Be a Good Friend: 5 Ways to Improve Your Relationship with Your Horse

Be a Good Friend: 5 Ways to Improve Your Relationship with Your Horse

A life with horses is a never-ending journey of education. No matter how many hours logged in the saddle or how many ribbons won, horses have a way of bringing us back down to earth, humbling us, teaching us, forcing us to improve so that they may also be better. For Tik Maynard, growing up and building a life around horses has also been a path to self-discovery.

Originally from Vancouver, Canada, Tik set out to be a working student in his mid-20s. Intent on working with the best of the best, he did not limit himself to a specific discipline or region of the world. During this time, he wrote articles about his experience. Ten years after he began his chronicles, he collected his stories into one — his first published book released last summer, “In the Middle are the Horsemen.”

“I’d never been a working student before,” Tik says. “I had the idea right from the beginning that it might be possible to make it into a book. It was in the back of my mind. Both those projects — writing a book and being a working student — I think I was naive about how hard it was to even do one, much less both.”

He logged his working student experiences first for a British Columbian magazine called “
Gaitpost” and later for “The Chronicle of the Horse.” Surprisingly, he hadn’t done much writing prior to that except during university, where he majored in history. He had, however, always loved to read.

“It’s one of my favorite things to do. I always have several books on the go. To be a good writer, my guess is you have to be a good reader,” Tik says. It’s no surprise that throughout our conversation he referenced several different books that supported his philosophy on horse training (more on that later).

“The hardest part of the entire process was the last 10 days before it was published when I really felt I was putting myself on the line."

Prior to interviewing Tik over the phone, I ordered “In the Middle are the Horsemen” from Trafalgar Square Books. I’ve long known Tik as a competitor, but I wanted to know him as a writer, as an explorer. I don’t often have time to read for pleasure, but I finished his book in a matter of a few days. It was an easy read, but I don’t mean that negatively. What I mean is that it flowed well from one page to the next. The storylines could stand alone, but they intertwined to create a beautiful picture of a man’s journey to not only be a better horseman, but to be a better person. What struck me the most was that in this casual, conversational tone, Tik laid his heart out on the pages. With candid honesty, he shared the good, the bad, the ugly. But he didn’t just tell you about it, he analyzed it with you so that in the end, you felt as though you learned a little something about yourself as well.

“It was not something I necessarily wanted to do or had to do, but I felt like if I was going to be honest about stuff I wanted to really be honest about it. And if I was going to write about it then good writing is not easy and it is often controversial. In the very first chapter, I say, ‘This is not 'Eat, Pray, Love,’” Tik says. “Even two weeks before it was published, I had people very close to me in my life saying, ‘Are you sure you want to publish this book?’ It took 10 years to write, five years to find the publisher, all the while writing in the mornings and evenings while riding and building a business during the day. But the hardest part of the entire process was the last 10 days before it was published when I really felt I was putting myself on the line.”

Writing, Tik says, is like putting together a puzzle, where you’re trying to make all the pieces fit and sometimes you have to move things around, rotate the image, study the vision of the final product deconstructed. Working with horses is a bit of the same. They’re a puzzle to figure out and guide towards a goal. The way we get there through both verbal and nonverbal communication emboldens a close study of one’s own subtle body language and emotional response. As the horses improve, so do we. In theory.

Have you and your horse hit a plateau? Want Tik's help? Tik is our latest Equestrian Masterclass instructor - click here to watch.

Tik actively competes in eventing, but he has also developed a reputation for working with difficult horses and utilizing natural horsemanship. Additionally, he teaches clinics to help riders learn to better communicate with their horses and subsequently develop a better relationship with them. So much of what he suggests falls back on self-awareness, patience, and at the very core of it all, being a good friend to your horse.

In today’s virtual clinic, Tik offers up five ways you can strengthen the bond with your horse at home.

1. Be the Best Rider You Can Be

When you’re actually riding, the number one nicest thing you can do for a horse is to work on your riding. Take as many lessons as you can afford, watch DVDs, read books. There is so much information available in articles and on YouTube. Try to be a good rider. Make sure your timing is good and your balance is good. Riding isn’t a sport of fitness like running or a sport of strength like lifting — it’s about balance and coordination. Improving that is the nicest thing you can do for your horse.

