Skip to main content

An Important Chapter in the History of Blues Preserved by the Library of Congress.

Rock historian Ed Ward reviews an MCA release of Muddy Waters' songs folklorist Alan Lomaz recorded in the field.

05:36

Other segments from the episode on August 19, 1997

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, August 19, 1997: Interview with Monty Roberts; Review of the album "The Complete Plantation Recordings of Muddy Waters."

Transcript

Show: FRESH AIR
Date: AUGUST 19, 1997
Time: 12:00
Tran: 081901np.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: Horse Whisperer
Sect: News; International
Time: 12:06

TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Monty Roberts is one of the people who inspired the bestselling novel "The Horse Whisperer" about a Montana rancher who can calm wild horses, and heal horses whose spirits have been broken. Roberts is a horse trainer who doesn't use pain or punishment. His technique is based on the language horses used to communicate with each other.

Roberts first observed the communication of wild horses as a teenager, while rounding up wild mustangs for the rodeo. He grew up on the grounds of the Salinas rodeo in California; became a champion rider; and was a stunt rider in about 100 movies, including "National Velvet" and "My Friend Flicka."

He's trained thousands of horses, including wild horses, race horses, and what he calls "remedial" horses who have been mistreated. He became internationally known after Queen Elizabeth brought him to work with her horses in 1989.

Roberts first learned about horses from his father who ran a riding school on the grounds of the rodeo. But Roberts' father used pain and punishment to break horses.

MONTY ROBERTS, HORSE EXPERT, AUTHOR, "THE MAN WHO LISTENS TO HORSES":
Well, I suppose you'd say my father was a very traditional horse trainer, working in the conventional manner. And around the world, "convention" or "tradition" varies a bit, but nevertheless, even though it varies, the main concept is: you do what I tell you to or I'll hurt you.

What it is is that whether I hurt you a lot or a little, it's dealing with negative reinforcement. The use of pain or corporal punishment; acting out in violence -- to train the animal not to do that thing that you're against or you're working to avoid.

GROSS: So, what approach to discipline and negative reinforcement did your father use?

ROBERTS: Well, he would tie legs up on horses and tie them down on the ground. He would tie them to posts and work in such a way so as to frighten them and cause them to test those tethers to the maximum degree, which would bash them very violently. Oftentimes, they were on the ground. Oftentimes, there was blood and there was injury.

It was all done in the vein that that's necessary to do to break this horse. And "break" is a very good word. It's been used for about 6,000 years now to describe the procedures used to cause a horse to accept saddle, bridle, and rider -- and training, if you will.

GROSS: What do you call your approach?

ROBERTS: Starting. The approach itself is titled "join up," but the procedure, I say, "starting" the horse, rather than "breaking" the horse because I don't use any pain or restraint, and I request that the horse do the things I want. I don't demand it. I ask the horse to do them so as to cause a state of mind whereby he wants to do them, not because he's forced to do them.

GROSS: Your basic principle in training horses is to try to use horse language to communicate with the horses; to use horse behavior and horse language, which you learned from being with horses in the wild, which we'll get to in a few minutes. Describe your "join up" method of asking, basically, asking the horse first to go away and to then join up with you.

ROBERTS: Yeah, well, it's their language and they use this business of sending the animal away. That is, they use it inter-specie as well as intra-specie. So they use this business of sending the animal away -- isolation, rejection -- as a discipline, and when that animal is out there isolated, the flight animal -- the animal who provides meat for the predator, is very concerned about that, and they want to come back in the worst possible way.

So that's the most severe punishment that you can deal a flight animal.

GROSS: A wild horse is more vulnerable to being preyed on when it's on its own than when it's with other horses.

ROBERTS: Exactly. The isolated grazer or flight animal is smorgasbord for the lion or the tiger or the grizzly bear and that sort of thing; even coyotes, but wolves certainly. And so, they're very upset with that, and I discovered this language going on in the wild, watched how they communicated with one another, and then utilized those responses in order to request their compliance or their cooperation.

GROSS: So how do you first send the horse away, which the horse doesn't like?

ROBERTS: Well, that's easy because they're a flight animal, and if you're dealing with untrained animals, all you have to do is use the aggressive phrases in their own language and the animal goes away. That's the easy part.

GROSS: What aggressive phrases in horse language do you use?

ROBERTS: Well, first of all it would be eyes on eyes -- piercing the eyes. That does not draw the animal in as it would the grizzly or the great white, but it drives the horse away. Then shoulders square, all movement square -- fingers open and extended drives the horses away. There's lots of motions and positions of the body which mean "go away."

