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Thoughts On Afghanistan


The ongoing situation in Afghanistan has touched a deep nerve here at HorseBack, and we know it has for so many veterans and their families.

We started this whole operation because of the inspiration of a group of young soldiers who had been severely wounded in Afghanistan. The thought was: these men are going to need something after all the medical and clinical intervention. They are going to need hope and purpose again. In those early days, our simple hope was to offer them the solace of the Scottish hills and the ability to get on a horse and feel a sense of freedom and movement again. We called this mobility with dignity. We spent a lot of time rigging up saddles so that veterans who were missing limbs could ride, and it did work. These men might not be able to run up a hill as they once had, but they had a horse who could take them there. Little did we guess, as we plunged forward into this new enterprise, that we would end up working with hundreds of men and women who had broken bodies and broken minds. We didn’t know that we would stop seeing the brokenness, and concentrate only on the person and the heart and the spirit that were still there, underneath the wounds. We had no idea that we would become familiar with every nuance of mental illness and post-traumatic stress.

Although we still do work with people who have physical wounds, our emphasis now is almost all on the mind. We’ve discovered that what makes all the difference is not the thing itself, it’s how you think about the thing. It’s the stories that people tell themselves; it’s knowing that there is a chance to change those stories. We also found the profound power of being heard and being seen and being understood. Because we have veterans on the team, because many of the veterans who come to us return as volunteers and mentors, we know the experience and we speak the language. Nobody who comes here has to explain themselves, or meet blank stares, or try to fit in. They know they are home, the moment they walk through the gates. They know they are accepted, exactly as they are.

Afghanistan started HorseBack, and now those twenty long years are over and the place has gone back to the Taliban. It is not our place to comment on political decisions, but we do know that this twist in the geo-political story has made many people feel that their sacrifice was in vain. It’s not only those who left part of themselves in the dusty valleys of Helmand Province; it goes wider than that. It’s the mothers who lost their sons; the fathers and brothers and aunts and uncles; the friends and grandparents. It’s the kids, who grew up not knowing one of their parents. People can bear almost anything if there is a meaning, a reason, something valiant and true, something more than just a medal in a box and a cursory pat on the back.

The problem with the current situation is that it collapses the long campaign into meaninglessness, and that is going to be hard to bear. It’s also that Afghanistan is now front-page news again, and everyone is arguing about it on the news and shouting about it on Twitter. This is going to trigger some devastating reactions, some haunting memories, some agonising histories. We don’t have an easy solution for this, but we wanted to write down that we know this, we mark this, we honour this. If this is you, we want you to know you are not alone. For those of us in the HorseBack family, we’ve been talking about it. A kindred spirit and a sympathetic soul, even on the end of a telephone line, can act as a release and a balm for tangled emotions. So, if you are suffering, please do try to reach out. These feelings are real and they can’t be ignored. We think of Shakespeare, who once wrote, ‘Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak knits up the o-er wrought heart and bids it break.’ Give sorrow words, and it will, in the end, find its place.

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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.