'The Carrot Man': How one man won't let his horse veg out

Story highlights

  • Luca Moneta is known as "The Carrot Man"
  • The Italian show jumper one of the best in the world & targeting gold at Rio 2016
  • The 46-year-old uses carrots to inspire his horse and treats it as an equal
  • Moneta subscribes to Parelli program of horsemanship

(CNN)Carrots have long been credited with helping you see in the dark -- now one rider believes they can help win Olympic gold.

Italian Luca Moneta is one of the world's leading show jumpers but has been labeled by his peers "The Carrot Man" for his novel approach to training horses.
Last year he won the "Puissance" event at the prestigious Olympia Horse Show feeding his horse Quova de Vains a carrot after every successful jump.
    And this year, he will return to the London event, which gets under way on December 16, in a bid to defend his title with the same methods he's honed in recent years.
    Of his alternative approach, Moneta admits the reaction was mixed: "When you want to change something and you're too far from what they're doing you make people scared.
    "And they were like 'this is silly, stupid, crazy. He doesn't know what he's doing. It doesn't work'. People were complaining. I think 99% of people were 'oh, oh, this is not good.'"
    So what exactly is the 46-year-old's approach to the animals he rides?
    It is based on Parelli Natural Horsemanship, a program designed by American horseman Pat Parelli that used natural equine behaviors to communicate with and, hence, train horses. This, in itself, is based on ethology, the scientific and objective study of animal behavior.
    For Moneta, the first sighting of this more novel approach to riding and training horses came from watching an unnamed British rider on a clip jumping a barrel without a bridle.
    The Italian himself has likened his own program to teaching humans a new language. And rather than treating the horse as a beast, he treats them as equals and gets them to take the lead.
    "If you make me cook spaghetti for you with a gun," he says by way of an analogy, "you put a gun here and say 'if you don't cook spaghetti for me, I will kill you.'
    "For sure you will have spaghetti but the quality is different than when I become your best friend and say 'I really want to cook spaghetti for you because this is my favorite dinner and we will enjoy spaghetti with a good bottle of red wine.' This is the difference."
    He appreciates his attitude seems little short of insanity on the surface but his on-going results speak for themselves.
    Moneta fully accepts he was ridiculed for a time but, as his success continues, he expects others to follow suit.
    "When they [the horses] choose to do the right thing, I will use a lot of positive enforce (sic). They were calling me the carrot man, it's not because I have a sponsor that sells carrots but because the horses love it.
    "I think it's time [for this approach] because it's like with kids. You remember 40 or 50 years ago they gave you a cane on the hands when you did something wrong.
    "When I started with horses, people were just hard with them. 'This is the animal, it must listen, I must be the leader, it must follow what I say, the big man that dominates the horse'. Now it's totally different."
    Olympic spirit
    He modestly downplays himself as a less capable horseman than many of his peers, instead crediting his results in the saddle to his approach in training.
    Despite his humble attitude, is an Olympic gold at Rio 2016 attainable?
    "Why not?" he says. "There's always one that wins. It's not so difficult, you just need to beat all the others. I am a dreamer, always in my life, and I never quit dreaming."
    On a personal level, this horse whisperer of sorts has recaptured his love for all things equine with his techniques when previously it had been on the wane.
    For him, it is simple horse play with or without the results in competition.