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End Of The Year Roundup

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The pandemic year of 2020-2021 was tough on HorseBack. Our courses are residential, so even when lockdown eased for a moment, we could not simply start up again. For many months, the farm, which is usually bustling with veterans and volunteers and young people from the local community, was empty and silent.
The horses, who deal with everything, were blissfully unaware, up on their Scottish hill. They had no idea that the world was in a turmoil of uncertainty. They only knew that they were getting a nice long holiday.

For the human members of the team, it was a bit more complicated.
We all missed each other, for a start. We started having Zoom meetings, but it wasn’t the same. We are big huggers, at HorseBack, and we felt bereft without the warmth of human contact. We were also desperately worried about how the charity would keep going. And, on top of that, our purpose in life was taken away from us. We get up in the morning because we have people to help. With the coronavirus, we could not do that, and it was a tough beat.

This is the moment when you have a choice. You can slide into despond and disillusion, or you can step forward into the difficulty and meet it head on.
We decided to take the latter route.
We got imaginative. Our co-founder, Emma Hutchison, disappeared into her office and went through every single charitable foundation to find new grants. (The paperwork for this kind of thing is Byzantine and often terrifying. Emma faced it all with her usual aplomb.) She also spent a lot of time thinking about ways that HorseBack could expand and thrive. We might have been stopped in our tracks for the minute, but Emma wanted us to come back stronger and more ambitious than before.

Because of her hard work, what could have been a disastrous year turned into a year of triumph. We are about to embark on a Prince’s Trust operation, where we will work with young people between the ages of sixteen and twenty-five, offering them skills and qualifications and the possibility of a new start in life. And she also set up a partnership with Tedworth Equestrian in the south, so we could expand our HorseBack ethos and methods to parts of the military we would not otherwise reach.
Meanwhile, Jock Hutchison, our other co-founder, disappeared into his office and put his thinking hat on. (He loves a hat.) He was struck by the extraordinary work the NHS were doing, as Covid ravaged the country. He thought that the health workers on the front line would be undergoing some of the same stresses and traumas that we see in our veterans. He wanted to devise a programme for them, using all our HorseBack knowledge and experience, that they could use online.

This is the kind of project that often stays as a dream in someone’s head. It sounds wonderful, but the logistics are fiendish. All of us were perfectly prepared for it to fail. All it takes is for some part of the bureaucracy to say no, for some impossible hurdle to be reached, and the entire thing falls.
But Jock put his head down and forged on, and we now have an NHS programme which has been through its pilot stage and had feedback that we could hardly believe. It was a long road, but it was worth every step. All of us at HorseBack are in awe of the NHS. All of us have had to use it at one time or another. (Anyone who works with horses will know the wonders of A&E.) We are more glad than we can say that we can give something back to that marvellous organisation.

By the time the summer came, lockdown eased and we were back, up and running. We’d made some practical changes and got some new kit so that our course participants could easily operate within all the Covid protocols. And we had another new venture: offering HorseBack to the families of veterans. If veterans suffer with life-changing injury, or Post-Traumatic Stress, or mental health troubles, it does not stop with them. The wives and husbands and children feel it too. So these courses were for all ages, and were based on the simple concept of fun. We wanted everyone to have a good time. All the HorseBack animals were roped in, from the chickens to the sheep to the dogs, and the kids had a whale of a time. It was one of the most rewarding things we have ever done.
The veterans came back too, for their regular courses, and the students from local schools, and we did a new course with children sent to us by Aberdeenshire Council, including young ones with learning difficulties. The volunteers returned, and the mentors. Life revived.

There was another kind of new life, as Sid the Foal was born, the latest HorseBack homebred. We welcomed another new member of the herd too. John and Emma Berry, who train in Newmarket, generously donated one of their racehorses who had come to the end of his competitive days. He is the most splendid gentleman, called Delatite, known here as Del, and he’s already sparkling and shining as he undergoes his HorseBack education. Normally, we give new horses plenty of time to settle in, but Del was so kind and intelligent and friendly, and he learnt everything so quickly, that he has already taken part in a couple of courses as a demonstration horse, welcoming our veterans and showing them the ropes.

And, just as we were finding our feet again, a most wonderful thing happened. Her Royal Highness, the Duchess of Cornwall, consented to become our patron. The Duchess has been a horsewoman all her life, and when she came to see us at HorseBack we could tell that she understood instantly what our horses do for the people they help. She was an encouraging and intelligent and engaged presence, and she brought smiles to the faces of all who were lucky enough to meet her. That she should give us her ongoing support as patron was something we could hardly dream of, but she said yes, and now we have a whole new chapter to look forward to.

It’s funny – when we sat down to write this end of the year report, we thought that it would be a story of many challenges. Those empty, locked-down days were hard on the whole team, and we’ve had to stick together and support each other. We don’t underplay what this pandemic has done to the country as a whole and to people in our local community. But as we write, we realise that it was a year of great gifts, and great hope, and great achievements. The list of good things that have happened far outweighs the bad. The world threw us a googly, but we somehow managed to play it with a straight bat.

HorseBack means everything to us. The people we help become part of our family. There was a tricky moment when we wondered whether the ship would keep on sailing. But thanks to all the support we have been given, thanks to our dogged refusal to give up, thanks to a little bit of luck along the way, HMS HorseBack will motor into another year, with a fair wind at her back.

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We do not rely on government funding so any donations will greatly assist with the running of our charity.

We do not rely on government funding so any donations will greatly assist with the running of our charity.