Reflections on Road to the Horse: A Q&A with Tik Maynard

Reflections on Road to the Horse: A Q&A with Tik Maynard

All images by Impulsion Media. 

The Road to the Horse competition is seen by many to be the "World Championships" of colt starting. For those unfamiliar with this type of competition, it's pretty much exactly what it sounds like: competitors are assigned horses on day one that have, up until then, lived in a herd environment and are completely unstarted. They then have a set amount of time over the course of several days to see how far along they can bring the horse, with the final day usually being some sort of unmounted and mounted demonstration. 

At Road to the Horse, the competition takes places over the course of three days. After competitors are given their horses, they have 1 hour and 45 minutes on days 1 and 2 to get as much accomplished as possible. On the 3rd day, competitors are judged for 20 minutes in the round pen on saddling, and then are judged for 35 minutes worth of mounted rail work and obstacle course riding. 

Tik Maynard is only one of two English riders ever to win the event, coming in first on all three individual rounds and clinching the top overall spot. This interview comes from a conversation held on April 23rd, 2024, several weeks after the competition's conclusion. 

Sophie Coffey: Now that you’ve had a chance to reflect on Road to the Horse, both your performance in the arena and the interactions you had with those in attendance, here are just a few questions to ponder. 

First off, What are the two things you think went as well as they could have? What two things are you most proud of from your performance? 

Tik Maynard: The specific one is how I introduced picking up the feet with this horse over 3 days. I had a very particular plan going in and I was able to execute it really well. Every horse is going to go a different speed with picking up their feet, but I think with this particular horse I don’t think I could have done it any better, really.

The first step was to get the horse relaxed enough that I could start to work around his body without him being worried about me, trying to just get him being happy with me around him, whether I’m rubbing him or scratching him or anything else, before I go to the feet.

Then, there was an order of four things: One, being able to touch his legs with either a flag or a stick without it being a big deal, because I didn’t want to touch his legs with my hands, especially his hind legs in case he kicked out in the beginning. Two, being able to touch all four of his legs in a smooth way without him moving or flinching or trying to pick up his legs. Three, being able to take his weight and put it mainly on the other three legs, so it’s 33% on each of the other legs and 1% on the leg that I would want to pick up. Fourth and finally is picking up his leg and being able to have him relax and put his weight in my hand before I put the foot back down.

The most important piece is that I didn’t try to do all of this all at once, I tried to pepper it in, little and often, throughout the three days so it was in very digestible amounts. 

The other thing is I feel very very proud (and happy and lucky and privileged) with the team that we had there that came together. Just as in a lot of horse sports, it’s one person competing but there’s a large team around them, and it was the same thing in this event. I had an immediate team of Jake and Nick and Juliette and Sinead around me, and then I had a group that expanded around that. I had some ladies who were running the booth for me, I had some people who were watching the kids for me, I had family and friends that were there, Noelle (Floyd) was there, we had some people who were taking photos, Dan James lent me a horse for the awards presentation, Cathy Wieschhoff lent me a horse for a mounted demonstration, we just had a really good group of people coming around with a great positive energy and it just felt very uplifting. I’ve played a lot of team sports in my life, but I’ve never felt like a team came together quite like this before. 

Sophie Coffey: What are two things that, in retrospect, you would have approached differently, or may take a different approach with in the future for a similar situation?

So a specific thing is just as with learning to pick up feet, there is a similar process for having the horse learn how to back up and turn, and I wasn’t able to execute that as smoothly and as gradually as I would have liked. So because I didn’t pepper it in enough or introduce it incrementally enough, because I got a little bit sidetracked, it just didn’t have as good of a feeling about it. I had to be a little bit firmer with him whereas if I had been able to execute as well as I could have, I think it would have gone smoother. 

How I look at things is I try to give myself a score out of 10, like you would in a dressage test. Nobody gets a perfect 100 on a dressage test, and it was the same here. There was no thought it my mind that I’m going through things scoring 10s on everything, there were a lot of things where I gave myself 6s or 7s, and some other things where I gave myself 8s or 9s. That leaves a lot of room for improvement in the future, to make you want to do better. It’s a balance of realizing that we make mistakes and to not be too hard on myself while at the same time being hard enough on myself that it drives me to want to do a better job so that it can be smoother for the horse. 

