First, I want to say, I loved your book. You’ve studied under many names which is amazing and I loved how you were reminded to throw yourself completely into a “new type of training, then go home and use bits and pieces of it that suit your nature."
I truly want to learn more about horsemanship and listening to horses (and I am, slowly) but I wondered how you dealt with people potentially thinking your way is wrong or feeling like you are second guessing your ways because “it’s not their way”. You experienced a lot of different environments and training techniques to better understand horses and connection with people. How did you begin to back yourself in “your TIK method” without fear of criticism?
Your question is a challenge. I’ve been turning it over in my mind for weeks.
Let me start, I guess, with this: I do second guess my way; I don’t feel like I have a “Method;” I do fear criticism.
Here are a few of my thoughts:
On Judging Others.
A few years ago I was doing a demonstration that was being live streamed. Lucinda Green, six-time Badminton Horse Trials winner, watched and complimented me after. The announcer, however, made a point to tell me (privately) he was upset and confused with the way I had used a “horseman’s flag.” I had used it to keep a nervous thoroughbred out of my space. The horse had been a challenge, but I felt I had done a good job. Later I checked the comments from the live stream:
“Can’t stand this guy” said one.
“Wow I can't watch this guy” said another.
“What a bad handler” said a third.
“Horrible” said a fourth.
My stomach shrunk. My pulse quickened. I was a dog in a corner. A horse looking to run. To just go. That’s what I have in common with horses, my first instinct is to stop eating, stop trying to figure out the answer, and just run. Run for ten minutes. Run for an hour. Anywhere. Put some distance between us, and some fatigue, then things may be better.
But I am training myself, and my horses, to not react so emotionally. I am training myself to think first.
Some emotions are true and helpful, I tell myself, others stop me from finding my True Path.
Sinead, my wife, helped my mood “You did a good job. The horse got a lot better.”
My friend Chelsea gave me this advice, “There are two kinds of people that are going to comment. People you should listen to and people that you shouldn’t. Don’t listen to these trolls.”
But I still ran. I ran till I could feel the sting of sweat in my eyes.
Later that evening I re-read this quote that was delivered as part of a speech more than 100 years ago by Theodore Roosevelt. Most of you have read this before, I’m sure, but if I can share this with even one person that hasn’t, it is worth it to include it here:
“It is not the critic who counts, not the one who points out how the strong man stumbled or how the doer of deeds might have done them better.The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred with sweat and dust and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, and spends himself in a worthy cause; who, if he wins, knows the triumph of high achievement; and who, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”
But I still hear the critics. I hear them because I can’t not, but also because I don’t want to be the guy that only listens to people who agree with him.
There are lots of ways of working with horses. Somebody somewhere is always ready with: “My way is better.”
For example: If we use punishment with horses someone says reinforcement is “better." If we use negative reinforcement, someone says we should use positive reinforcement. If we give horses treats someone says they should learn to like and respect us, not just the food. Even simply owning horses is up for discussion — it is speciesist; a form of slavery some say.
I used to dismiss some of these thoughts as crazy. Now I travel down the path of researching each of these ideas.
No matter where I am on my horse journey there will always be someone ahead of me and someone behind me. Like driving on the highway, it is easy to judge those faster than us as crazy, and those slower than us as in the way. Being aware of my own journey makes me less judgmental of others that are on their own path. It makes me less judgmental, even, of the very people that are judging me.
On It’s Always My Fault.
No matter what horse I play with, what lesson I teach, what clinic I give, I feel like I could have done it better. Even if something happened that was not under my control (a tree branch falling for example, or someone else’s horse getting loose, or the loudspeaker acting up) I still give myself the blame. What could I do to prevent, or prepare for, that the next time?
Fore example, here are my notes from that demonstration:
- Have a mic. Explain what I’m doing. Don’t rely on an announcer that is not familiar with what I do.
- Get a feeling for where the audience is at. Teach them where they are at, not where I’m at. For example: Using pressure and release with a flag to create space is pretty normal in some circles. But to some people it is new. People tend to be more comfortable with things they are used to seeing. Using spurs, or carrying a whip, is common-place, and most people don’t think twice about it, while using a “flag” to many people is new. Interestingly this also applies to treats for training. I was once marked down by a judge in a freestyle for giving a horse too many treats. I was not marked lower for using or carrying a whip.
- Don’t volunteer to work with a horse that will take four sessions to make a lasting change if I only have one session.
I have never been in a situation yet where in retrospect I couldn’t have done things differently. Sometimes people will say something is an accident or it came out of nowhere, but I think: Just because I failed to predict something does not mean it was unpredictable.
On A “Method”
Although I ride and teach almost every day of the year, I do not think of what I’m doing as a “Tik Method.” At least not in the sense of how I see, for example, other well-known methods, like the Parelli Natural Horsemanship method, the German Dressage method, or the American Jumping method. This is because the way I do things evolves every year.
Some of the changes I’ve made are technical, for example changing the cue for asking a horse to back up from a tap towards the chest to a tap towards the lead rope. Some changes are bigger picture, for example, how patient am I with teaching a horse to cross a creek? Is it something I want to get done today, or do I mind if it takes a few sessions?
When it comes to methods I generally compare trainers (myself included) on three levels:
- What techniques and tools do they use? For example, what kind of halter or saddle? How do they ask for the canter?