(Tik’s recommend watching: “Basic Training for Riding Horses” with Ingrid Klimke)

2. Figure Out Your Horse’s Love Language

You can make up for a lot of experience and skill with patience and empathy. I really believe that. I have friends that love their motorcycles or cars. They wax it, polish it, take it out only in good weather. But motorcycles don’t have feelings. With the horses it’s different. With a horse, you’re dealing with something people say they love — and I believe they do — but sometimes they love it in a way they love a motorcycle. Whenever someone says they love their horse, I would never take that away from them, but horses can love you back. However, the way you love your horse may not be how they want to love. Figure out the way your horse wants to be treated and handled.

(Tik’s recommended reading: “The 5 Love Languages” by Gary Chapman)

3. Simply Be Polite To Your Horse

Find ways to improve at the day-to-day time with your horse. Everybody says they know how to catch a horse, pick his feet, put the bit in its mouth, but I find that with all those things we can improve. Find ways to be more polite.

Tik talks a lot about this point in his latest Masterclass - click here to check it out.

For instance, think about picking up a horse’s leg. Instead of just putting your hand on the leg, run your hand down from the top of the neck to the shoulder to the leg so the horse knows what is coming and has the weight lifted off his leg before you get there. Then when you’re done, place the foot back on the ground instead of dropping it. Another example: Tighten the girth over several tightenings instead jerking it up once. It’s more polite. When you’re bringing the bridle overhead, bring the ears forward instead of back. It’s more polite. Every time I’m thinking I have a good relationship with a horse, I think about it being better. I challenge myself to make it better.

(Tik’s recommended reading: Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are? by Frans De Waal)

4. Be in a Frame of Mind to Learn

My younger brother Jordan is passionate about teaching kids the way I’m passionate about teaching horses. There are so many similarities in the problems we both deal with. He’ll go to a school program and say, ‘there is so much teaching going on but not very much learning.’ When I get a lot of the kind of horses more difficult to train, I’ll say, ‘how can I put this horse in a situation to learn?’ People want to get on the horse and just train it, but sometimes the first several months isn’t about teaching anything. I had a mare who was always dealing with anxiety and I had to find a way to reset it and get her in the frame of mind to learn.

“People put their own dreams on their horses.

There is a good book about teachers called “Work Hard, Be Nice” by Jay Mathews. It talks about how passionate people are with teaching. It’s the same thing you’re doing with horses — inspiration and learning. If you could sum up training in two parts, it would be motivation and communication. People think the harder thing is communication and people are always talking about how that is the difficult part of animal training, whether it’s horses or seals or elephants or kids, but often the more difficult part of the equation is motivation. Usually kids do well in school not because they are smarter but because they are more motivated. It’s the same with horses. Put them in a frame of mind where they can understand the communication and be motivated by it.

(Tik’s recommended reading: “The Faraway Horses” by Buck Brannaman)

5. Accept Your Horse’s Limitations

All horses have similarities and all of them have differences. They don’t all have similar strengths or goals or abilities. Say somebody wants to win at Preliminary or go to the North American Youth Championships and be very competitive, but their horse has some sort of discomfort and can’t win the dressage or doesn’t have the scope to jump at the one-star level. All of a sudden they’re fighting more than they should be. The easier it is for the horse, the more fun it will be for the horse and the better relationship you will have with him. People put their own dreams on their horses. You might say, ‘I believe in my horse and I don’t want to give up,’ but I might say, ‘Yes, he’s capable at this level if you ride everything perfectly, but you’ll have much better relationship at a level that’s 10 percent lower than his comfort level rather than 10 percent higher.’

(Tik’s Recommended Reading: “The Revolution in Horsemanship” by Robert Miller and Rick Lamb)

Don't miss the latest Masterclass course with Tik - a 10-part breakdown of how your horse learns, thinks, and feels. This is how to take your training to the next level.

Photography by Kathy Russell Photography.

Written by Hossein Maleki

Having grown up on horseback, Leslie Threlkeld, Managing Editor at NOËLLE FLOYD, treasures her career in the equestrian industry as a writer, photographer, and eventing technical delegate. Leslie thrives on frequent travel but never tires of returning home to the serene mountains of North Carolina.