In Britain, the coronavirus crisis has moved into the phase of the big numbers. Even though the scientific advisors and the medical experts have been warning about peaks for a while now, this new reality feels both tragic and frightening. On top of that, the lockdown is moving towards the end of its third week, and people up and down the country are mourning other, smaller losses – the loss of freedom, the loss of certainty, the loss of something as ordinary yet meaningful as being able to see your granny on her birthday.
We at HorseBack are very focused on the things we can do at this time. Both our Course Director, Jay Hare, and our Fundraising Manager, Ian Wren, are deeply involved in volunteering schemes in their local communities. Because the work here is suspended, they are not doing this on behalf of HorseBack, but as individuals – yet they are absolutely fulfilling the HorseBack spirit. Community lies at the heart of our ethos.
Because of those big numbers, it can feel difficult to find rays of hope and to maintain a sense of purpose, but that is what we are trying to do. HorseBack has always, from the earliest days, concentrated on the can rather than the can’t. We would welcome veterans with missing limbs, whom some people might say could not ride a horse. And we would invent special additions to our Western saddles so that those men could feel the freedom that getting up on a horse could give them. It’s why we never liked the word disability, because we felt that it was both inaccurate and limiting. We did not see limits; we saw a challenge to our imagination. And we loved a challenge. From those very early days, we always said that we did not look at the injury, we looked at the person.
This is standing us in good stead now. Our belief in what can be done, our passion for teamwork, our sense of community is helping us keep going, one day at a time.
And, as is so often the case, the horses help us and teach us valuable lessons about life. Because the team is now scattered, everyone self-isolating at home, we don’t see the horses any more. But we all talk to Emma and she tells us of them. What strikes her is how serene they are. ‘They still have their regular life,’ she says. ‘They have what is important to them. They have each other. They have their herd.’
Human beings might not strictly be describe as herd animals, as equines are, yet we think that all of us humans need each other just as those horses do. Here in Britain at the moment most of us are separated from each other. There is a physical distance, as everyone stays in their own homes. Yet we still do have each other, and can connect through the miracle of the internet – through every WhatsApp group and FaceTime call and consoling message.
The volunteering groups which have sprung up instantly, all over the country, are inspiring. Nobody in the corridors of power had to tell Britons to do this; they are just doing it. We see reports of people who are working to take food and medical supplies to the most vulnerable in their community who say that this is the first time they’ve spoken to half the people in their street. There is a wonderful paradox in this – the strict separation of the lockdown has actually led to strangers coming together.
These groupings are happening through social media as well, and in various ways across the internet. People are setting up virtual classrooms and places for mutual support and all kinds of imaginative enterprises. Gareth Malone is teaching the world to sing from the studio in his garden. Museums are putting their collections online. There are Zoom parties and dance classes and a hundred brilliant virtual ways to keep fit.
We don’t, for a single second, play down the seriousness of what is happening. We at HorseBack are our community, and every tragedy touches us. But we do look for the green shoots of hope, and we celebrate all the incredible people out there who are giving their time and using their creativity and reaching out their helping hands. They truly are devoted to the can, rather than the can’t. And that gives us hope.