesy of Monty and Pat Roberts Archives

It was from this heritage that Roberts’ encountered his first, and, perhaps, most important hero of all. Her name was Sister Agnes Patricia, a nun who was Roberts’ eighth grade teacher. She took notice of him at age nine and would later become a friend and confidante for the rest of her life.

Roberts described the defining moments surrounding his pivotal turning point during our interview.

I began to watch violent acts toward the horses by my father when I was 2 and 3 years of age. I logged these actions into my brain and was reviled by them. By the time I was four, I began to question whether it was necessary to be so brutal to the animals. My father did not like to be questioned.

At seven years of age, I recall working with some young horses and causing them to come to me and stay with me. I put their first saddles on. It seems hard to believe that a seven year old could do this, but it is absolutely certain that the year was 1942, later that same year we were moved off the competition grounds and took up training in a much smaller facility.

As circumstances evolved, my father found out about the way I dealt with these young horses and beat me extremely severely. I was sent to my grandmother’s house at that point in time, after the doctor’s visit. I was left to heal so that parents of the students would not become aware of the violence that I received.

These and other similar circumstances caused me to begin to work with horses in a very different way from what was considered traditional. My journey to nonviolent training of horses started in 1942. Through the help of Sister Agnes Patricia, another journey started around about 1947, which encouraged me to transition my concepts to include the human beings in my life and I suppose that made the difference in the balance of my existence.

Sister Agnes Patricia knew my family and was very observant where family discord was involved. In my 9th year, she knew I was being physically abused. She came to me and asked me what was going on at home. I was reluctant to open up, but somehow she caused me to trust her. Very shortly thereafter, I knew that she was aware of rather severe dysfunctional behavior within my immediate family.

She began to discuss with me the circumstances that she observed. It turns out that she watched my father hit me one morning as he delivered me to school. I had left my lunch in the car, and apparently he got out and hit me with the lunch bucket.

It turns out that she had her window open only 50 ft or so from where the car was parked, and she heard him using foul language and calling me stupid. She told me that she saw him spin me around and slam me over the car fender. These actions led her to watch more closely and subsequently she observed bruising, black eyes and the like.

Around about the age of 12, I know I was in the 7th grade, she came to me and entered into conversations that more deeply probed my familial existence. She elicited the fact that I really wanted to cause my father great bodily harm. She said a lot of things to me about why that would be a bad decision. I don’t think I listened to all the words, but the meaning of her conversation burned into my brain in a very indelible way.

It was the very next year that my relationship with my father came to a distinct head. In the heat of this particular incident, I made the decision to harm him.

There was an epiphany within me during the course of proceeding to [harm him]. It seems I remembered every word that she spoke, and I waited it out. Sister Agnes Patricia knew that the time had come when she really had to take charge, and she began to involve herself deeply in my life and caused me to believe in myself and basically gave me a ticket to live.

Needless to say, the love I felt for her was greater than any family member I knew, or any other human being. When one feels this depth of love, I think you honor that relationship with a certain reverence that brings you to listen and agree, particularly when you are 14 and your teacher is 32.

From this incident onward, I dedicated my life to controlling any violent tendencies that I had, and believe me there were plenty of violent tendencies, still deeply entrenched in every cell of my body. While I have not been 100% successful, I have certainly controlled this imprinted tendency to be violent.

It is my opinion that this transition was responsible for me becoming a foster parent to 47 troubled children. I feel that there was a strong need within me to level the playing field for children wherever they existed. I saw a distinct similarity between the growing up years of humans and the existence of horses. I have concluded they are both flight animals and disdain acts of violence.

Sister Agnes Patricia is not only a hero for me, but she is life for me. She is, to this day, the pillar that my life is tied to, even though she has been dead for 12 years. Her influence is the heart and soul of my existence.

Monty on tour 2007<br>Photo courtesy of Monty and Pat Roberts Archives
Monty on tour 2007
Photo courtesy of Monty and Pat Roberts Archives

It is Roberts’ contention that a hero is not necessarily a person who helps another do anything they choose, or, scores the most points. Rather, a true hero is one who celebrates achievement in overcoming obstacles and develops the creative will of those he or she mentors. A true hero doesn’t kick you when you’re down, according to Roberts. They are guides to a better way.

Roberts readily admits that without the love of Sister Agnes Patricia, he was on his way to becoming a violent, destructive adult. His cooperation with love’s embrace coupled by what the horses communicated in response to his kind approach in their training gave him the bridge he needed to find a new way.

“In discussing what I feel are the essential qualities of being a hero, let me tell you what I think my horses want from me, and I know I’m a hero to them. They want me to be honest. They want me to be fair in that, to the greatest extent possible, discipline should be bilaterally agreed upon prior to the execution of it. Children and horses alike want to know the rules and where the boundaries are, and they will test those limits.”

Had Roberts never encountered Sister Agnes Patricia, who knows where all the horses and scores of foster children and multitude of others he has touched and continues to touch with his quiet communication would be today.

And where would he be? Who would Monty Roberts have become today had he not listened to the voice of wisdom and encouragement? How could he have met the challenge to reverse a futile tendency? Without Sister Agnes Patricia, how could he have had the opportunity to experience the embrace of true love and recognition?

“Very few people on earth ever heard of Sister Agnes Patricia, but she is far more a hero to me than the greatest cowboy or horseman that ever lived. We should choose our heroes carefully, and they should be chosen from those who would care most…”

-– Monty Roberts

Page created on 5/14/2008 2:34:41 PM

Last edited 6/10/2018 11:10:44 PM

The beliefs, viewpoints and opinions expressed in this hero submission on the website are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the beliefs, viewpoints and opinions of The MY HERO Project and its staff.

Related Links

Join~Up International - is a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting gentle, more effective alternatives to violence and force in both equine and human relationships.
Monty Roberts' Official Web Site - is designed to help people increase their effectiveness with horses by understanding their language.

Author Info

“The strongest influence on my life outside of my horses and my family would be the thousands of young people who are looking to me for leadership in this area of being a better partner with the animals we love. In addition, there are so many who want to improve the quality of their familial existence. My life is filled with these three influences and my cup runneth over.”
-– Monty Roberts