Following my interview with Tik back in the summer, I took the opportunity to take some ‘me’ time and delve deep into the story of Tik’s journey to becoming a true horseman.
What struck me from his writing is how it is no mean feat to be both self-aware, and observational with either humans or horses, but this is something that Tik was clearly committed to doing.
This book goes beyond the technical and shows how a solid foundation achieved through knowledge of the animal we are riding, coupled with a hunger to grow and learn. You may not directly be taught about distances or the best way to jump a parallel while riding, but you will learn so much about how to be better – and not just with horses.
No, it is not an easy road for Tik (but is it for any of us?) but humility, determination and grit are a formidable combination – one tempered with lashings of gratitude. Not only for the opportunities that he worked so hard for but for every horse, human and experience that shaped this man into a wonderful teacher, horseman, husband, friend and eventually, father.
One of my favourite quotes is featured in a letter Tik writes to himself;
“In normal life we hardly realise how much more we receive than we give, and life cannot be rich without some gratitude. It is so easy to overestimate the importance of our own achievements compared with what we owe to the help of others.”
I will leave you with an excerpt from the book;
In Loving, Texas, if the horses were scared of a saddle, a cow, or a rope, they were exposed to it again and again, and they learned to not be nervous. Horses are learning all the time, and two of the things they’re learning are what to be afraid of and what to safely ignore. A horse in the wild will run when he’s scared, but if he is scared of everything he never gets time to eat, or drink, or play. And of course, horse trainers want to influence that—to change what the horse reacts to and what he doesn’t. We want the horse to listen to our seat, our weight, our hands; to not shy away from playing dogs, swinging ropes, and bison. The key is the progression, everything in steps, everything calm and measured and without anger or frustration. The most difficult skill to learn with horses must be this: to not take anything personally.
Bruce and Rhiannon and I talked about the herd—the nature of a group of horses—which is a tough thing and a beautiful thing and something often misunderstood. When one of us walked through Bruce’s herd, Pistol nuzzled our arms. Mouse would linger but not allow himself to be touched. Another horse, if cornered, might kick out. I watched. I wondered how a wild herd, with stallions and open land, was different than a domestic herd, with fences, people, and the often constant change of new horses added to the group, and others sold and shipped off.
For a human to enter the herd—even if it was just to become a herd of two, human and horse—he or she must find a niche, form a bond, or take charge. The human who wishes to communicate has two choices: to earn respect or to dictate through fear.
Snip and I wandered to the side, passed through a stand of oaks, and suddenly catapulted ahead. I ducked under a branch and leaned far forward onto the colt’s neck. And then he bucked! And again! And again! The others, human and horse, watched, amazed and startled. All the horses’ energy was up…up like steam in a kettle.
I loosened the reins and tightened my legs to calm him and urge him forward. Finally, he trotted off, back hunched and stiff-legged. After a minute or so, he swung his legs more easily and lowered his head. He was happier.
The trees thinned out, and we made our way into a large field. Mouse knew the ground well and ran ahead. He had tasted the freedom of wide open space, and he moved faster and faster until he realized he had left us behind. Then he turned. Our young horses were learning to listen to us: We were relieved that they only tensed but didn’t move as Mouse galloped past, hoping to incite more play. Pistol, meanwhile, had trotted ahead of us a few steps and now looked back.
“I’m waiting,” his eyes said.
Reprinted with kind permission from Trafalgar Square Books
Images by Kathy Russell from the photoshoot for In the Middle Are the Horsemen