The annual Road to the Horse, the veritable world championship for colt starting, has a new champion in Canadian Tik Maynard, a CCI4* eventer and short-listed rider for the Canadian 3-Day Event Team.

The Vancouver-born Maynard, who currently operates his elite eventing barn Copperline Equestrian near Ocala, Florida, swapped out his field boots for cowboy boots. “[The Road to the Horse] is really set up to celebrate Western culture and the cowboy and the Quarter Horse. So it’s a big honour to be invited to be a part of that,” Maynard said in an interview on the website Eventing Nation prior to the competition.

According to Maynard, he got a lot of help from real cowboys before the big event took place last week. “In the past five month I’ve learned more about horses than in the past five years.” The cowboys who prepped him for Road to the Horse included Glenn Stewart  from BC.

The Road to the Horse was created by Steven and Tootie Bland, who believed that by creating a partnership built on trust you can change a horse’s life and a horse can change your life. To make that a reality, the main goal of the event is to find the top colt starter, who is judged on his or her effectiveness of horsemanship methodology to communicate, educate and build a partnership with their colt based on trust. The highest scoring trainer is crowned world champion.

Four people holding up a poster.

Three generations of RTTH fans with Tik Maynard. (Road to the Horse Facebook photo)

The event takes place at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington and is invitation only, so exclusive that only three or four trainers are selected each year. The competition begins with each trainer selecting an unbacked three-year old Quarter Horse from a storied American ranch; this year it was Wyoming’s Pitchfork Ranch. Then over the three days the trainers must gentle and train the horses to accept a saddle and bridle and be ridden. On the final day competitors attempt an obstacle course and a freestyle element which may see them standing on the back of the horse, crawling between legs or anything to demonstrate the young horse’s calmness and willingness to accept the trainer.

After Maynard won the 2024 Road to the Horse, Eventing Nation’s Samantha Clark  asked him how it felt. “It feels unbelievable. It feels like there’s been a lot of highs and lows for the past three days here and then a few weeks in the few months leading up to it,” he says. “I’ve never felt anything like that getting ready for the competition.”

He went on to explain that he had a plan for working the youngster in the round pen before entering the big and loud arena for both the rail work and the obstacles. “The biggest thing [over] the last few days was to try to be present and go at the speed of the horse. And I think probably for the most part, I was able to do that at the end,” he told Clark. Maynard took home a hefty winner’s cheque for $75,000 for his efforts.

According to Maynard, his horse did buck a couple of times during the competition, but he was able to remain in the tack. Even though he won, Maynard’s first thought was about the horse. “I didn’t quite get to leave him exactly how I wanted to leave him, but I think hopefully I built up enough trust in that trust bank account that I still left him a good place,” he says. “I think it’s a really, really special horse and I always think when I start a horse that I hope I did a good enough job for them. Starting is such an important part of their life– if not the most important part.”

He was still working out the details about possibly buying the horse he started, as often happens at this event. He told Eventing Nation that before a decision was made to bring the horse back to Ocala, he had to speak to the consignor, Pitchfork Ranch, as well as his wife, Sinead.

As for how his newfound cowboy fame will intersect with his eventing competitions, Maynard was philosophical. “I think the more different disciplines and different ways of doing things and different cultures are able to watch what the other one is doing and try to take a look at something from a place of curiosity and not a place of judgment [the better],” he tells the media outlet. “I think everybody has a place to grow. And I think it’s the same with sport horses: if you look at the sport of eventing, it’s evolved a lot. It’s continuing to evolve and I think Western sports are doing the same thing. And I think the more we can talk to each other and support each other and bounce ideas off of each other, the better.”

Maynard is perhaps is own toughest critic, but that speak volumes to who he is as a horseman. “There’s never a single thing I’ve done in my life, in the life of the horse, that I thought was a 10 out of 10. I’m always trying to make those things smoother, with better timing, with better feel.” It looks like at this year’s Road to the Horse, however, Maynard got pretty darn close to a 10 after all.