Friday, May. 24, 2024

Chapter 9: One Day With Ian Millar

In the summer of 2008 Tik Maynard came up with a grand plan. He decided to spend a year working for some of the greatest horsemen he could find in different disciplines and writing about his experiences. So far, he has worked for Johann Hinnemann, Ingrid Klimke and David and Karen O'Connor. Although he spent the summer of 2009 at home in Vancouver, B.C., Canada, he's still working on expanding his equestrian education. 



In the summer of 2008 Tik Maynard came up with a grand plan. He decided to spend a year working for some of the greatest horsemen he could find in different disciplines and writing about his experiences. So far, he has worked for Johann Hinnemann, Ingrid Klimke and David and Karen O’Connor. Although he spent the summer of 2009 at home in Vancouver, B.C., Canada, he’s still working on expanding his equestrian education. 

Anybody can sit on a horse. A good rider sits in the horse. A great rider becomes, in terms of balance, communication and harmony, inside their horse.

They anticipate not only which shadow their horse will shy at, but in which direction. And they do it without conscious thought. They become a brain that is nestled just behind the withers, moving in concord with their mount just as driftwood moves up and down with rolling waves.

The calf, the heels, the hands are capable of great strength if needed, as they sometimes are, but in the end they become simply aids, transferring signals from the rider to the horse the same way the brain fires messages along the neural cables to the muscles. They never force, they simply direct.

It is a great thing to see this.

I watched Ian Millar compete at Spruce Meadows in June at the ‘National.’ I waited for three days for a chance to talk to him, to give him my résumé. The only place I knew I would find him was in the competition ring, and each time he came out of a class a dance would begin: he would hand his horse to his groom—with a smile and a pat, regardless of how he did in the class—then turn and talk with the reporters, sponsors, fans. He would lead them around the ringside sponsors tent, before ending in the parking lot where he would get on his motorcycle. The roar of the engine would finally silence them. A wave, and he would be gone.

Somehow I had to find a way to cut in and present my résumé.

Two days before I was due to leave, I sneaked up and thrust my résumé in front of him just as he was starting his bike. “Here,” I said. “I was wondering, if, maybe, you might have an opening for a working student.”

“Tik Maynard” he read, and glanced down the page. “You worked for Ingrid Klimke? Great. I have so much respect for her family.”

“I did.” Ingrid was one of the people who said how much I could learn from Ian. She had herself spent a while as a working student for him. She would fly to Ontario in the summers and travel down the East Coast with him, learning what it was to compete on the grand prix circuit. Sometimes grooming, or riding, sometimes walking courses with him.

“And I would love to work at a show jumping stable, too,” I added, looking him in the eye.

“Well, I can’t say one way or another. My daughter is in charge of hiring. I’ll pass this along to her.”

He folded my résumé four times, unevenly, and put it in his breeches pocket.

The next day I went to the show with one mission: find his daughter Amy and re-present my résumé.

Millar-Brooke Farm is based in Ontario, although the horses are on the road much of the year, and combines the riding talents of Ian and both his children, Jonathan and Amy. They have 650 acres of land just outside Perth, including rings, stables, woods, fields, trails and homes. A job, in Canada finally, with Ian Millar would be a great way to finish my stint as a working student.

Amy was very busy the first time I found her, and can’t talk now, the second. The third time she sat down with me for a few minutes. After a quick interview, during which I explained my experience and showed her brother a video of my riding (“looks fine”), I was dismissed. They would call me in the next month or so.

One month later, to the day, she called me. Her tone was young and jovial; but it was also a voice that is used to giving orders, to taking charge. She had no idea that I would listen to her message three times before handing the receiver to my dad. I still have it saved on my phone, although I don’t listen to it anymore. If I do hear part of it, when skipping to another message, or if I press the wrong button, all I feel now is an empty ache.

Back At Spruce Meadows

Four months later, in September, I was back at Spruce Meadows. At the Masters.

The plan was to groom for Ian Wednesday through Sunday, then board a flight for Ontario to stay at Millar-Brooke Farm for six months. I packed one suitcase with winter clothes, sweaters, jackets, long underwear, and another with riding clothes and casual wear. I shined my boots and spurs. I cleaned my helmet. I ordered new riding pants. I bought more boot polish. I had been determined to get the job, and I knew I would have to be vigilant to keep it.


Ian had two horses with him. They flew out from Ontario for the week. I was enveloped into his fold before my eyes even adjusted to the light in the barn. Christy, a quiet Kiwi who was educated as a teacher but had worked with horses her whole life, took me through the feeding schedule. We started with supplements. “This is for the blood cells…this is to help the blood flow…this is Vitamin E…”

I wonder if the horses are given these supplements out of necessity or appearance; did the Millars choose the feed sponsors or did the sponsors choose him? There was bag after bag of supplements. I remembered the first three. By the time Christy measured out the last dose, my palms were sweaty. I thought back to some advice I had been given before I left.

