We have some sad news. Our beloved Archie has gone.
It was very quick and very sudden. Emma put him out in the field on Thursday afternoon and watched him merrily gallop away to join his herd. The next morning, she found him lying peacefully on the grass. We think his brave heart gave out, as the bravest of hearts sometimes will.
He was twenty-four.
Archie was Emma’s own horse. He was a founder member of the HorseBack herd but years before HorseBack was even dreamt of, he trotted rather unexpectedly into Emma’s life.
He was bred from a thoroughbred stallion by a friend of Emma’s. When Archie was three, running around on the family farm, Emma’s friend decided he needed a proper job. Would Emma like to have him?
Here, Emma takes up the story:
‘Randomly, I said yes. Archie was in Peterborough and I was in Aberdeenshire. So I borrowed a trailer and my sister-in-law and I travelled down. I had a weekend to work with this almost untouched horse and prepare him for the long trip ahead.
The trip was not the best, with a tyre blowout on the A1, but the young Archie took it all in his stride. This really cemented the relationship, as he put his complete trust in me. We called him Archie because we listened to boxsets of The Archers for the whole of the journey.
He was the first horse, along with Nimits, to be used when we started the charity, and he seemed to thrive on it. He was always affectionate, but he was highly spirited, and I’d never have envisaged that we’d be able to put complete beginners on him, both adults and children. Yet he did everything we asked of him. He was started in traditional English riding, but he adapted to the more relaxed Western way that we use for the courses, and he loved it.’
All of us who knew and loved and worked with Archie adored him. He was an absolute lynchpin on the courses, whether doing groundwork with the children or riding out with the veterans. (He did have to be in front on the big rides out. Although he was very steady and gentle with his humans on the courses, his competitive streak never left him, and he could not stand to see another horse up ahead on the trail. He was the king, and he was the one who should lead the string, and that was an end of it.)
He was, in a way, the wise old owl of the herd. Often, during the courses, the other horses would grab the limelight. Apollo would be farting and making everyone laugh, Deano would suddenly decide that he was going to show off his extra big trot like a charger going into battle, Red would spot a butterfly, Blue would have a little argument with any of the horses daring to encroach on his turf. But always there, quietly in the background, still and steady and true, would be Archie, watching the shenanigans, almost shaking his horsey old head at the nonsense.
He was one of the reliables, the ones that you could always count on. A member of the extended HorseBack family sent us a message this morning. She wrote, ‘Oh, no, not big old Archie. He was a rock. He gave everything.’
The funny thing is that he was quite small in stature, not much taller than a pony. Yet big Archie is a perfect description, because he was huge in character and in spirit. He had a matter-of-factness about him, as he got on with his work without operatics. He did not create a fuss about anything, yet you noticed when he was not there. He wore his qualities lightly – his kindness, his willingness, his trustworthiness. He was a very handsome horse, but he even carried his lovely looks in an unassuming manner – there was nothing remotely flashy about him. He did not say, ‘Look at me’. He said, ‘Yes, I’m here.’
Twenty-four is quite old for a horse. Archie had a long and fine life. He found meaning in his work, and when his day was done he found peace up on his hill, with his herd, in the quiet of our sweeping Scottish valley with its view over the blue mountains to the south.
He had a human in Emma who knew his every quirk, his every spark of brilliance, his every comical thought.
‘He was my special boy,’ she writes, ‘and I can’t quite believe he is gone.’
He was special to so many people. The whole HorseBack team is broken-hearted. Even though Archie was in his twenties, he was so young in spirt and so well in himself and so dug into our daily existence that we secretly believed he would go on forever. And he didn’t just touch us. Because of his work, because he’d been at HorseBack for so many years, he reached a vast array of human beings. He put smiles on faces that had not smiled in a long time. He helped veterans and schoolchildren and serving men and women. He literally changed lives.
The great horses, the heart horses, leave an indelible imprint on the people who love them. They leave memories of happy days and funny days and unexpectedly glorious days. They leave a sense of gratitude behind them, for all the joy they gave. And they leave that mysterious sense of connection too, the gift of all those precious moments when it feels as if human and horse have become one.
Archie was one of the great ones. We salute him and we thank him, for everything. We will miss him. We hope that he is flying free.