- What theories do they practice and preach? Make the right thing easy and the wrong thing difficult, is a common saying.
- What is their real big picture philosophy? For example are they about obedience or relationship, or somewhere in between?
There are days where I feel like a beginner. There are days when everything works. There are days when nothing works.
On Growing Organically.
My day job is riding. I am part of The Horseman’s University. I teach clinics. I’m also an instructor for Equestrian Masterclass, which I love — but I am not a Master. That’s just (good) marketing. No horse trainer in their thirties is a Master.
Riding helps me develop a method. But explaining it to others is what helps me the most. Sinead will often push me to break things down more, to come up with a step-by-step process. Creating a method is a gradual process.
You ask how I “back myself.” I try to put the work in, knowing the skill will grow slowly, like a beaver’s lodge.
Take learning to teach for example.Growing up in Southlands, Vancouver I would go over and watch my Dad teach at the Riding Club. Then I started teaching kids at Summer Camp and in Pony Club. My ability, and the ability of the horses and people I taught, gradually, slowly, grew. In my twenties I became a working student for other professionals. Then I became an assistant instructor for Anne Kursinski. Then I was a head trainer at Bow Brickhill Stables in New Jersey. Then a few years later, in my thirties, I started my own business. Gradually I’ve taught more clinics, then presented at horse expos.
The more I teach the more confident I become about the steps I follow. I am happy to share the ideas I have. But it is not uncommon for me to watch another instructor or listen to a podcast and think “Wow. What have I been doing?!”
I’ll push the edge of my comfort zone for sure, but I don’t want to ride or teach too far out of it. I don’t want things to get dangerous. I am not trying to be an overnight sensation.
Recently I listened to an interview with a teacher of not-easy-to-teach kids. In the past, and still in many places today, tantrums, confusion, and recalcitrance in kids leads to force from adults.
This doctor said: “Ours is not to dominate but to de-escalate or better yet prevent escalation in the first place.”
One of the mandates he set for himself and his team was the idea of “Televisability,” the idea of being comfortable that everything they did could be shown on television.
Being televisible refers to a level of safety, respect, and rapport between the clinician and the client and their family. The goal, the doctor said, is that someone watching would say “That looks like something I might want for my child.”
In other words, don’t do anything behind the barn that you wouldn’t feel comfortable doing in front of the barn. Is that always possible with horses? Well, that’s what I’m aiming for.
On A Coping Strategy.
When I’m in front of a crowd or about to enter the show ring, there is one thing above all others that helps me. Interestingly this technique is unique to horse sports.
It is this: What does my horse need right now?
Does he feel safe? Does he feel comfortable? Does he feel balanced? Is he fresh? Tired? Claustrophobic? Bored? Tense?
How can I help him? This keeps me in the present. It also has the added benefit that if he goes safely and happily I am more likely to as well.
On Fear Of Criticism.
I do have a fear of criticism.
I wonder if some people don’t. Is that possible? Maybe they are the rare breed of dog that is truly confident? A strutting Westminster poodle.
Or maybe they have a deep maturity? There is a maturity I strive for where I can take all criticism in a constructive, unemotional way, regardless of how it is delivered. But confidence, like trust, is situational. I can trust someone with my kid but not my bank account. I can be confident in the jumper ring, but not at the dressage show.
As I choose what shows and clinics to enter I take into account my ability and my confidence. Also my horse’s ability and their confidence. Out of these four factors, which one determines the level I enter? The lowest of the four.
I hate telling people what to do. I want to be someone that leads by example. I love being inspired. By Ian Millar in a jump off. Or Jonathan Field playing with a horse at liberty. Or Chris Cox starting a horse. I could watch Anne Kursinski just sit on a horse and I get inspired.
There are all kinds of teaching styles, leadership styles, riding styles. While I am inspired by others, my True Path only comes when I can find my own style. I don’t enjoy confrontation. I want to be someone that inspires.
If you are wondering if I got any positive reviews on that Facebook thread, yes, people came to my defense. (I refrained from commenting myself.)
“He’s actually very good at getting the horse to pay attention to him. Watch beyond the first minute or so,” said one person.
Someone else: “Super informative and helpful to watch! So much to take in! Especially if you choose to learn instead of judge. The transformation in both of these horses in such a short time shows that the questions were not confusing but instead the path to understanding.”
I try to develop my ability and confidence similar to how I treat my horses ability and confidence: slowly and methodically. I don’t want to step out in front of a crowd of two thousand people until I have earned it.
What motivates me? I love nature, I thrive on the challenges of training animals, I want to help people, I’m ambitious with my career, I hate making mistakes.
I am realistic that I will always make mistakes. I am unrelenting about trying to make smaller mistakes, and fewer of them.
So Ashla, in summary, I very much relate to the feelings behind your question. But because of all these things above, as well as inner-belief, the belief of friends, and a passion to do what I do, the fear is not paralyzing. I keep going. One foot in front of the other.
All this is not really meant to be advice, just an answer to your question about My Path. Thanks for the question Ashla. Good luck on Your Path!
Written by Tik Maynard
Tik Maynard is a highly sought-after clinician, event rider, and trainer due to his depth of horsemanship and horse behavior knowledge. He is an Equestrian Masterclass instructor and his courses may be found at www.equestrianmasterclass.com