GROSS: And how do you get the horse, then, to come back?

ROBERTS: Well, once the horse has gone its flight distance, then they begin to communicate that they would like to come back. And they do that with basically four statements. One is with the ear to say "I respect you. I don't know what this is all about, but I'll give you my respect."

And then, two, that they'll try to come closer to you, just physically bending and trying to come closer to you.

Three, that they lick and chew. They stick their tongue right out and then chew, and it's my opinion that they're saying "I'm a grazer. I'm a herbivore. I'm eating over here, and if I'm eating, I can't fear you because if we had any adrenalin or fear in us, we would have to stop eating."

And then four, the dropping of the head down and bouncing the nose right along the ground, which means "if we could have this meeting to renegotiate the deal, I would let you be the chairman of the meeting."

GROSS: So when the horse does all these things that you just mentioned, what signals are you giving, like, come back -- let's get together now.

ROBERTS: Well, after those four, then I go passive from aggressive, those earlier ones that I mentioned, and passive means to take the eyes off the eyes; to lower your gaze; to put your shoulders on a 45 degree angle to the horse's body axis; to face slightly away; and to round all your movements, inviting the horse to come in. There's dozens of movements, but those are the basic ones.

GROSS: What's in it for a horse to join up with a human? I mean, when your father, you know, broke horses, it was, you know: I will ride you or your will submit to the pain that I will inflict on you. But what's in it for a horse to like voluntarily join up with a human and voluntarily allow the human to ride it and to dominate it.

ROBERTS: Oops. That was a good question until the last words there.

GROSS: Well, "to dominate," but I used that word intentionally because it seems to me like when you "own" a horse, that you are dominating it -- you are controlling its environment; telling it where to live; telling it where to go. You're selling it. You're buying it. I mean, you are really controlling its life.

ROBERTS: Yes, I suppose if you lived in a city somewhere where all of those things were true, the horse would even see it that way. But a lot of the area still where you have horses, they don't see it that way. And when you asked the question "what's in it for the horse," it's an incredible amount that's in it for the horse. This specie has wanted to be the friend of a human being for 5,000 or 6,000 years. They have yearned for the time when they could be partners with a human being and not be an adversary to the human being.

They're pleaded for it, and we have not been, until now, accepting of that. We've simply, because we can, we've dominated this animal and caused it to be under our thumb and under our pressure and we've broken down any of its will to right, like they broke Patty Hearst.

That's been going on for 6,000 years. It got started that way, and it seemed to work, so it stayed that way. It's just as wrong as if we were still doing that with our wives or our children.

GROSS: Have you trained horses for Patty Hearst? Is that why her name just got brought up?

ROBERTS: No, but wasn't she broken?

GROSS: Oh, oh, you know, I was just wondering why, of all the examples, you chose her.

ROBERTS: Well, she was a peaceful little quiet bashful girl that was kidnapped and totally broken, and wound up robbing banks with machine guns. I mean, there couldn't be a better example of breaking someone down and then causing them -- forcing them -- to do what you want them to do.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Monty Roberts, and he is a horse trainer and has a new memoir called The Man Who Listens to Horses. And his approach is about using horse language to communicate with horses and to tame horses through communication rather than through beating or breaking horses.

Let's take a short break and then we'll talk some more.

This is FRESH AIR.

Monty Roberts is my guest, author of the new memoir The Man Who Listens to Horses.

You grew up on the grounds of a rodeo. Your parents ran a riding school, and you basically grew up in the rodeo. You won the national intercollegiate rodeo bulldogging championship. You won all kinds of, like, horse medals over the years. You started learning about horse language through observing wild mustangs in Sierra Nevada.

And this relates to a wild horse race that used to be part of the rodeo. And when the wild horses were done with this race, the horses, at the time you were young, were taken to the slaughterhouse to be made into dog food -- something that you found very upsetting.

So I want you to tell the story of how this wild horse race, in which the horses would later be taken out and slaughtered, how that relates to your observing of wild horses.

ROBERTS: Well, yeah, OK. The opportunity came up for me to go to Nevada and capture and bring these wild horses back to Salinas. My idea was that after the horse race was over, if I could put these horses through a program to cause them to accept saddle, bridle, and rider, that they could go through a sale and be usable by people, and therefore save their lives.

