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Making History

I am on a plane from Kentucky to Orlando as I write this, crying even before I begin typing. I am heading back to Ocala after watching my friend, Tik Maynard, win the world championship of colt starting at Road to the Horse. And he didn’t just win – he set a new precedent. In the words of one cowboy we met, “Everyone else here was in a colt-breaking contest. Your guy started a horse.” 


Tik connecting with horse
Photo credit to Haley Boothe-Zajac of Impulsion Media.

I fear I will not be able to adequately describe what I witnessed and felt these last five days, but I will try to give some idea of it here, because it is important. Let me also say, before I go on, that anyone who is brave enough to step into one of those round pens in front of all of those people impresses me. For the past three months, I have watched Tik prepare for this competition, knowing he has been prepping for far longer prior to my arrival in Florida. My Mustang, Luna, was part of that preparation, as were clinics and practice runs with a long list of clinicians and horses. I saw Tik sink into self-doubt more than once during that time, but in my heart of hearts, I knew he would win. I didn’t dare utter those words aloud to him or anyone else for fear of adding unnecessary pressure, but I knew.  


I remember telling Tik during one particularly difficult clinic with a very experienced colt starter, as he wondered aloud about his readiness for Road to the Horse, that he is so much better than he thinks he is. I encouraged him to do what he always does – be himself and be with the horse. 


He had the technical skills because he is such a diligent student. The rest of what he needed is simply who he is.


That first day of competition was like watching something out of a movie. There were four round pens set up in a big square in the Altech arena at The Kentucky Horse Park. Tik was in the one closest to where we were sitting in the stands above him, and it was clear to see that one of these things was not like the other.


While the other three competitors immediately roped and pulled on their horses, trying to set a clear boundary about who was in control, Tik befriended his horse. He showed his horse that he was the most comfortable thing in the arena by using impeccable observation, timing, and, eventually, touch. He did not rush. He never became frustrated. He was so palpably present in the space with himself and with his horse that I could barely take my eyes off of this work – just like the first day I saw him teach at Equine Affaire in 2019.


Man sitting on horse bareback
Photo credit to Haley Boothe-Zajac of Impulsion Media.

When the first round was over, Tik had gotten further with his colt than anyone else and sumultaneously had the most relaxed horse at the venue. His booth was mobbed, and as one of the three people running it, I had the privilege of hearing what visitors had to say. 


Tik was a nobody in that world. No one had ever heard of him, and the fans he had at the beginning of that day were the people who already knew him.  At the end of that day, he had an arena full. The common theme was that people had no idea what he was doing as he was doing it, but they could see the results. They didn’t recognize his techniques, but they saw how his horse responded, and that was enough.  


They were mesmerized and became instant fans. From young children to old cowboys, Tik had won them over simply by doing what he had set out to do from the beginning: being aware of himself and the horse and nothing else. That day, he made his horse look quiet and relatively simple.


On day two, Tik showed everyone that his horse was not as simple as he seemed on day one, which ultimately was a very good thing. No one could say that Tik just picked an easy colt. In fact, he had the last pick out of the four competitors.  His horse, Capera Catt, showed off his bucking skills on day two and tossed Tik right out of the tack near the end of their hour and a half together.  But what Tik showed in that moment was how to gracefully manage one’s self when these things inevitably happen.  


He later explained in an interview that he knows horses are usually more scared than he is when he falls off. He sees his first job afterward as showing them that everything is ok, not as reprimanding them. Tik did that by softly approaching Catt, who also approached him, and reassuring his horse with a rub on the forehead. He then got back on, and they stood still together for a while, breathing, and reconnecting, before continuing to build their new relationship.  Again, his booth was bombarded with fans when the competition ended.  Tik greeted every one of them with smiles and genuine warmth, the same way he greeted Catt earlier that afternoon.


Day three was full of nerves and tears for everyone on Tik’s team. I could barely watch the competitors before him as the day was run in reverse order of standing, so Tik was last. I am usually a person who enjoys being still and allowing some quiet in my mind, but I found both of those things almost impossible that morning. 


At one point, Sinead was sitting next to me in the booth, stock still, and I worried that my ungroundedness might be disturbing to her. A moment later, she asked if I wanted to go for a walk, and went off in search of gifts for Tik’s pen team as a way of distracting ourselves. We were on our way back to the booth when the crowd cheered for something in the arena, and Sinead stopped dead in her tracks.  She looked at me, her eyes wide, and said, “Chelsea, I am so scared.” I said, “Me too!  And thank you for telling me. I thought you were totally chill! I am freaking out!”  