The big picture thing is probably going into it next time with more concrete logistics in place for the reality of what you’ll be doing. There was an increased level of stress in the weeks before and the weeks after where I don’t think myself or the people around me got to relax and really take it in as a once in a lifetime experience that we could have if we had spent some more time with either the logistics leading up to it or taking some time off after it. You know, the next day I was flying with 2 kids back to Florida and a few days after that we were headed off to TerraNova Equestrian Center to compete with a camper and a trailer and a groom and different horses and as I’m driving down there I’m trying to figure out babysitters and organizing flights, there were just a lot of balls in the air both before and after, and I think if we can get those lined up a bit earlier we would have more time to just enjoy the experience. 

Sophie Coffey: If you had been able to work with TomCatt for a 4th day, what would you have worked with him on? What would have been the goal of the session to make sure you “ended” the weekend on a positive note? 

Tik Maynard: This is a great question, because as you now know we’ve purchased TomCatt and I have him here in Florida and we’ve had a session with him, so I can tell you exactly what I did that first day with him. 

So basically, half of my short 20 minute session was just being able to walk in and out of his space, and also stay in his space (and I think of those as two separate skills) with him staying relaxed. I’m not looking for him to want to be with me, but I’m also not looking for him to leave, I’m looking for him to just be relaxed - not much change in him, if he’s eating grass he can just keep eating grass as I walk in and out of his space. The first goal is that I don’t cause much of a reaction at all. The second thing is to start, in a very small way, to build up a little bit of draw so that he would rather be with me than not be with me.

The first step is to create a neutrality, that he doesn’t care, and the next step is, if you’re thinking of an hourglass, to just very gradually shift the grains of sand to have him start to think, “Huh, maybe I would rather be with you than not be with you.” And you can do that in a big way, but if you can do it more gradually I think it can be a lot smoother.

Sophie Coffey: I know you’ve watched this competition before, and that was part of your preparation. Did anything surprise you about actually participating, or was anything different in reality than what you visualized it would be like?  

Tik Maynard: I was anticipating a lot of pressure around it with the amount of hype and prize money and the number of people watching and so many of my friends and family there - I was anticipating that on an intellectual level, and on an emotional level it’s still a surprise and a shock to your system. It’s just unbelievable what that feels like - I’ve never experienced anything like that in my life, and I don’t know if I ever will again. 

I had also very much prepared myself to be ready for my horse to offer something really unusual, like you can’t touch their hind legs, or they buck an extraordinary amount, there are just so many unexpected variables that can happen when you’re starting a horse. I was a little surprised (and happy) about how much my horse just exhibited what I would consider very normal behavior for a young, green horse that has just lived with other horses its entire life and was just getting exposed to people for the first time. 

And there wasn’t a single horse there that I wouldn’t have been happy to have a go with. That doesn’t mean I would have had the same result, but I think all of the horses were horses I would have liked to work with. 

Sophie Coffey: Are there any memorable interactions or conversations that you had with folks at the booth that will stick with you? 

Tik Maynard: The whole weekend was made up of moments like that!

One of them was my brother and his fiance and their three year old flew out from British Columbia and I don’t get to see them very often. They flew out just to watch and to help look after my kids, and for my son to get to spend time with his cousin and for my brother and his fiance to get to spend that time with them in this sort of experience - you know, I only get to see them maybe once a year, and to see the kids getting to run around together in the Kentucky Horse Park was pretty special. And so many other family moments, like Sinead’s mom and my mom hanging out. Even though I wasn’t a part of those moments, getting to see them all interacting was wonderful. 

Another moment was Noelle (Floyd) being there, she's someone I’ve known since I was a teenager, first in Pony Club and then I met her on a professional level with Equestrian Masterclass, and then for her to be a part of that, she was a part of the close knit team for almost four days, so that was really nice as well. 

