Tik Maynard is one of those people you look at and think: How does he do it all? He and four-star eventer wife Sinead Halpin run a bustling operation out of Copperline Farm in Citra, Florida, are readying themselves for their first child, due in September, and now he’s gone and written a book, In the Middle Are the Horsemen, due in June!
Writing is among Tik’s not-so-secret skills. In addition to having been a contributor to equestrian publications, he has written a children’s story, published by REAL magazine, won the Malahat Review Open Season Award, and has twice been shortlisted for the CBC Literary Awards for his nonfiction works.
Tik’s new full-length work from Trafalgar Square Books, In the Middle Are the Horsemen, is a memoir that faces both inward and outward. To write, one must have a story to tell, and Tik’s story is a poignant one. Both his parents were Grand Prix riders — his mother in dressage and his father in show jumping, in addition to being an Olympic coach of the Canadian modern pentathlon team. Horses were in his blood and he grew up riding with the Vancouver Pony Club, in Southlands, British Columbia, earning his “A” rating.
He began competing in modern pentathlon, eventually representing Canada at three World Championships and the 2007 Pan American Games, but his quest to make the 2008 Olympic team was fraught. Some obstacles are meant to be overcome, while others are meant to point you in a different direction, and sometimes it can be difficult to distinguish between the two. At age 26, simultaneously facing a career-ending injury and a painful breakup, Tik found himself adrift. At this crossroads, he began a journey to improve his riding that would ultimately bring his life purpose into view.
In the Middle Are the Horsemen chronicles that journey, which took him from Germany to Florida, from Alberta to Texas, and from Florida to New Jersey, from show jumping to eventing and beyond. Along the way, he learned as much about people as he did about horses, and discovered his own path. Its guiding principle: horsemanship.
In a two-part series in the coming days, we are excited to bring you sneak preview excerpts from Tik’s book, which is currently available via pre-order here. In the meantime, we catch up with Tik himself via this interview from Rebecca Didier of Trafalgar Square Books:
RD: Your book In the Middle Are the Horsemen chronicles several years you spent “on the road,” trading labor for an equestrian education in the role of “working student.” How would you describe what a working student is to someone outside the equestrian industry?
TM: It is a trade. Instead of trading work for money, it is a trade of work for knowledge. It is like an apprenticeship or internship. Every working student position tends to be a bit different, but they are inevitably a lot of work. And that is because horses are a lot of work.
RD: How did you first hear of what being a working student could offer? Was it something you always planned to do?
TM: Being a working student is a pretty common thing in the riding world. Many top riders went through a phase of being a working student, and although I could have skipped it and just rode more, because my parents own horses and a horse business, I felt like it was sort of a rite of passage. From a business perspective I wanted to earn my way, work my way up, not just enter a management position. And now having said that I could have skipped it, I’m glad I didn’t! I have learned more, in so many ways, by being a working student than I would have dreamed possible.
RD: Before you set off on your horsemanship adventure, you were a modern pentathlete. How did you discover modern pentathalon? Do you still practice all five events that make up the sport?
TM: Many kids that ride are introduced to Pony Club at a young age. I was, and my brothers were, too. In Pony Club there are all kinds of interesting activities, like something they call Quiz, and Prince Phillip Games, which is like mounted relay races. There is also tetrathlon, which is riding, running, swimming and shooting. Many kids that start in tetrathlon go on to modern pentathlon, which includes fencing as the fifth sport. Modern pentathlon is practiced all over the world and is a part of the Pan American Games and the Olympic Games. I was even lucky enough to go to the Pan Am Games in Brazil in 2007.
And no, I do not still practice all the events. I run a little bit still to stay in shape. And I ride of course. I do miss it, but I also love what I am doing now.
RD: Your time as a working student spanned three years and sprawled across Canada, the United States and Europe. How did the places you visited influence your evolving goals? What is one specific place you journeyed to that you feel had a profound impact on you?
TM: What surprised me was how different Florida, and the South in general, felt to me. Even though Germany has a different language I felt relatively at home in their culture. Of course I had a few issues in Germany, but they were to do with personal relationships, not the culture. I was unprepared coming to Florida to see billboards advertising Jesus and gun shows, or the lack of recycling. Lots of little things like that. But the people are so friendly! I live in Florida now and love it, but it is definitely different than Vancouver!
RD: Your desire to record your experiences in writing was as strong as your interest in becoming a better rider. How did writing about your struggles, your successes, what you learned, what you didn’t, affect your journey? Did it dictate the outcome ever, or was it simply a manner of processing?
TM: It was mostly a matter of keeping balance in my life and giving me some perspective.
I love horses, but if they are the only thing in my life I lose some of the enjoyment. I love writing, but if I were to write full time I would go crazy—and I would have nothing to write about.
The perspective comes from thinking about my experiences and how they fit into the bigger picture. No matter how tough it can feel, and how many ups and downs there are, working with horses is a choice, and if it ceases to be fun there are many things that are more profitable.
RD: Your wife is a top international rider. Is it difficult to find balance when you both are in the same profession? Or when it comes to having horses and riding being part of the relationship equation, do you feel it is plain old necessary?
TM: Working with horses, and trying to be the best at something, takes so much passion and commitment. We have arguments about things for sure, but as time goes on we find out what is important to each other and it gets easier. For example we have this game where we will ask each other “How important is going to the rider party, out of 10?” If she wants to go eight out of 10, and I’m tired and I don’t want to go six out of 10, then we go, even if I’m tired. And I make the best of it. Of course the game only works if we are honest, and in the end it balances out.
Also, we have different strengths at the barn so we can help each other. She is great at dressage and cross country. She is amazing at stable management. I have a strong show jumping background, and I end up working with all the young horses and complicated horses. I love having a complicated horse problem to think about. They are like riddles!
In the end I think it’s tough, but we get each other, and I wouldn’t trade her!
RD: What is one lesson you hope readers will take away from your book?
TM: When I hear this question, I think, God, I just hope they make it past the first chapter. If they even finish the book I’ll be happy.
But a lesson? Let me think. Maybe don’t judge people too harshly when they are in a different place on their horsemanship journey than you. A lot of riders see somebody doing something different and they don’t ask why, or have the patience to see things from another point of view.
Also, I see a lot of gray area in how we treat horses. For example people often say it is wrong to abuse horses. That is great to say, but abuse is sure open to interpretation. Some people might say it is abuse to even own a horse. Some people pay more attention to physical abuse, and some people are very aware of emotional abuse. I try never to say never or always. Instead I try to think: “I thought that was true, but maybe there is a better way.”