And not only that, but that they would pay more for them than the people at the slaughterhouse. And I convinced the president of the association that this might be true. And he let me go and do this as an experiment one year, and in fact, it worked out well. I did that several years, and you know, it became the normal thing.

Now, that's all ancillary to what was really important in all of this, as we look back on it, because what actually happened that was of much more importance to me was that it was a university. They were my teachers.

GROSS: The wild horses.

ROBERTS: It was -- yeah, it was just an incredible adventure in learning, where I learned their language -- spoken in the raw; spoken in the rarest form of freedom, and completely without human intervention.

GROSS: What were the first signs you picked up on, that made you realize there was a horse language that you could understand?

ROBERTS: First sign I picked up on was how the dominant female was running the family group. She was the controller of the sociological aspects of the family group. And as a very young child, I'd seen the movies -- I thought the black stallion was the one that ran all the show, you know. Well, the black stallion doesn't have any decisions to make at all, except how to get the mares pregnant and how to keep some other black stallion from taking them away.

And once you end with those two obligations, you've done the stallion in. It's the mare who educates the young and who communicates -- who decides where we'll eat and which direction we'll travel. And that's the first thing I noticed, was that the matriarch was the decisionmaker of the sociological group.

GROSS: And then what did you notice about communication? How horses use the language with each other?

ROBERTS: The first thing I noticed in the forms or expressions of communication was the mare squaring up and isolating the obstreperous teenager, adolescent.

GROSS: Mm-hmm. And then -- and forcing them out of the group for a while as punishment?

ROBERTS: Forcing them out of the group and holding them out of the group until they'd paid a price for their deed, whatever it was. And then how they allowed them back in and so forth and so on as you go through all of the expressions of their language.

GROSS: You also studied horses ears and what they communicate.

ROBERTS: Oh, indeed. The ears are very expressive, and you can read pretty much the intentions and the concerns of a horse by his ears.

GROSS: And what do the ears tell you?

ROBERTS: Well, they tell you everything. I mean, they tell you whether they're angry; whether they're happy. They tell you whether they're tired or fresh.

GROSS: Depending on whether the ears are back or forward or...

ROBERTS: Yeah, depending on their positions.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

ROBERTS: And their movement and the speed of their movement will tell you a lot of things about their concerns and their adrenalin levels and all of those things.

GROSS: Well, you can't use your ears in the way horses do, 'cause human ears just aren't as flexible. You can't move them as much. You've told us a little bit how you use your eyes. How do you use your hands?

ROBERTS: Well, the hands are so important because basically the hands will speak the cat kind of language. And if you'll remember the documentaries that you've seen -- Sir Richard Attenborough and some of those -- of the lions on the Serengeti.

The lion can lie there -- the whole family -- on the side of the grassy plain. And you'll notice that their paws -- their front feet -- are sort of curled up under them and quite round in nature. And when you see that, you'll see the gazelles and the zebras and wildebeest graze right by them very close to them, and never concern themselves.

As soon as the lion's foot straightens out and his toes start to spread, those prey animals begin to get some distance between themselves and the lions. They know that that's danger. And you can use your hands to do the same thing -- very, very, demonstrative in that movement. You can cause the horse to pick up -- double his speed, for instance, of leaving you by just opening your fingers.

GROSS: Why would a horse confuse your hand with a lion's claws?

ROBERTS: He wouldn't confuse it at all. We're a predator. They're not confused. We are a predator. We still eat horse meat, more horse meat than the rest of the predators do. So whenever we put our body in a position that would indicate that we are on the hunt and that we're predators, the horse is going to respond to it. So, there's no confusion there.

They know we're predators and when you act out -- when -- you see, when you take the flight animal who means no harm to anyone, they can only have two goals in life. Scientifically speaking, the flight animal can only have two goals in life. One is to survive and the other to reproduce. And certainly in these training techniques and stuff, we're not talking about reproduction.

So their only responses can be from fear -- from the fear of survival. And we are a predator and when you hit the flight animal, all you do is substantiate his knowledge that you're a predator. When you cause him pain, in my opinion, you've done the wrong thing. You've blocked his ability to learn.

GROSS: You got into studying the wild horses because the horses after the wild horse race at the rodeo were being put to death. And the place that they were put to death, near where you grew up, was called "Crow's Landing."

ROBERTS: Yeah.

GROSS: What was it like when you visited Crow's Landing? What did you see there?