Jonathan Field lives almost two hours from me, but it is always worth the drive. Jonathan has the sense of a scientist and the soul of a saint. He told me to listen to Ian, for Ian was a Master: a true Horseman.

“Ian’s horses always go truly forward, and they are truly soft.” Moreover Ian Millar also has the ingredients that determine what it means to be successful in the horse business: horsemanship, proven performance, business savvy and a flair for marketing. Jonathan reminded me, “There are lots of great horseman out there, but if can’t market yourself, you will always be a poor horseman.”

But what is the one quality I look for now in a trainer? It is excitement about what they do, how they do it, and the enthusiasm to share it. The O’Connors’ mission is to show the world how they relate natural horsemanship to eventing. Jonathan Field’s goal is to improve communication between horse and person.  

When Ian mounted for his second class that day, I followed him to the warm-up arena. He didn’t really need assistance, but I wanted to help set jumps. I wanted to see how he prepared—how long he walked for, how he stretched the horse, what kind of jumps he did. I wanted to see his pre-game rituals.

He dismounted after the class and handed me his horse. I walked until the sweat was dry. I took the corks out. Only then did Ian call me over.

He stood off in a corner with Christy at his side. I checked the horse’s blanket. Was it not straight? Should his boots be off already? What had I done wrong?

“What’s this I hear about you writing articles for a magazine.”


“I wrote some articles for a magazine back home. The Gaitpost. It’s based out of B.C.”

“I know it. We get it actually.”

“So I wrote about my experiences as a working student.”

Well, it wasn’t exactly a secret. I didn’t think anybody would care. I was always careful about what I wrote, trying to err on the side of caution. Affairs and scandals are not my business; they may, as my favorite story teller wrote, “be perfectly acceptable as confirmed gossip, but in print the protagonists might be inclined to consider the histories libellous, and they surely are.”

Nevertheless I enjoy writing. When someone tells me they know what it’s like to work in Germany, or they were a working student in Florida, I can relate right away.

“I wish you had told me before that you were writing. How many articles have you written?”

“Nine. They published eight of them.”

“Nine. Can you believe that?” He looked at Christy, as if Steinbeck himself had suddenly appeared in front of him.

She didn’t say anything, but she turned slightly away from me. No help there.

Ian turned back to me. “You know, I like you Tik.”


I nodded.

“I just don’t know if I can do it. It would be like inviting the paparazzi into your bedroom.”

“Well if you hire me I won’t write anything.” I looked him in the eye. And I meant it. “Maybe I could, you know, sign something?”

Ian turned to Christy again, “What would you do?” Then he smiled and laughed before she could answer. “You would fire him wouldn’t you.”

He turned back to me, his composure and smile solid again.

“I’ll tell you what. I’ll think about it.”

Back at the barn there was still tack to clean, horses to feed, stalls to muck. But the stable seemed suddenly dark, and smaller, more cramped. I offered to graze the horses. I caught the first one in silence, he put his head down quietly and let me slip the leather halter over his ears. Outside I thought about something else I had learned from Jonathan. Once a horse learns something, whether productive or destructive, that memory is there forever. But horses are always learning, they are always curious. A good horseman cannot say “There, I’ve done it. I taught him, and now I can rest.” No. A horseman is always creating, building, learning and teaching.

I heard an engine stop. Then silence, broken only by a horses kick against the stall. The comradeship I shared with Christy only a few hours before was already gone. Finally Ian walked into the barn. He wore jeans and a white cowboy hat now.

He put his hand on my shoulder. I looked up at him.

“I just can’t do it,” he said.

“Do what?” I almost felt sorry for him.

“I just can’t take the chance with you. I’m sorry.”

I had to go past him to get my backpack in the tack room. He stepped out of my way and apologized. I took a breath, I fumbled the groom’s pass off from around my neck and held it out to him.

“Why don’t you keep it,” he said.

Starting Over

Back in Vancouver I hang the pass on the mirror in my parents’ guestroom. My old room. My new room again. The sun cuts a dagger through my curtains, it hits the pass like a spotlight. I see my photo staring back at me. One day I worked for Ian Millar.  

Ian Millar is a great rider. A great Horseman. He has the uncommon combination of drive and focus, patience and guts. Even as he completes his ninth Olympics and grey hairs sprout out from underneath his helmet, he still is a rare competitor. Everyone knows that. But if he doesn’t want to share what he knows, what can I do?

I am sending out résumés again. I check the ads on There is a rider position available in Maryland. A groom is wanted in England. An instructor is needed in Riyadh. I click on the link to their website. It’s in Saudi Arabia. I don’t know if I will apply. My motivation is down. But if I do find a new job I will be sure to mention that I might write about it. I imagine that person saying to me, “Great. I am still learning, and I am still teaching. Tell the world! I want them to know.”




Follow us on


Copyright © 2024 The Chronicle of the Horse