Tik Maynard Goes Western: Getting Ready for Road to the Horse

Tik Maynard has many titles: CCI4* eventer, author, Noelle Floyd instructor. Now, he’s getting ready to add World Champion Colt Starter to the list. I caught up with Tik before his cross country round with Susan Southard’s Kayan at Rocking Horse. In between bites of a chocolate muffin brought to him by Susan, Tik chatted with me about his recent foray into the world of Western horsemanship and competitive colt starting.

Tik has spent the last year preparing to fulfill a dream of his, to compete in the elite colt starting competition, Road to the Horse. The challenge: in less than four hours, start an unhandled three-year-old Quarter Horse under saddle. Spread out over three days, the competitors will have to work against the clock and under immense pressure as an audience of thousands stare on from the stands and even more watch from the livestream.

According to the website, “Judging focuses on the competitor and the effectiveness of their horsemanship methodology to communicate, educate, and build a partnership with their colt based on trust.”

Tik Maynard. Photo credit to Madren Photography

My biggest question for Tik was, how is this possible? Typically colt starting takes months, not hours. “You can’t go as fast as you can and then do a good job. It’s got to be first: do a good job and second: go as fast as you can. It’s really a test of how much the competitors are able to train that horse without letting the pressure they feel go on to the horse. That horse can’t know it’s a competition.”

“In this competition, you’re teaching a kid on their first three days of school, like in kindergarten. You’re trying to make it fun for them first, and within that fun, you’re trying to give them a chance to very, very gradually learn some things and very, very gradually set some boundaries for them. But the number one thing is that you’re just trying to make it fun first.”

Tik is only the second English-disciplined horseman to be included in the invitation-only competition, the first being New Zealand show jumper Vicki Wilson. That being said, Road to the Horse will really push Tik out of his comfort zone and into a completely different equestrian culture.

Tik Maynard and Classic. Photo by Jenni Autry.

“It’s really set up to celebrate the Western culture and the cowboy and the Quarter Horse. So it’s a big honor to be invited to be a part of that,” said Tik. “Starting the horse on a timeline and getting to know Quarter Horses as opposed to Thoroughbreds and Warmbloods and starting the horse in a Western saddle and Western bridle, will be really challenging. I’m spending a lot of time here getting ready for it.”

Far from tackling the project on his own, Tik has enlisted the help of several cowboys in his preparations. “In the past five months I’ve learned more about horses than in the past five years. Jake Biernbaum, who’s down the road from me, has been my number one coach. Then I did a clinic with Glenn Stewart from British Columbia, that was amazing. And then I’m doing a Martin Black clinic– he’s quite well known in the Western ranching world. I also had Tom Pierson, a reiner, help me start one down here in Ocala,” Tik said. “I’m just trying to start Quarter Horses and get feedback from people who are really good as I go.”

Tik Maynard goes Western. Photo credit to Madren Photography

In the world of English disciplines, we’re all familiar with the different mindsets and generalizations about our common breeds of horses. If someone says to me, “Well she’s a chestnut Thoroughbred…” I instantly know what that means. But when it comes to how Quarter Horses think, I draw a blank. According to Tik, there are big differences between Western-bred Quarter Horses and your typical English horse.

“It’s a horse that has been bred to do ranch work and to be started quickly like [in the Road to the Horse]. If you think about how Thoroughbreds have been bred for well over 100 years to race. They have that mindset, and those muscles, and that ability and desire to move,” said Tik. “Quarter Horses can handle more pressure in some ways. They can be more thoughtful in some ways. They can be bred to stand still in a different way than a warmblood or a Thoroughbred. Somehow it’s different with a Quarter Horse– they grow roots in a spot rather than just pause. And the way they carry you is a little bit different.”

“Jake once told me, ‘One of the biggest differences between English and Western is that English horses are bred to get out of the dirt. Whereas Quarter Horses are bred to get into the dirt.’”

Tik is going to be relying heavily on his background in horse psychology for Road to the Horse. “Most of the competitors that are doing the Road to the Horse have a pretty strong background in trying to understand horse psychology. I think a large part of the revolution in horsemanship occurred in the Western world and then transferred to the English world. Not all of it, but I think a large part of it, and I think the reason for that is because of the nuances,” Tik said. “If you watch really good cowboys and the stuff that they do with their horses and cattle, it’s very, very quiet the vast majority of the time. In order to be good at that, you’ve got to read both the cow’s mind and your horse’s mind to know what they’re thinking about.”

“I’ve actually applied that philosophy a lot to how I work with horses, especially on the ground. A lot of times people get caught up in what the feet are doing. But I really try to place the emphasis on where the horse is looking and what they are thinking about. Usually where they’re looking is what they’re thinking about and where they’re gonna go,” Tik said.

Despite the thousands of people watching him, despite the pressure to move as quickly as possible, despite the pressure to perform well, Tik is determined his Quarter Horse will feel like it’s any other day, albeit a strange one.

“The name of the game in this competition is building a relationship with the horse. A relationship is built on trust, but it also encompasses respect and confidence, and play. It encompasses confidence and relaxation,” said Tik. “If I have the feeling at the end that the horse didn’t know it was a competition, then I’ve hit my goal.”


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As for himself, his goal is to never stop learning, even after the competition. “This situation is such a big ask for me. It’s so far out of my comfort zone. By taking it seriously and getting ready, I’ve learned a ton. I think all I can ask of myself in terms of success is that I keep this pressure on myself, to keep learning. And that, even if I don’t win, I’m able to go in there and have the presence of mind to apply what I’ve learned.”

Good luck, Tik! The Road to the Horse might need to prepare itself for a sudden influx of eventers as we cheer on one of our own. Cowboys, prepare for insanity.

Watch as Tik takes on his biggest challenge yet on March 22nd through the 24th. If you want to attend in person, Road to the Horse will take place at the home of the Defender Kentucky Three Day Event, the Kentucky Horse Park. Tickets are available for purchase here.

As always, keep an eye on our website for more stories to come as our intrepid eventer ventures into the world of Western horse sports.


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