So much of our work at HorseBack is about connection, in all its forms.
There is the connection with the horses, which you can see in the photograph. Horses are ultimately genuine and authentic; they pay no attention to inessentials. They don’t put labels on people, or judge someone by what clothes they wear or what car they drive. They see straight to the human heart. So, if you can give horses what they need, in the moment – kindness, empathy, honesty – they will give you everything in return.
You and the horse become a partnership; you have each other’s backs. The connection goes deep, way beyond any riding skill or technical accomplishment. It’s a reaching across the species barrier to something pure and true. It enables human beings to find their true self, their best self, and that is where healing begins.
Connection works in other ways too. We see a lot of veterans with severe mental health problems, and one of the classic symptoms of that is isolation. People with Post-Traumatic Stress or any kind of brain injury will often keep themselves away from friends and family, and ordinary social life becomes impossible. At HorseBack, they get to be part of a team again, connecting with other humans who have had the same experiences they have had. The idea of veterans helping veterans is partly a reciprocal thing, but it’s also important to us because they speak the same language. Nobody has to explain themselves. Everybody knows the drill.
And then there is the connection with place, which is not something we necessarily expected when we started our work. We’ve found that the sense of being in nature, connected to these beautiful Scottish hills, has a wonderful impact on all our course participants.
As we saw what connection could do for the veterans who came to HorseBack, with their life-changing injuries, we discovered that it could work for the disengaged young people who come on our Youth Participation Courses. Their sense of isolation is different in kind, but it is just as emotionally real. Some of them find meaningful communication hard, but they soon discover that they can talk to their horses. The horses understand all their stories, in a way that perhaps grown-ups can’t. And with the young people too, we emphasised the power of teamwork; the idea that a group working together can achieve things that the individual cannot. Nobody, at HorseBack, is on their own.