Our first proper Live Life course is in full swing this week. Live Life is a fantastic organisation which helps veterans and their families. They are acutely aware, as we are, that for every veteran with life-changing injury there are wives, husbands, children, mums, dads, sisters, brothers, aunts and uncles who are affected. So Live Life looks at the whole package.
We were incredibly excited at the thought of the families arriving, and we planned a huge range of activities that the kids and the parents would love. It has all gone off brilliantly, and we thought that this week’s blog would be a simple telling of many very happy stories. Our absolute watchword for this course was fun. It was a different approach from our veterans’ courses, where we are using the work with horses to help with recovery, to improve mental health, to strengthen resilience.
And there was fun, everywhere you looked. There were smiling faces and the sound of laughter. Yet, in a wonderful HorseBack way, there was something more profound too.
In the photograph, you see a young girl who had never sat on a horse before. She was doubtful about the whole enterprise. ‘I just hope he doesn’t buck me off,’ she said, rather ruefully, looking down at Jura, her Highland partner.
We reassured her that Jura was a very kind, friendly sort of fellow, who had never been seen to buck in his life. ‘He’ll look after you,’ we said. But the fear was there, all the same, because fear lives in the amygdala, the ancient part of the brain, the part that is not rational. (That’s why you can know a thing – this horse does not buck, that aeroplane will statistically be very unlikely to plummet from the sky – but you don’t believe a thing. That’s the amygdala, shouting at you, and it has a very loud voice.)
The young rider did not have to stay in the saddle. She could easily have got off and nobody would have judged her. This is not a therapy course; it’s a week of fun. Everything is optional. Yet she made her decision to keep going, and she ended up completing an obstacle course with poise and grace.
Look at her face in that photograph. She’s faced her own fears, and she’s ridden through them. That is such a HorseBack thing to do. We always end up, one way or another, showing the people who come through our gates that they can do the things they don’t believe they can do. That youthful rider will, we hope, carry this memory with her always: she proved to herself that she had much more courage than she thought. She persevered. She did not give up.
And look at Jura’s face. He’s got a sense of it too. Horses are amazingly sensitive to their humans’ emotions. Jura now knows that this human is someone he can rely on and look to, because she did not shy away from a metaphorical mountain lion. She trusted him, and he’s going to trust her right back. Half an hour before the picture was taken, they were a horse and a person; now, they are a partnership. That’s a change to be proud of. And it makes us smile that even when we are simply providing fun, the odd life lesson sneaks in somewhere. But that’s the nature of horses. They are always teaching their humans something, and that something is usually transformative and enduring.