The other thing to mention is that Nick Rivera was my pen wrangler and Jake Biernbaum kind of coached me. There were thousands of people watching, but I blocked out every single other person in that stadium except for me, Nick, and my horse. I was in that zone, but every so often, Jake’s voice would come through the loudspeaker, either a “yes” or a “good job,” so that was pretty special. 

And then there’s Mike Major who won in 2022 and 2023, he’s an old school cowboy who I met backstage in the staging area where the horses are and where the competitors can go. We were talking about all the extra stuff that goes on, like the signings and the judges meetings and the competitors meetings, and he says he has a little bit of a hard time with all of that stuff because he’s used to just getting to work on his ranch. So he said to me, “Tik, the best part is when you actually get to go into the round pen with the horse, because once you get in there with the horse, you don’t even have to think. All you have to do is what the horse tells you.” 

And to me it was one of the most powerful moments, and quotes, from the week. Because it’s so true, but in order to not think, you have to be so prepared and so ready to let the horse lead you, and also get in the zone enough where you don’t have your own voice or expectations in your head and you can let the horse lead you. So it’s easy in your head, but it’s also very hard. 

Sophie Coffey: What, if anything, has changed about your philosophy or the way you view training horses after coming home from this experience? 

I guess the biggest thing is, I got invited to Road to the Horse, which is the World Championship of Colt Starting, about a year ago - so a year ago, they thought I was good enough to invite me, and I thought I was good enough to accept. And the amount that I learned in the past year about colt starting would be the equivalent of somebody knowing how to jump 2’ and somebody knowing how to jump 4’. Which if you’ve got someone who is just getting good at jumping 2’, and to think of how much better they would need to be to jump 1.30, that’s a pretty big step up, right? Now, I believe the amount in front of me to see how good I could get at colt starting is the difference between someone jumping 1.30 who wants to jump 1.60 and go to the World Cup Finals in Vegas. So I’ve always known that, but when you actually go through it, you realize how true it is. 

When someone tells me that they “know how” to do something, bridle a horse, or get on a horse, or jump, or they say they’re “good” at something - that word “good” means so many different things to so many different people. And there’s just such a huge difference, even if you look at the Olympic level of any sport, the difference between the top 10% of the people competing there and the bottom 10% of the people competing there is actually a pretty massive leap that’s insurmountable for a lot of athletes, even though they are all Olympic athletes. So compared to a year ago, thinking about how good you can get and where you can go with colt starting, it’s just a massive leap.

For anyone out there who wants to get better at anything, the biggest part is recognizing and giving yourself an objective score at where you are currently. For example, if I were to give myself a score from the weekend compared to what a 10/10 could be, I would give myself a 65%, which is a pretty average score. If I were to go again, I would aim to get a 70%, and if I were to think about where I could be in 10 years, I would hope to be at 85%, which still gives you so much room to strive and improve. 

Sophie Coffey: Do you have any words of advice to those who want to get better and improve but maybe feel like they don’t have the resources available to do so? 

Tik Maynard: I would say that anyone can improve by reading books, or watching videos, or watching lessons, or trial and error. I think it’s really just a matter of knowing yourself and knowing your learning style. I think there needs to be a mix of finding resources that can break things down into manageable steps, but also give yourself room to find your own way and make your own processes. You can read 10 different books on the same subject, and they’ll all tell you 10 good different ways of doing the same thing - but ultimately, you need to pick and choose and find your own way. 

The reason for that is you’re not going to ultimately achieve the next level of success unless you’re authentic. And that means incorporating new things into an authentic representation of who you are. For example, just on a very physical appearance level of things for Road to the Horse, I wore jeans and cowboy boots and started a horse in a western saddle, but I kept my shirt tucked in and I wore a helmet - I didn’t wear a baseball hat or a cowboy hat, and all of those were things I incorporated into my way of starting a horse, but it had to be an authentic part of who I was. I wasn’t trying to be an “English Rider” OR a “Cowboy.” I just made sure I was comfortable and authentic to me, and what I truly felt was most practical on a logistical level to do the best job that I could. 


If you want to learn more about Tik Maynard, check out his page on Equestrian Masterclass that has all of his Masterclass courses, articles, and podcasts!