The Santa Ynez home of sculptor Pat Roberts, her “horse-whisperer” husband, dogs and deer.
By Jill Medinger
The road to Flag is Up Farm is lined with towering old trees, which filter the early afternoon light into scattered dapples across the pavement. The towering mountains that cut dramatically across the bright blue sky make it nearly impossible to focus on the drive, but as the road rounds a curve, look closely for something that is rarely seen in front of farms this large and beautiful: the small lettering of a sign, “Visitors Welcome.”
Despite owning this ultra-private farm, Monty and Pat Roberts invite people to come look around, to say hello, and to visit equestrian celebrity Shy Boy, star of a BBC special and New York Times best-selling book. Many know Monty Roberts from his autobiography, The Man Who Listens to Horses, which was adapted for the 1996 film starring Robert Redford.
Eighteen years later, Roberts continues his expansive career as horseman and author, training horses for the Queen of England, traveling the world, and giving demonstrations and seminars. After we were welcomed at the barn by daughter Laurel (see Laurel’s article, “What I’ve Learned,” in the Summer 2013 issue of EQ), we continued up the driveway toward the house. After a steep climb, the road turned sharply, and the low, angled house came into view. A herd of deer looked up at us before continuing to nibble the grass on the island in the center of the gravel driveway.
Warm details, such as an old Moroccan window, a medieval doorway framing a staircase, and a squirrel house up in a tree, made the mountaintop home feel warm and comfortable. Upon entering, we were met by the rich smell of the leather western-bridle collection, the muted earth tones of western art on every wall, and a flood of golden sunshine pouring in from the wide windows.
As Pat ushered us inside, she pointed at a large metal statue of horses that we recognized. “That is the piece I saw in EQ,” she said. “The Ganzis’ had it on their mantle in your feature on their home in the polo issue last fall.” When the Roberts moved into the house in 1966, Pat said she looked at all the white walls and said, “We need color.” So, she went out and bought how-to books, canvas, and paints and started painting. “I wasn’t very good, at first,” she smiled.
She found a local teacher and took up oil painting, and before long she was selling her paintings. The success inspired her to try sculpting, so she enrolled in an adult-education class at Santa Barbara City College, where she learned to use hibachi sticks and melted wax to sculpt. She pointed to a statue of a nude woman and explained that it was her first piece.
She wanted to move on to sculpting horses, but faced difficulties until family friend and renowned cowboy artist Jack Swanson came by to visit. “Jack said to me, what are you trying to do? You can’t sculpt a horse with hibachi sticks! You need an armature,” Pat remembers. “He took out some lined yellow paper and drew out for me what to do, with the wires and the pipes as a frame for the sculpture.”
It took 10 years for Pat to create her first horse, and five more years passed before the second was completed. But it wasn’t until she took a sculpting seminar with Swanson at the Cowboy Museum in Kerrville, Texas, that she was inspired to sell her work, which then began to quickly flourish. Before she knew it, she was working hard and turning out many statues a year, mostly horses.
We walked through the house together as Pat pointed out different sculptures and explained who they were. Some were famous riders, others her favorite horses. She stopped in front of one that looked familiar, which she told us was titled “The Moment of Join Up.” In it, Monty stands with his back to a horse that tentatively follows. It summarizes his renowned method of horse training, in which he invites the horse to “join up” rather than force the horse into acceptance, and which has become a familiar term in the horse world. Pat laughed as she started to tell us about creating the piece. “I would work on the piece, and leave it overnight. When I would come down in the morning, a bit of the man’s belly would be shaved off,” she said. Sometimes she would come down and clay would have been added to the man’s shoulders, making him look stronger. Eventually, she said to Monty, “There’s just the two of us in this house. It has to be you!” Monty admitted that he had done it, and she gave in and let it stay. “Years later, he has now lost the weight and the statue is accurate,” she smiled.
Next, she led us to a door where she asked with a sly smile, “Would you like to see my studio?” The room was the kitchen, with a center island, where a clay model sat unfinished on a rotating stand. The windows, which framed the stunning vistas, filled the room with warm sunlight. She explained that it was her favorite place to work. “Many people say that sculpting a horse is one of the most difficult subjects, but to me it’s the easiest. Being in the horse business is the best education,” Pat remarked.
She and Monty spent 18 years as the leading consignors of the Hollywood Park 2-year-old Thoroughbreds in training sale. In doing so, they would buy yearlings and spend the year training them. If the yearlings had problems with conformation, they wouldn’t do well that year.
“So, I learned about the build of horse, and spent a lot of time with them,” she said. She demonstrated her methods of sculpting to us and explained her techniques for adding motion and detail. “That’s the biggest challenge,” she said, “to make a solid piece of bronze have a feeling of movement.”
Pat, who now shows two reining horses, feels that reining lends itself to sculpture, with the dramatic movement and familiar western look. She hopes to explore some of its iconic moves in her new work.
As we left the kitchen, displayed on hallway walls are Christmas cards and personal letters from the Queen of England and numerous celebrities, family photos, and even certificates of appreciation from the CIA. Pat explained, “Monty worked with the CIA training them on understanding body language.”
The core ideas of Monty’s training system and Pat’s art permeate the home, where a sense of peace is tangible. Pat’s ease and warmth, and her enthusiasm for her art and for her farm is infectious. If you visit, we can promise it will be difficult to leave.