I don’t typically do book reviews here because I generally find them to be uninteresting, but this book… I just had to write about. Mostly because I need everyone else to read it too so that we can discuss. Who’s in for book club?
Tik Maynard’s new book, In the Middle are the Horsemen (on Amazon here or direct from Trafalgar Square Books here), is not your typical how-to equestrian book, the kind that tells us all what we should do and think and be when it comes to horses and horsemanship. Rather, it’s more of one man’s story about his journey – how he set about learning, what he learned, what he’s still learning, what he’s done right, and what he’s done wrong. In one word, the book is very relatable, especially to me. I’m not going to write a summary of the book, you can read about it online if you want details like that, but rather I want to talk about the general undercurrents of the book and some of the main takeaways that I had.
I really bought it because a) it’s written by an eventer, and I will buy pretty much any book that supports a fellow eventer, b) it’s described as more of a memoir, and I have been on a hell of a memoir kick lately. Tik was at Chatt while I was, and even had a book signing, which I totally meant to go to, but I got distracted by ponies and somehow missed the whole thing. Whoops.
In the Middle are the Horsemen covers a period in Tik’s life where he set off to be a working student for a wide variety of different trainers – from a dressage trainer, to eventers, to showjumpers, and even a Texas cowboy to explore the worlds of “natural horsemanship” and colt starting. He worked for a lot of big names, and he even got fired a couple of times, which Tik openly talks about. From there it evolved to how Tik eventually struck out on his own, then together with fellow eventer (now his wife) Sinead Halpin.
What made his story so relatable for me is that Tik and I have had sort of similar backgrounds, albeit his on a much grander, far more intelligent, and dramatically more successful scale. I too was a working student, first for a h/j trainer and then an eventer, I too have met my fair share of failure along the way, and I too have had a lot of interest in learning about the “horsemanship” aspect of training – pouring over books and videos to try to understand how to communicate more effectively with horses. Like Tik, I have spent many hours thinking about (and probably way overthinking) all of it, trying to figure out how it all fits together. Clearly he has been markedly more successful at that than I have.
Obviously he’s also a writer, historically of magazine articles and now a book, whereas I also do magazine articles as well as this very amateurish blog. He talks a lot about being a writer, coming up with what to write about, hard topics that he’s tackled, and some criticism he’s faced as a result of what he’s written. He also talks about the importance of writing about his mistakes and misjudgments, something that I think a lot of fellow bloggers can identify with.
Aside from just being relatable, Tik’s writing style is fantastic. There are so many little quoteable gems in the book that I think half of it would be yellow if you tried to highlight them all. The words flow easily, nothing feels forced or overworked, and most of all it seems very honest. He reflects on what went wrong as well as what went right, and what he learned from both. Learning really is the consistent theme of this book from start to finish – discussing everything from what he thinks it means to be a good student, a good teacher, a good rider, and most of all, a good horseman.
Tik manages to do all of this without coming across as though he’s preaching at or lecturing the reader; his humility is evident beneath his words. Tik’s thirst for knowledge and desire to find answers is contagious, and the book continuously left me reflecting on my own life and my own journey with horses. It’s the kind of book that you find yourself still thinking about in the shower, or in the barn while you’re grooming your horse, or while you’re out for a run, even weeks after you’ve finished it. It’s the kind of book you feel like you need to get everyone else to read so that you can all talk about it together.
When I started In the Middle are the Horsemen I was really just expecting a good story about how a professional eventer got to where he is today, but it ended up being so much more than that. Tik’s story is one that I feel like everyone can identify with, on some level, and I think that anyone who is interested in being a better rider, trainer, or horseman – regardless of discipline – should definitely give it a read. If nothing else, it will make you think. For me personally, it’s been a long time since a horse book has effected me this much, on a visceral level. It makes me want to do better, to be better, and to learn more. Any book that can leave you feeling that way, inspired, is worth buying.
P.S. Not gonna lie, one of the first things I did after finishing the book was go to Tik’s website and look up his colt starting rates. Presto, you wanna go to Florida in 2020?