Long post-- but hopefully it will be an interesting read. Just wanted to share....
Back in the 1980's (when dinosaurs ruled the earth, lol !) I owned and manged a 100 hundred acre T-bred training farm (with 1/2 mile track) in New Jersey (USA). Specialized in 'breaking' babies, as we fondly called them.
I won't go into detail, but traditionally babies were broken in their stalls-- saddled, bridled, turned this way and that (to get some steering) and then backed, etc. slowly/gently-- but in the confines of their stall. Lunging and long-lining/driving were also used. Needless to say it was time consuming, often scary/dangerous for many reasons-- every one you can think of.
I was wishing there was a more intuitive way-- better/safer not only for the horses, but for my exercise riders and me too, as I rode the babies as well.
One day (still 1980's) I happened to see a show on T.V. where this 'horse whisperer' man (horse whisperer???) was doing a demonstration inside this ring he called a round-pen, and was doing this training method he called 'joining-up'. He was working with an unbroken, un-handled 'wild horse' and after a half hour the horse was under saddle and was walking quietly with a rider up! The man was Monty Roberts, from Flag is Up farm in California.
I was stunned. Was this round-pen method real? I believed it was! And I wanted to learn it.
The next day I called his farm-- talked to him on the phone and he invited me to come see him. I was granted a private audience with Monty Roberts.
I flew out there-- spent the day with him. Got a tour of his farm, his home-- and of course had a lengthy, private, round-pen/join-up lesson (one of his horses included) with him at the helm.
You can only imagine the thrill of this! And---I had found a better way, from a man who knew HORSE language.
At the time, Monty was not nearly as famous as he is now. In fact, neither I (prior to the T.V. show) nor anybody I knew had ever heard of him. 'Horse Whisperer' was not even a household word yet in most horse circles. Though I suspected I was in the presence of greatness, I had no idea how priviledged I was to be one-on-one with Monty Roberts.
After the round-pen lessons we then drove out to the nether regions of his farm where he told me he was implementing his join-up method with the deer that roamed his property. He also explained how the method (modified and carefully implemented) was working with troubled teenagers (humans not horses) who he was counciling.
I left his farm as a new person, a new horse person. But it didn't end there. Monty then sent me off (again a private appointment he arranged for me) to Taylor Made Farm in Kentucky where one of his proteges was 'starting' racehorse babies via round-pen join-up. Wow! Another lesson with another horse whisperer.
Once home, I immediately built an indoor round-pen to Monty's specifications, viewing stand included, and told all my clients that THIS is how I would now start their babies.
They thought I was nuts! They thought the method was hocus-pocus. They thought it wouldn't work. Even my exercise riders were hugely skeptical. You see, not all the babies we received were halter broken. They often came in herds-- filly's in one hers, colts in another-- had never seen a stall, etc. Tradition is hard to let go of when young horses are a bit on the wild side -- especially when you are the ONLY T-bred farm in the north east who is now going to use some newfangled, unheard of, mystical method of breaking them.
Luckily my clients stuck with me-- more out of curiosity in some cases-- and in others there was a smug attitude, a need to prove me wrong and watch me fail. Horseracing/training was mostly a man's world back then (if you can believe it) and the trainers who would receive these babies after I (a woman) was done breaking them, feared they would be faced with ill-trained or youngsters. So, it was more their owners who agreed to let me try this new 'round-pen' stuff.
Well...it worked. Again I won't go into detail (that's what Monty Roberts himself and the University/Lessons/Books are for) but the babies I started were ALL receptive-- licked and chewed and joined-up, and, and, and. Success! Soon people with non-Tbreds-- problem horses of all breeds-- were contacting me to help them. And I did.
As I look back to those round-pen days of glory, I feel so happy for the horses who were lucky enough to be started at my farm, in my round pen under my guidance. And I owe it all to Monty who took the time to see me and educate me. He is truly a special human being. Thank you Monty, from the bottom of my heart.
There was only one horse I failed with back then. A huge, stout four year old T-bred mare who was left out to pasture with a donkey after being weaned. She had never been haltered, led, touched-- and was chased onto a trailer in order to be shipped to me. The trailer was backed up to the door of the round pen and out she came like a steam roller. She might as well have been a mustang stallion straight off the range. A challenge for sure.
I had great success with her to a point. She did everything right in the round pen. But once outside-- rider or no rider-- she would eventually explode into a bucking bronk of epic proportions. Even my top, fearless exercise rider was soon afraid to take her outside the round pen.
We failed. I was either out of my depth with such a horse-- or she really had a screw loose-- was too far gone in some way. I have never known a certifiably insane horse-- genetically or man made-- and maybe she really was one. A lost cause, if that's possible.
Sadly, I had to give up on her. The owner took her back and sent her to some cowboy who I suspect tied her to a tree with three halters on her head and let her go crazy until she either broke her own neck or was broken into submission. I heard later that she did make it to the racetrack-- and one morning while galloping she bolted with the rider, bucked them off, jumped/crashed through the rail, got impaled on a pole and died.
Whenever I think about that mare I get so upset. If only I had known (at the time when I still had her) about Monty's lip cord halter buck stopper rig, I might have been able to save her life. Perhaps Monty hadn't invented it yet, all those years ago... I really don't know. Or perhaps this mare was truly beyond all hope. I wonder....
So...I'm retired from all of that now and live upstate NY on my small private farm with four of my retired racehorses and of course Dragon, the new addition. And my old training farm has long been in the hands of someone else-- a relic of what it once was; the beautiful round pen unused, overgrown and in total disrepair, last I heard...