ROBERTS: Well, that really calls up some tough stuff, you know? And one of the things that I recall -- that was a day I'll never forget. I was basically forced by my father to help make these loads of horses to those places. And we came in with a load of horses one day to see these men sitting on horse carcasses with their lunch boxes open and having lunch.

And there was no reason for that kind of disrespect, you know? And we just tend, as human beings, to oftentimes treat other human beings as though they're trash and other animals as though they're trash. And that isn't the way nature intended it. There is a perfect mosaic in nature if we'll leave it alone.

And in nature, I don't see anything wrong with the predator/prey relationship. That's natural. But you must treat your prey with respect. The lions do, and they will, in fact, assist the prey species by taking the crippled and the old and the infirmed. And they will take those that aren't physically strong enough to withstand the rigors of nature and clean up the genetic pool, if you will.

But we as human beings, we just jostle all that aside and take these beautiful young horses that had every right to live and force them to go through an event for the entertainment of human beings, and then haul them off in a truck and shoot them.

It's wrong. It's just dead wrong.

GROSS: Monty Roberts is the author of The Man Who Listens to Horses. He'll be back in the second half of our show.

Here's a song called "My Love is a Cowboy" from an anthology of cowboy songs from the '20s and '30s on Yazoo (ph) Records.

I'm Terry Gross and this is FRESH AIR.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, "MY LOVE IS A COWBOY")

SINGER: My love is a cowboy, wild broncos he breaks
He's promised to quit it, just for my sake
He ties up one foot and the saddle puts on
with a leap and a bound, he is mounted and gone

The first time I met him was early in spring
He was riding a bronco, a high-headed thing
He tipped me a wink, and he gaily did go
For he wished me to look at his bucking bronco

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Back with horse trainer Monty Roberts. His new memoir, The Man Who Listens to Horses, describes how he developed his technique of training horses without using pain or punishment. He's observed wild horses and the language they use to communicate with each other. He's adapted that language and uses it to train horses.

It's an unconventional method that received worldwide attention after Queen Elizabeth asked him to train some of her horses in 1989.

I want to get back to the technique that you've developed using a horse language to communicate with horses and to train horses. I think over the years, a lot of people have brought problem horses to you -- horses with serious behavior problems; horses who can't seem to be trained or who actually attack people.

How do you adapt your technique to work with horses who have behavior problems?

ROBERTS: Well first of all, Terry, there's no such thing as a problem horse on the face of the earth. There are horses who have problems with people, and if human beings could stop thinking of them as "problem horses" and begin to understand or listen to them and see their end of the story, things would be a lot better for the horse.

But yes, you're right -- there are a lot of horses that people term "problem" horses. And yes, you're right, they do bring them to me, and generally after they've run the gamut to its maximum and the horse is absolutely, you know, given up on by everybody else, and they call me in.

An example of that certainly is "Lomitas" (ph) in Germany and more recently here in the United States, a filly called "Song of Africa," who started her career in Ireland -- thoroughbred for racing. And in her first race, she had a very serious time of it at the starting stalls or the starting gate just prior to the race. And she wound up being injured and crushing the gates all apart and being disqualified from the race and it was a mess.

And then she was put into some very harsh training to fix her, you know? And then the next thing you know, she was fighting people and she had scars all over her and was in desperate shape. And the trainer in Ireland suggested that she be taken to the United States, where they claim they have greater expertise in this kind of thing, and she landed on the East Coast of the United States to be trained for another year, or approximately that, before the trainer said, you know, take her home and shoot her. She's just hopeless.

And then I got the call, and at that moment in time, she was in a little place called Payson Park (ph) in Florida. And I went there from California to meet the most incredibly beautiful, but confused young female that you could ever imagine.

And I worked with her for four days. Mind you, it had been two and a half years that they had gone the other way, and in four days, she simply said: "this will be fine. I will do this. I will enjoy doing it. I've been given a fresh outlook here. I now trust and believe you." And she's racing and winning. She's one of the best fillies in the United States today.

GROSS: What do you think it is that you were able to do that turned her attitude around?

ROBERTS: To give her trust in the human being. She never had trust before because she'd been beaten up. She'd been caused pain by human beings, to say you must do this or I'll hurt you.

GROSS: So when you handed her back to her owner, did you have to convince her owner to never use punishment on the horse again?

ROBERTS: I never would have left California if I hadn't had an agreement to give me a young person from their organization who would learn all of the techniques that I used with this particular filly. Now, I can't teach that person all that I know in four days, but I can specifically deal with the problems of this filly and teach them enough to handle the problems of this one individual horse.

