The great story of the week is that of Captain Tom Moore. You will all know the remarkable tale of the gallant captain by now. He fought in Burma during the Second World War. If there was a competition for absolute worst theatre of war, the jungles of Burma would be right up there, challenging for the number one spot. Captain Moore is now ninety-nine. He decided that simply sitting around, waiting for the lockdown to end, was not an option. So he started walking. He walked and walked.
The news spread, not just to all corners of these British isles, but all around the world. The money began pouring in for the NHS charities he was supporting. Reporters dashed to the scene. When one told Captain Moore he was an inspiration, he smiled politely and said just two words. ‘Thank you.’
In Sutherland, Margaret Payne read about Captain Moore and was galvanised into action. She’s ninety years old and she’s had problems with her knees since she was twelve. Nonetheless, she started climbing her stairs. She aimed to climb the equivalent height of Suilven, the iconic peak in the Assynt mountains. She wanted to raise ten thousand pounds. As we write, she’s hit £32,000. She told one newspaper that her husband died at Christmas, and the NHS were so wonderful during that trying time that she wanted to give them something back.
Just think about that – ninety years old, bad knees, and with all the weight of grief that losing a beloved brings. But none of that was going to stop her.
Most of the headline stories in the news at the moment are bad and sad and frightening. Every front page, every newspaper website, carries a sense of doom and despair. But out in the real world, among the ordinary people of this country, there are stories of kindness, dauntlessness, and, above all, community.
In Hebden Bridge, the inhabitants of one street discovered that one of their elderly neighbours was struggling with loneliness. Her only companion, her dog, had died, and she was all alone. So they threw a special social distancing tea party for her. They all came out into their sunny street with their cups of tea (how gloriously British that is) and sat strictly twelve feet apart and gave their neighbour a sense that she was not alone at all. She had her community, and they cared.
A postie in West Bolden has started doing his rounds in fancy dress to cheer people up. In Dumfries, a sewing group is making vital scrubs for NHS workers. A chippy in Withlawburn is delivering free fish and chips to pensioners. A small hotel in Lincoln is providing healthy meals to doctors and nurses in their local hospital.
There are hundreds and thousands of stories like this, if you look for them. All around the country, young and old are doing things to help their communities. They are using their imaginations and every resource at their disposal. They are not doing it for fame or glory; they are doing it because they want to make a difference.
In modern life, it is often the individual that gets the spotlight. The superstars – in sport, in cinema, in music – trend on Twitter and have their names written in banner letters on billboards and see their photographs blazoned on the sides of London buses. But we at HorseBack know that no single person is more important than the team. Everyone who achieves anything in life will have an incredible support group around them. The first thing we do when our veterans arrive is to get them to bond as a group. Jay Hare will invent brilliant team-building exercises to bring them together and teach them to rely on each other. Alone, they may struggle; together, they can do anything.
It’s the same with the horses. We give each participant a horse to work with so that they can form a partnership of mutual trust. And we see this intertwined group ethic with the horses when they are away from work, out on their hill. They might just look like a collection of individual characters, mooching their days away, but they function as a community just as humans do. They look out for each other and protect each other and groom each other. This is their evolutionary biology at work. In the wild, a lone horse is a vulnerable horse. They need each other to survive. We love watching our herd because we can see that care and responsibility and interdependence in action. It embodies the ethos we apply to our work – with our veterans, our young people, our serving men and women. Our superstar is always the team.
That’s why we find ourselves so heartened by all these stories of communities coming together, of people doing remarkable things not for themselves, but for the wider group – for their health service, their key workers, their neighbours. It’s like one great, big, national hug. When the news is bleak and the future seems uncertain, we remind ourselves of this, and we have hope.