This whole time, Tik was sequestered in a room below the arena, unable to see or hear anything from the competition space except for the rise and fall of cheers from the crowd.  For all he knew, everyone was killing it!  He was there for over three and a half hours, ending up as the only person in the room for that last hour…no phones allowed.  We were above him, right at the arena entrance.  I superstitiously sat in seat 11 of our row (Catt’s number in the remuda).


When Tik and Catt met in the arena, he began to explain what he was doing with his horse, along with the philosophies behind his choices, as the competitors were mic’d and expected to talk through their final round. The crowd was again mesmerized. In about twenty minutes, he and Catt got to the point in their work within the round pen that Tik felt they were ready to move into the larger arena and begin “declaring” their mandatory movements – walk, trot, and canter to the left and right, stop, back up, dismount and mount, pick up feet.  He showed a softness and fluidity through all of these things that was unparalleled. 


Man trotting on horse
Photo credit to Haley Boothe-Zajac of Impulsion Media.

Then, he and Catt moved into the obstacle course, the final phase of the competition.  Everything Tik did was so smooth and carefully thought out that by obstacle three, the cowboy sitting next to us turned and said, “He might as well get off now and grab that winner's prize saddle. He could mess up everything else and still win this thing.” 


We thought the cowboy was probably right, but Tik had nothing to compare his performance to, having seen none of his fellow competitor’s rounds. So he kept doing his best to complete every challenge, including picking up a set of rings that scared Catt, who went off bucking down the arena. This time, Tik stayed on, as we all screamed from the stands, “Drop the rings!”  



When their allotted time ran out, he and Catt left the arena to a standing ovation, though Tik had a look of disappointment on his face.  He had no idea what he had just done.  He had no idea that he just set a new standard for not only colt starting competitions but for horsemanship in general, and he had done it on a world stage.


We all held our breath, waiting for the final results, which came mercifully quickly. His family and crew waited by the stage as scores were read and shown on the jumbotron. Tik won by almost 100 points and was named the 2024 World Champion of Colt Starting!  


Man receiving award
Photo credit to Haley Boothe-Zajac of Impulsion Media.

The flood of energy and emotions at that moment was like a tsunami across the stadium.  Every heart in that space was blown open by what they had seen Tik do for three days, and all the love those hearts held for horses washed over Tik and his people, me included. I sat high up on a panel, watching the stage and the crowd, sobbing and laughing, taking it all in. I stayed there for a long time, letting the feeling of that space fill me to overflowing with joy and love and connectedness – I start crying every time I recollect it, and I think I always will.  


When they let Tik’s crew onto the stage for photos, I got to hug him and tell him that I knew he could do it.  I told him how proud I was of him and how grateful I am to be part of his life. I told him I could not believe he stayed on Catt through those bucks, and he responded, “Staying on Luna was way harder!” 



We are all still digesting the experiences of these past days in Kentucky, as I imagine hundreds of people out there are also doing.  As I am processing the event, I remember from my own life when I started thinking about working with horses differently and seeing new concepts in action.  


I could not unsee them or un-know the possibilities these new understandings opened up. Neither will anyone who witnessed what Tik did at Road to the Horse. They might not jump in headlong to educate themselves like I did, but a pebble has been dropped in their ponds. The ripples are spreading, and who knows what they will shift and disrupt.  


When I feel impatient at the pace of positive change in the horse world, I try to breathe into my heart and feel it expand against the contraction of my frustration.  I try to remember that everything I do is impactful, though I may never see the outcome of that impact. That is not the important part. From being a part of Tik’s team to my own work with horses and people every day, I am also dropping pebbles into ponds, and I trust that I am playing my part in the change I want to see in this world.


Team cheering
Photo credit to Haley Boothe-Zajac of Impulsion Media.


4 opmerkingen


What a lovely heartwarming article. I have been trying to stream the competition but have so far not been able to. I can’t wait to see it.


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Wow that made me cry ! I felt every bit of your expression for this event ,

Thank you for speaking from your heart ❤️ as someone who dose this too , you made a very profound heartfelt scene , a real welcome change to read since social media has portrayed so many disappointing ones of late .

Thank you for restoring my faith in some humans since we are all learning forever with our horses .

Always greatful and happy to read things written from the heart ❤️🐎♥️

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Very beautiful tribute! It makes me wish I was there to experience it! I love seeing and feeling it through your words.

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Thank you so much for sharing your perspective of this event. The emotions come through very powerfully in your words. I could actually 'feel' your special experience and take it as a beautiful gift. You've enriched my day through your sharing. Blessings.

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