And they handed me a young man, oddly enough, coincidentally, from Ireland, by the name of David Duggin (ph). He's in New York now working for the trainer of Song of Africa. He was an assistant trainer to John Kimmel (ph), the trainer of Song of Africa when I came on the scene.

And he has continued to do my work, to extend my communication with this filly, so that successfully she's been able to go on and do her racing.

GROSS: Monty Roberts is my guest, and he's a horse trainer. He's worked with horses ever since he was able to walk, basically, and his new memoir is called The Man Who Listens to Horses.

As a child, you were a stunt rider and you, I think, doubled for Elizabeth Taylor in National Velvet. You did some work in My Friend Flicka. You doubled for Roddy McDowell, Mickey Rooney, Charlton Heston, Tab Hunter to name a few. Do you have a favorite stunt that you had to do in the films?

ROBERTS: I suppose they -- the movies-makers tend to categorize you, and they say "oh, we're gonna to this -- that guy Roberts he does that about as -- about the best of anybody." It seems to me that my spot became most famous in the riding of horses down very steep hills -- rocky, sandy hills where you blast straight down into the river and stuff like that.

GROSS: I've seen that in a thousand westerns.

LAUGHTER

ROBERTS: Yeah, well that was me. That is to say, if you saw one made in the '40s or '50s, I was probably involved if there were rocks and sand flying, and you went into the trees or into the river, that was probably me.

GROSS: So what were some of the things you have to do to stay on the horse and make that work?

ROBERTS: I always said you get high, that is to say, you get light on the horse; you get high above him. And you try not to interfere with his own movements, so that he has the best chance of keeping his feet. And then as you approach, let's say the river, that you separate from him and get distance enough so that he can't hurt you when you go into the water. And you basically leave him alone as much as possible.

GROSS: Did you do any of that fancy showy stuff like side-saddle riding and jumping onto a horse from behind the horse?

ROBERTS: Well, side-saddle riding is strictly for the ladies, but...

GROSS: No, no, no. Then I used the wrong word. I mean, like, when you're holding on to the saddle and your body is suspended on the side of the horse while you're dodging bullets from the bad guy who's shooting from behind a rock.

LAUGHTER

ROBERTS: Oh, that was -- that was one of the first stunts they asked me to do. They said: can you gallop left to right and make yourself invisible by hanging off...

GROSS: That's it.

ROBERTS: ... the far side.

GROSS: Yeah. That's it.

ROBERTS: Yeah, I did a lot of that, and jumping on from behind, yes. And I used the mini-trampoline a lot, so...

GROSS: Oh, wait, wait -- what did you use that for?

ROBERTS: Well, so that you thought I could jump eight feet high when I got on...

GROSS: Oh, so that's how it's done.

ROBERTS: Yeah.

GROSS: I didn't realize that.

ROBERTS: Little trampolines are very handy for that kind of thing. And yeah, I had to do all that -- the vaulting. You come out of the bar and grab the saddle horn and the horse runs down the street, and you hang on his side, and then vault into the saddle so that you can catch up to the bank robbers or whatever. Yep, I did all those kind of things -- jumped the horse through the bar room window and up the stairs and into the saloon or whatever.

GROSS: Did you have to work with actors in training them how to ride horses in the scenes that didn't require stunt riding?

ROBERTS: I did work with a lot of actors and their riding -- Kirk Douglas and quite a few actors. Certainly, James Dean a lot, but not so much because I thought he was going to be riding in a film because at the time that I did this, we were shooting, or just prior to shooting "East of Eden," a film in which he didn't ride at all. And at that time, we didn't know "Giant" was to come.

But Don Page (ph) was an assistant director on the film East of Eden and he was working for Elia Kazan at the time, and Kazan brought Dean from New York, or discovered Dean in New York. And Don Page knew me from pictures in the late '40s and -- late '30s and early '40s.

And Page indicated to Kazan that he knew a guy where Dean could go live and learn the lifestyle of the Central California area -- John Steinbeck country, if you will. And they sent him to me to live with me for four months before the filming of East of Eden.

GROSS: Yeah, you're very funny in your memoir. You say that you were holding back telling the studio that you thought Dean was really going to be terrible on film.

ROBERTS: I was certain of it. I was absolutely certain of it. He wasn't an actor at all, in my opinion. He acted in -- well, we all know now -- Brando had first come on the screen with this casual approach to acting; this super, surreal, natural approach to acting. And Dean brought that to a new level.

