‘The Cowboy And The Queen,’ The Story About A Hippophile Friendship / DOC NYC Review

‘The Cowboy And The Queen,’ The Story About A Hippophile Friendship / DOC NYC Review

An American Horse whisperer caught the attention of Queen Elizabeth II for his non-violent approach used to train horses. The Cowboy And The Queen — part of the 2023 DOC NYC line-up — is a film directed by Andrea Nevins, that tells the story about a friendship driven by a compassionate hippophilia.

Monty Roberts was born in Salinas, the Californian hometown of writer and Nobel laureate John Steinbeck.

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The horse trainer’s life story could have very well been penned by Steinbeck, since he grew up with an extremely violent father but chose to break this cycle of brutality through his equestrian work.

The traditional methods to tame horses are abusive even in the vocabulary used: to “break a horse” is the expression used to explain how you train the equine from being wild to accepting a saddle and obeying the human rider. Monty Roberts revolutionised this by choosing a language of kindness, which would encompass an attentive listening process that focuses on the horses’s needs. Breaking the spirit of a horse until it doesn’t fight back isn’t the answer.

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Monty Roberts chooses to empathise with the animal and tries to understand what is going through its head.

It all began with a rodeo, with two-year-old Monty tied to his mother’s waist, he then entered his first competition at 4 with his beloved Ginger and won. At a very young age he discovered first-handedly the woeful fate of horses that were used on the sets of Western films. Meanwhile on the other side of the pond, a budding princess and future queen was growing up. While navigating World War I, Princess Elizabeth gave a motivational radio speech that was listened also in the United States. For safety reasons, with her family, she was transferred to Windsor Castle, where the young royal spent her days with her dogs and horses and developed a strong love for both.

As adults, the encounter between the Queen of the United Kingdom and the American horse trainer occurred at the request of the British royal. The method used by Monty Roberts was published in some articles that the Queen read. He thus received an invitation to Windsor Castle that would change his life for ever. In 1989 the American cowboy was invited to the United Kingdom to demonstrate his “Join Up” method to the Queen’s stable staff. It is always thanks to her that he eventually published his best-seller, The Man Who Listens to Horses, and that the BBC produced a documentary to give visual proof of the effectiveness of his approach with mustangs. 

Jonathan Swift had nobilitated, through his literature, the equine species. In his novel Gulliver’s Travels the protagonist landed in the realm of Houyhnhnms populated by horses that represented a highly intelligent society. Monty Roberts evokes that frame of mind. In fact, he has often been defined as a contemporary Doctor Doolittle, precisely because he can “speak” the non-verbal language of horses. His method of kindness has been used also with humans, especially for people suffering from PTSD.

In The Cowboy And The Queen we also get a glimpse into the mutual personal lives of the American and British horse enthusiasts. The footage of the 1947 Royal wedding between Princess Elizabeth and Philip Mountbatten and their years building a family, intertwines with Monty’s chronicle of his encounter with his wife Pat. The cowboy met his spouse when they were in 3rd grade and started dating in high school, after not even a year they were married and throughout their life they had three children and passionately worked together at their farm.

Two lives apparently so different, because of the social backgrounds and nations, and yet so similar in terms of values: family, horses and non-violence. This is what Elizabeth II and Monty Roberts had in common.

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This is what The Cowboy And The Queen conveys so brilliantly, as it coalesces stupendous black and white footage — that dates back to the Thirties, portraying the American West and the Queen’s youth — with interviews and modern-day images. 

The demise of the Queen was heartbreaking for the Cowboy, who attend the funeral in the U.K.. He recalled how they kept in touch by phone or through his yearly visits, and was flattered that she named one of her beloved corgis after him. The four-legged Monty was quite a trouble-maker and, thanks to the human Monty, the Queen managed to improve his behaviour. Elizabeth II once said how she drew strength by meeting ordinary people doing extraordinary things. Monty Roberts was one of them.

This friendship, that lasted for more than thirty years, was based on a common vision that will inspire generations to come: how the cumulative impact of acts of kindness can change the world.

Final Grade: A-

Check out more of Chiara’s articles.

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