Mobile man honored by the late Queen Elizabeth in fight against animal cruelty

“I couldn’t imagine a little guy from Mobile, Alabama would be working on something and getting an award from the Queen.”
Published: Sep. 18, 2022 at 9:30 PM CDT
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MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) - It’s a big deal to be honored by a queen... let alone the late monarch, Queen Elizabeth II. A Mobile native is one of just a few in the world who can boast this honor.

Marty Irby was born and raised in Mobile. He grew up in Semmes, Ala. and attended UMS-Wright Preparatory school before graduating from the University of South Alabama.

From a young age, Marty Irby says he never knew life without horses. He spent most of his time in the saddle and can’t pinpoint the time he began riding... or, as he put it, “it was as natural as walking.”

“My love for horses is inherent and it comes from my family-- my great-grandfather who was Sheriff Ray Bridges of Mobile and my grandfather, Dr. L. E. Irby and most of the people in Mobile have heard of them,” said Marty Irby, Executive Director of Animal Wellness Action in Washington, D.C.

After graduating from USA, Irby moved to a farm to work with horses in Nashville, Tenn. During his time there, someone gave him the book, ‘The Man who Listens to Horses’, by Monty Roberts. Roberts is a world-renowned horseman and trainer for the late Queen Elizabeth’s horses. Queen Elizabeth was infamous for her love of horses and Roberts worked with her throughout her life.

Roberts’s book caught Irby’s attention, particularly for the way he trained horses in a cruelty-free manner.

Irby told his boss in Nashville about Roberts’s training methods. His boss set out to find him.

“He said ‘we’re going to track him down and if he’s good enough for Queen Elizabeth, he’s good enough for me’. And so he somehow tracked him down… he was actually with the Queen in England when he tracked him down and he said ‘we want you to come to Tennessee to help us with these Tennessee walking horses.”

For Irby, it was an urgent matter.

“Tennessee walking horses and Alabama racking horses are terribly, terribly abused. They intentionally inflict pain to these horses feet by means of “soring”- or intentionally creating pain,” Irby explained.

Many trainers use “soring” to force horses to walk in an unnatural pattern.

“Tennessee walking horses and Alabama racking horses-- Alabama has a state horse, called the ‘racking horse’-- are terribly, terribly abused. They intentionally inflict pain to these horses feet by means of “soring” or intentionally creating the pain through applying caustic chemicals such as mustard oil, diesel fuel, kerosene, or inserting sharp objects into the horses’ feet to make them lift higher and perform this unnatural, artificial gait called the “Big Lift.”

“I’ve been wanting to stop this for most of my life at least since I was 13 or 14 years old so Monty Roberts came to Tennessee and he met with us and I saw his training first hand and I was astounded and I knew- that was the first moment I knew I could stop this and change this all around the world.”

Irby began advocating for animal rights in D.C. and was present in the Oval Office when former President Trump signed the ‘Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture Act’ in 2019. In fact, Irby was even given the chance to say a few words on national television and can be seen shaking Trump’s hand.

“I came to DC to testify before Congress and I tell everybody I came with nothing but my suitcase--- and I never left.”

Irby’s legislative work drew a lot of attention-- and not all of it was positive. He faced many obstacles including death threats for his work against soring. Still, Irby said that did not stop him.

Eventually, Roberts approached Irby and asked him to write his life story. After writing a ten-page narrative on his journey in advocating for animal rights, Roberts presented the story to the Queen.

Her Majesty read the entire story.

“Just the fact that Queen Elizabeth read my life story and knew what had happened to me and what I had been through really validated all of the work that I’ve done,” stated Irby.

“A few months later it was a rainy, August evening. I got a knock at my door and there was a package left at my doorstep and there was this envelope that said “Royal Mail” from Windsor Castle,” he added.

Now an animal rights activist in Washington D.C. and founder/ executive director of Animal Wellness Action, Irby has not forgotten his Mobile roots.

“I would say it’s important for people to realize that international recognition for somebody from Mobile really helps put Mobile on the map.”

With Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral approaching, Irby says he will be watching and grieving with the rest of the world. Meanwhile, his buddy Roberts is one of the two thousand people invited to the funeral.

Irby says he hopes his story will inspire people at home in Mobile. He says he could have never anticipated these larger-than-life experiences and the chance to fight for something he believes in.

Irby is an eight-time world champion equestrian rider. He has helped enact six acts against animal cruelty in Congress.

“I just advise anybody to work as hard as they can and follow their dreams and really work to accomplish those goals because anybody can do it.”

“I couldn’t imagine a little guy from Mobile, Alabama would be working on something and getting an award from the Queen.”

Irby says he plans to continue the work of animal rights and will do this as a way to honor the late Queen. One day, he hopes to return to the area and live among the community he loves.


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