And my conclusion was that he couldn't act at all, and I was so embarrassed for Don Page, who was so nice to me; and to Elia Kazan whom I really revered as a director. I thought how embarrassing this is going to be, that they have this enormous, you know, project doing a Steinbeck book, and they've got -- God, they've got this kid that can't act at all.

And the first dailies that I went to see, I just sat there in total humility. I was...

GROSS: Mm-hmm. Right.

ROBERTS: ... taken back unbelievably by how he came over on the screen.

GROSS: My guest is horse trainer Monty Roberts. His new memoir is called The Man Who Listens to Horses. We'll talk more after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.

My guest is horse trainer Monty Roberts. He's also been a stunt rider in movies and a champion rodeo rider. He grew up on the grounds of a rodeo where his father ran a riding school.

When you were a young man, you worked in rodeos, and one of the things you did was the bull riding events. You won a championship in that area. You describe that as the most dangerous event in the rodeo. Why?

ROBERTS: Yeah, I won a couple of small championships in bull riding. I won my major championship in bulldogging. But bull riding is a very dangerous event, and it's dangerous because the bull generally weighs between 1,400 and 2,000 pounds, and they move with unbelievable agility. And they don't want you on their back, and they can be very dangerous.

And what they do to you oftentimes flings you through the air for 30 or 40 feet, and bashes you up against some wall or fence; or throw you down and jump on top of you kind of thing. It's just really dangerous, and virtually everybody that goes into it suffers significant injuries at one point or another.

GROSS: Well here's what I want to know. You're somebody who has such a strong kinship with horses -- tries to communicate with them in their own language. Do you feel any empathy with the bulls?

ROBERTS: Yeah, I love bulls.

GROSS: You do?

ROBERTS: I love them to death, and my son became a very good bull rider later, and he was absolutely in love with bulls. I mean, we had bulls in training programs to teach them to buck. And I have great empathy for the bulls. And don't ever feel that those bulls are being mistreated. They get the best treatment you could ever imagine. They get the best of feed and care, and they're protected by their owners to the maximum degree.

And they have great fun in what they do. They have the upper hand every single day.

GROSS: What does it feel like to be thrown by a bull?

ROBERTS: It hurts a lot, and it's loud noises when your head hits the ground and stuff. It's stupid. It's really stupid for anybody to go into that.

GROSS: Well, I was going to ask you: what is the point of this event?

ROBERTS: It's crazy. It's absolutely crazy. But when you're raised around it...

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

ROBERTS: ... and you watch your peers accomplishing something so incredibly overwhelming by riding this particular bull, there's some kind of urge within us crazy human beings to try to do that too. And I really didn't like my son going into it. He's a practicing lawyer. He's a 3.7 graduate from Stanford in Econ. Why would you put that brain in such great jeopardy, you know?

But it ran its course, and he got out of it without serious injury and I'm very pleased for that.

GROSS: As we discussed earlier, your father was a horse trainer and he tried to whip horses into submission, to kind of beat them into submission. And I guess he used brutality on you, too, to try to keep you in line. And I'm wondering if that's related to the fact that you have adopted, I think, about 47 foster kids over the years for different intervals of time -- kids who had been abused or who had run into problems with the law.

Do those two things relate?

ROBERTS: Oh, sure they do. I didn't know they did when I began to do it. You see, I went through university in psychology, and I volunteered for every family psychology experiment or lab project that they had. And I really found myself enjoying this parent and children relationship and the psychology of children.

So after I left university, people in the county and the state agencies saw great value in what I was doing, and they began to give me calls and recommend that there was a child locked up in Paso Robles, California that they felt had great potential if just given a chance. Why don't you go meet them, you know. And they knew I was a sucker and I'd go meet these kids and bring them home. And what can you do, man? I had to try to help.

And my life was going pretty well. My horses were making me a little money and I never asked for any money for these foster children to stay with me. And it just began an odyssey that went on for about 35 years. And those 47 foster children span about 35 years.

So you know, it wasn't like we had so many at one time. But it was a very gratifying thing to do, and there's about 40 very positive stories to tell in all of this -- and seven very negative stories to tell, with no gray areas.

And that's just the way it is. They -- it either took or it didn't. But those odds are incredibly good when you consider kids between 11 and 13 coming to me, already incarcerated and wards of the county, wards of the state type thing.

GROSS: Did you use any of the principles that you had learned working with horses, when you were working with your children?

