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

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. Earlier this week 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. If you missed it, read Excerpt I here

Photo by Kathy Russell, courtesy of Trafalgar Square Books.

I glanced down. I saw the sweat from my face fall on Sapphire’s withers. It mixed with hers and slid to her shoulders. Her neck foamed where the reins rubbed against the skin. Drool from her lower lip fell, caught by the wind. We were two strides farther before it hit the ground. I was back in Canada, on Vancouver Island, in full gallop, home from Germany, and enjoying an intermission before heading to Ocala, Florida, to work with Karen and David O’Connor. I looked ahead the way a soccer player looks downfield before chipping the ball to a teammate. Eventing. Eventing! So this is what it was.

This was a thrilling and wild affair. My parents watched cautiously. It seemed they had hidden this great thing from me. What! How? Now they offered advice timidly. My friends didn’t know where I was. But this was no fling; it was love. It snatched me from my home. It arrested yesterday’s desires and replaced them with new purpose.

I had no idea where this sport might lead me. Would I end up living in Germany? Or maybe competing in Ontario or the Carolinas? But I was getting ahead of myself, and that was the one thing, perhaps the most important thing, I should not do in this situation. I smelled the air, fresh from the Pacific Ocean. Sapphire’s hooves struck the ground like the thunder of timpani, and we galloped on.

I was halfway through my first course, wondering what I had been doing my whole life before now. I looked to the left—a cord of wood blocked my entrance to the forest. I continued on, my horse’s legs flew in double-time, straight and true, and we turned to be perpendicular to the obstacle. And then we were up and over, and on a new trail. The trees rushed by! A blur. I knew they were evergreens, but they might have been fir or juniper or hemlock. The browns and greens blended together. We sped through; then we were out on the grass again.

The ground was firm, but not too firm. Dry, yet not too dry. Green as the emerald pastures of a picture book. I had no idea that footing like this was not just great—it was rare.

In my childhood, riding happened in a ring. Both my parents were my coaches. My mother showed me the joys and principles of riding as an amateur. My father explained the obligations and responsibilities of the professional. Although they had both evented themselves, they quit when my mom was expecting.

“Too dangerous,” they explained when I was fourteen, “too many crushed bones.”

“Yeah?” I had said.

“Too many shattered hearts. Eventing is like trying to outrun a train: eventually it’ll catch up to you.”

“Sure,” I’d replied with a laugh. “But don’t worry, I can leap tall buildings, too!” And I hurdled, and tripped, over the couch. The truth was, I was not really interested in eventing—at least not back then.

“You think I’m worried about you? No way!” my mother had said, shaking her head. “It’s the horses. They don’t deserve that.”

Fifteen years after that conversation I found myself at my first event. And my parents were there to support me…

…Cross-country! It was fast! It was my heart in my mouth, tears in my eyes! It was my arteries working like pistons, throbbing in time with Sapphire’s stride. Ba-BOOM. Ba-BOOM. Ba-BOOM!

And then there were the two water jumps, the first that left me behind, but the second that was smooth. My leg swung slightly forward, I landed in my heels, and I found my horse’s mouth again. Below us the water splashed, cooling her chest, leaving a tiny rainbow in our wake. And then we were off.

We looked ahead. The Cowichan Valley rose up on my left. There was forest on my right. We rushed forward.

Spectators sat on the hill. They held dogs. They looked for photo ops. Sometimes they held their breath. I saw all these things, and I saw none of them. The stirrups held me high, out of my mare’s way, but her breathing was more labored now.

The finish line came up. There were two flags marking it: red on the right, white on the left. I crossed through and forgot to glance at my watch. I was breathing hard, along with Sapphire. The stewards glanced at their clipboards. The vet was busy with other competitors. Sapphire put her head low, but her ears stayed pricked and forward. Someone took our photo.

Later I would notice that in the picture, I was smiling.

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