One of the stories we are always trying to tell is what precisely HorseBack does. We’ll usually say something like ‘we help veterans with life-changing injuries find a road to recovery.’ We might add that we offer a place where these veterans will feel encouraged and heard and understood. We talk about their sense of isolation and how we help them find a sense of belonging again. Many of them will tell us that they feel like aliens in the civilian world. (One of them once said, only half-joking, ‘Civilians are weird!’)
But expressing exactly how this all works is quite difficult. We’ve watched the changes happen over many years. We’ve seen people arrive at our door with no hope and leave with renewed hope. We’ve heard veterans say that HorseBack has literally saved their life. A huge majority of the people who come here have thought about suicide; after they have been with us, those thoughts seem to leave them.
Perhaps it is hard to pinpoint exactly how these monumental changes are brought about because it is a subtle combination of factors. It is finding themselves in a place where people speak their language, so they don’t have to explain themselves. (This is why veterans helping veterans is at the foundation of everything we do.) It is the connection they find with the horses. It is the beauty and space they find in the Scottish landscape. It is rediscovering a sense of purpose, as we set them challenges and get them to remember all those skills they thought they had lost. It is the sense of camaraderie, as they meet the other veterans on the courses and learn to build a team once more.
It is all of that, and perhaps a little alchemy too, that last ingredient we can’t quite put our finger on.
Here’s one veteran, describing his HorseBack journey:
‘When I arrived I was confused, under-confident and angry with life. I never thought I would work with horses, but I found the programme exhilarating. It brought me out of my shell. To be back with like-minded people in such a family atmosphere has given me hope for the future. I have loved working with the horses and I never expected to feel the bond and emotional release when I was with them. I know I will always be part of the HorseBack family and I thank them for changing my life.’
Here is another:
‘Having lost family and friends, I now feel as if I belong. It has totally changed my outlook on life and given me a drive to get my life moving forward. Working with the horses has been a massive emotional rollercoaster, making me address issues about myself. This is one of the best experiences of my life and I thank HorseBack for their help and support.’
And one more:
‘I was extremely nervous at first, but within a day I felt part of a team once again. In the first week, I realised my love for the horses and the effect that the stillness and calmness had on me. It made a huge difference. I was so enthused that when I went home I got involved with a local horsemanship trainer, got my own horse, and now my whole family are riding. HorseBack has led me on my own incredible journey, to a place I would never find again. I have found a passion for the horses which I never expected and I know that it will be part of my life forever.’
That is what HorseBack does. And these testimonials are why we do it.