‘In the Middle Are the Horsemen’ by Tik Maynard: Excerpt I

Tik Maynard’s new book, In the Middle Are the Horseman, comes out from Trafalgar Square Books in June 2018 and is currently available for pre-order. Yesterday we previewed the book and caught up with Tik for a Q&A, and now we are excited to present a two-part series of sneak preview excerpts to tide you over until the book arrives next month! 

Photo by Kathy Russell, courtesy of Trafalgar Square Books.

“I would have done that a little differently,” Bruce said, as he shook his head. “I would have gone slower. It’s not a race. And when you do get the rope around his neck, make sure you leave out more slack.”

I nodded. The horse kicked out as he cantered away from us.

“Right now we just have to catch him,” he continued. “One try with the halter is enough. We just want to get him out of here as calmly as possible. It should be whatever is easiest for the horse. Later, when he’s settled in at my place, we can start with the real work.”

The gelding was now at the far end of the ring, looking straight back at us. One ear was forward and one back, then they switched. But both eyes never left us.

Bruce went to the middle of the corral where he had left his rope and picked it up.

“How we get him in the trailer now depends a lot on what kind of space he’s in. With this size here, the lasso might work best.” He let the rope slide through the honda knot, creating a cylindrical loop a couple of yards in diameter.

“If you keep him at this end, I’ll see if I can throw this over him.”

“Sure, no problem,” I said, but I was a little skeptical, both of Bruce throwing the loop over the horse, and of this being the best tactic to take in order to quietly catch him.

Bruce walked down the middle of the corral, directly at the gelding. The lasso knocked against his thigh as he moved. He stopped about fifteen feet from the horse. I stood on the left side of the ring, so that if the horse moved we knew it would be to the right. Bruce brought his lasso into a slow swing over his head.

There are many kinds of throws, and I had learned three: the overhand, the houlihan, and the backhand. Bruce was planning a simple overhand. The horse saw the rope move and bolted down the fence. Bruce didn’t hesitate. Once more the lasso went behind the man’s back, picking up speed, before leaving his hands and moving, slowly it seemed, toward the fence, slightly ahead of the gelding. The horse galloped on—straight into the trap. As the rope settled around his neck, his speed and momentum tightened it, but he continued down the fence.

Time seemed to speed up. Bruce madly played out rope, letting the horse gallop, giving him a chance to feel the rope and the easy tension in it. I tried to stand out of the way behind Bruce. He let the horse circle the corral twice and settle.

“This is a lot different than roping cattle!” Bruce yelled to me, coiling in the rope.

I thought back to the afternoon when he had taught me how to rope. Bruce showed me the simple overhand first, then the backhand from different angles, and finally the houlihan. He demonstrated the scoop toss and del viento, but I stuck with the basics. I learned how to switch from the backhand to the hula, but how it’s impossible to go from the hula to the backhand. He showed me how the scoop toss soars into the air like a dove freed from your hand, returning to the earth in a deadfall, until suddenly, when the calf steps into the trap, you pull on the rope, and the scene unfolds in double time, the rope quickly, suddenly, ferociously, alive.

After that lesson, when Bruce had left, I had kept practicing. It was hard enough on the ground; I couldn’t imagine riding at the same time. But I had liked the feel of the rope in my hands and set up a bale of hay on its end, playing with the different roping shots until dark.

“Tik,” Bruce said, breathing hard now, “I don’t call this ‘natural horsemanship.’ Once he’s got that rope around his neck, or a halter on his head, that ain’t ‘natural’ anymore.”

The horse turned his head to the outside of the corral, looking to get away from the tension he felt encircling his neck. There was sweat glistening along his flanks. He broke into a trot. Bruce was watching, ready to release the pressure as soon as the horse took one step toward us.

“Look at it this way,” he said, gesturing to the left with his head while managing the rope. “Over here are the ‘natural horsemen.’ And often there is nothing natural about what they do. And over there,” he nodded to the right, “are the, well, whatever the opposite is—the people who don’t take into account the horse and what its capabilities and tendencies are.” Bruce paused for second, thinking. “There are lots of those guys, I guess. In the middle, though, are the horsemen.”

Image courtesy of Trafalgar Square Books.

Many thanks to Trafalgar Square Books for allowing us to share. Learn more about In the Middle Are the Horsemen here