ROBERTS: I used all the principles -- the same principles. It's the same psychology: give them a chance to fail so they can have that chance to succeed. When they fail, they're responsible for their own actions. But when they succeed, they're also responsible for their own actions, and they must get the most positive rewards that you can possibly think of to give them -- generally, love; generally, exaltation; moving upward; giving them advancements; giving them a chance to learn something new when they achieve something.

GROSS: Not too many years ago, maybe you could tell me the year 'cause I don't really remember, you had major back surgery. I mean, your back had basically given out because of all the falls you've taken over the years; the impact of all the riding on horses and bulls. And the doctor told you you'd never ride again. I think they would have been happy if you walked. But you ended up being able to walk and ride.

However, I'm sure you're much more fragile than you were before your back problems. When you're working with a horse now, are you just a little more self-protective of your own body than you were before? And is that affecting your technique with horses?

ROBERTS: Yes, I am more protective now; more careful than I was when I was young. I think that's kind of a natural evolution for most people. But for me, it's a good deal more serious, because I was in a wheel chair for a while, and they didn't know whether I'd get out of that. And then I was on crutches for about a year, and they didn't know whether I'd ever get off of some support system.

And I'm just one accident away from the wheel chair, if you will. So I'm much more protective now. And it does affect my work with horses, not all that negatively because sometimes I just go that bit slower and maybe it's even more effective. And I'm teaching my young people now to go that bit slower and to give the horse a little more opportunity to get ready for things and to slowly come into things.

I often say to my students if you go at something with a horse as though you have all day to do it, it might take you about 15 minutes. But if you go at it like you have 15 minutes, it might take you all day. And it's truly a tortoise and hare situation in the real. I mean, that story of the tortoise and hare isn't very plausible, but this is a plausible story with the same techniques.

GROSS: Tell me about your favorite horse.

ROBERTS: My favorite horse, Johnny Tibio (ph) -- a horse that I won four world's championships with; a horse that was abused as a young horse. I got him in a very sad state, but I knew his talents. I had seen him with an abusive trainer as a very young animal.

And I was able to get him at five years of age, not all that old, you know. And he -- when he got trusting the human being, he turned his life around and became so productive it was unreal. And you just had to get out of his way, to allow him to win championships.

He was a cutting horse and reined cow horse. He was an extension of me. He was like a brother -- like a very close brother would be. But I have a lot of favorites. Song of Africa is rising quickly on the list.

GROSS: Monty Roberts -- his new memoir is called The Man Who Listens to Horses.

Dateline: Terry Gross, Philadelphia
Guest: Monty Roberts
High: Monty Roberts has been studying horses for his entire life. His extraordinary ability to communicate with them has earned him the title "horse whisperer." He has written a book about his life from studying wild mustangs in the Nevada desert to demonstrating his horse training methods to the Queen of England. The book is called "The Man Who Listens to Horses: The Story of a Real-Life Horse Whisperer." Roberts was featured on "Dateline NBC."
Spec: Animals; Horses; People; Monty Roberts
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1997 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1997 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Horse Whisperer
Show: FRESH AIR
Date: AUGUST 19, 1997
Time: 12:00
Tran: 081901np.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: Lomax Release of Muddy Waters
Sect: Entertainment
Time: 12:55

TERRY GROSS, HOST: Not all of the most important recordings in pop music history were commercial ones. On Muddy Waters' recordings at the Library of Congress, we can hear an important chapter in the history of the blues, which was paid for with tax dollars.

Rock historian Ed Ward considers "The Complete Plantation Recordings of Muddy Waters."

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, "THE COMPLETE PLANTATION RECORDINGS OF MUDDY WATERS")

ED WARD, FRESH AIR COMMENTATOR: Even in the world of popular music, where hype is oxygen, it's unusual to say that a single recording totally changed history. It's even more unusual if that recording wasn't a commercial one. But it happened.

In late August, 1941, the famed folklorist Alan Lomax took a 300-pound disc cutting machine into the South to make recordings for the Library of Congress Archive of American Folk Song. Fortuitously, he found himself in the Mississippi Delta, where his informants alerted him to a guitarist who was said to be the best in the country, a tractor driver on the Stovall Plantation.

The 26-year-old exuded confidence. He knew exactly how he was.

MUDDY WATERS, FOLK GUITARIST: Name was Kenneth Morgenfield (ph); nickname Muddy Waters, Stovall's famous guitar picker.

WARD: Lomax's mission was to document styles and songs, not to discover stars. So he only recorded two songs that day, along with some interview material. The first was a song the young man called "Country Blues."

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, "COUNTRY BLUES")

WATERS SINGING: I get (Unintelligible)
I feel like blowing my horn
I woke up this morning
Find my -- my little baby gone

Later in the evening, (Unintelligible)
I feel like -- like blowing my horn
Well, I woke up this morning, baby
Find my little baby gone

WARD: Muddy was something of a folklorist himself. He knew what the song was.

ALAN LOMAX, FOLKLORIST: When you -- do you know? Is that tune, the tune for any other blues that you know?

WATERS: Well, yes, there's been some blues played like that.

LOMAX: What tunes of the blues do you remember that runs to that same tune?

WATERS: Well, this song come from the cotton field, and the boy, when he put the record out, Robert Young rather young. He put it out "Walking Blues."

LOMAX: What was the title he put it out under?

WATERS: He put it out on as the name Walking Blues.

LOMAX: Did you know the tune before you heard it on the record, though?

WATERS: Yes sir. I know the tune before I heard it on the record.

LOMAX: Who'd you learn it from?

WATERS: I learned it from Sun House (ph).

WARD: The second song was more original -- something Muddy had developed himself. He called it "I Be's Troubled."

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, "I BE'S TROUBLED")

WATERS SINGING: Well, I feel in my
Like I feel today
I'm gonna pack my suitcase
And make my (unintelligible).

I (Unintelligible) trouble.
I (Unintelligible)
And I never been satisfied
And I just can't keep (unintelligible)

Yeah, I know my little...

WARD: After recording a third song, "Burr Clover Farm Blues" (ph) in honor of Stovall's cash crop, the two parted company. Lomax knew he had something. The authority and grace this young performer showed was astonishing, and when he returned to Washington, he included Country Blues and I Be's Troubled together on one 78 rpm record -- unprecedented for the collection.

About a year later, he returned to Stovall and brought Muddy a copy of the record. As Muddy told historian Paul Oliver (ph) some years later: "I really heard myself for the first time. I'd never heard my own voice. I used to sing -- used to sing just how I felt 'cause that we always sang in Mississippi. But when Mr. Lomax played me the record, I thought man, this boy can sing the blues."

Muddy was so proud, he dressed up in a suit and went to a professional photographer to have his picture taken holding the record. His life had changed.

Lomax recorded some more of Muddy and his friends, including a band he was in that featured "Fiddling Mandolin," playing in an older style.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

WATERS SINGING: Well, I am a rambling (unintelligible)
I been rambling all of my days
Yeah, I am a rambling...

WARD: But Muddy's mind was elsewhere. The next year, he'd saved enough money to move to Chicago, where he had a cousin. The blues scene there was dying. The older generation was fading. Muddy found an electric guitar and the rest is history. That boy could sing the blues.

GROSS: Ed Ward writes about rock music from Berlin.

Dateline: Ed Ward, Berlin; Terry Gross, Philadelphia
Guest:
High: Rock Historian Ed Ward reviews an MCA release of songs folklorist Alan Lomax recorded in the field of Muddy Waters.
Spec: Music Industry; Muddy Waters; Folk songs; Alan Lomax
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1997 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1997 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Lomax Release of Muddy Waters
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

You May Also like

Did you know you can create a shareable playlist?

Advertisement

Recently on Fresh Air Available to Play on NPR

39:42

'Passing' filmmaker Rebecca Hall shares the personal story behind her movie

Writer and actress REBECCA HALL wrote and directed the new film “Passing,” adapted from the 1929 novel of the same name, set in the 1920’s. It’s about two light skinned African American women who run into each other after not having seen each other for 12 years.

11:48

'Original Cast Album: Company' provides a glimpse of Sondheim's perfectionism

In 1970, Stephen Sondheim's comic musical Company broke most of the conventions of American musical theater. Now, a newly restored documentary goes inside the making of the original cast album.

42:08

'Flying Blind' author says Boeing put profit ahead of safety with the 737 MAX

The 737 MAX was grounded in 2019 after two deadly crashes exposed flaws pilots hadn't been told about. Journalist Peter Robison says Boeing cut costs and co-opted regulators in designing the craft.

There are more than 22,000 Fresh Air segments.

Let us help you find exactly what you want to hear.

Playing

Just play me something
Your Queue

Would you like to make a playlist based on your queue?

Generate & Share View/Edit Your Queue