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27th February 2014

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Into the HorseBack UK timeline, like a present or a winning lottery ticket, comes the following message, from Helen Bolland:

‘I just wanted to share some good news with you. Glasgow University have offered me a place to study law next year...!! When I turned up on your doorstep two years ago I wouldn't have dreamt of even applying, let alone it being possible. So thank you; it all started with you, Ellie-May, Pinky and some others who accepted me unconditionally and set me on the road to getting better and accepting myself.’

We could write an essay about what this kind of message means to everyone here at HorseBack. Quite frankly, we could write sonnets about it, if we were proficient in the sonnet form. (Perhaps luckily, we are not.)

It is the best of all possible news, and it puts a vast smile on everyone’s face. It is this kind of thing which makes it all worth it.

And just look at the gleaming photograph that Helen sent to go with it. Perhaps the most lovely thing is that Ellie is, for once, not doing her donkey ears, but is so pleased with herself that she actually has her photograph face on. Joy all round.

Well done, Helen. We take off all our hats to you. And you know that those are some serious hats.See more

— with Helen Bolland.

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26th February 2014

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on Wednesday, 26 February 2014
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This is a very exciting time of year at HorseBack UK. At last, we glimpse the final furlong of the stormy winter season, and start thinking about the spring to come.

Our courses are filling up fast, and we hope that this year we shall hav...e more participants than ever before. We shall continue to put up the eligibility criteria at regular intervals. We shall also post precise dates in the coming days. The courses run from April to October, although as our spanking new indoor school shall soon be finished, we hope to be able to run some more over the autumn and winter. This will be confirmed as soon as we have definite plans.

The criteria are:
a. Are you a serviceman or woman with a physical or operational stress injury, referred through a Personnel Recovery Officer?
b. Are you a veteran with a physical or operational stress injury sustained through active service, who may be referred through the NHS, Combat Stress, or any other recognised military association?

The courses run over five days, and are residential. They vary, according to the needs of each discrete group, but all involve learning basic handling and groundwork with the horses, followed by riding in the school and then out into the hills. No previous experience is necessary. We have everyone from complete novices who have never so much as set eyes on an equine, to those who have served in the Household Cavalry. The horses are all specially schooled so that they are kind and gentle with the rawest of beginners.

The afternoons are spent in a variety of activities, from falconry to fishing to bushcraft. The emphasis is on building confidence and capability, and restoring a sense of agency, especially for those who may have undergone long medical and physical rehabilitation. We also place an emphasis on transferable skills.

If you, or anyone you know, think that you fit these criteria and might be helped by HorseBack, please contact co-founder Emma Hutchison directly at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .
I
n the picture below, you can see HorseBack’s own Jay Hare, who is on secondment from the Royal Marines, working with Rodney. This is the kind of thing that course participants will learn on the first and second days, before the riding starts.

Do feel free to share this post far and wide, should the inclination take you.

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Quiz Night at The Boat Inn

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on Tuesday, 25 February 2014
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For those of you in the Aberdeenshire area, the newly-refurbished and very chic Boat Inn at Aboyne is holding a quiz night on Friday to raise money for HorseBack UK.

Arrival time is 7.15pm, for a kick-off at 7.30pm. Teams may include up to six people. Stovies will be served at half-time, and if that does not get you in, nothing will. There will be a prize for the winning team, as yet of an undisclosed nature.

There will also be a raffle, and any donations for that would be much appreciated.

These evenings are always great fun, so do come along, and, as always, please tell your friends. HorseBack is very grateful to the brilliant team at The Boat for organising the whole thing, and we look forward to seeing you there.

Particular thanks to Margaret Birnie, who is a long-time supporter of HorseBack and who plays a key role in the success of these events.

If you need any more information or have any questions, please contact Emma Hutchison at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . (The FB Operative has no logistical powers and usually cannot answer questions and then feels mildly foolish, so it's always best not to leave your queries here, if you can bear it.)

Sadly, we don’t have a picture of The Boat, with its glorious views over the Dee. So here is Nimitz instead, playing hide and seek this morning.See more

— with Margaret Birnie

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Equal Adventure Visit Horseback

Posted by Tania
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on Tuesday, 25 February 2014
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One of the things we talk a lot about at HorseBack UK is seeing the ability, not the disability. We look at the man or woman, not the injury. The veterans and servicemen and women who come here help us with this, as they are prone to whippi...ng off their prosthetic limbs at a moment’s notice or making sometimes startling jokes about the whole thing.

This is not to belittle the physical challenges, or the extraordinary number of operations that some of them have to go through. There is also the living with pain, to a greater or lesser degree. None of this is easy. But there is a clear-eyed view of the practicality of the situation: here it is, this is how life has changed, this is the new reality. The attitude is: let’s kick on. Even if we don't have that many legs to kick on with.

HorseBack’s Baz Barrett can here be seen discussing prostheses with one of the team from Equal Adventure.

Snippet of the conversation overheard by your dedicated Facebook Operative: ‘Well, I suppose you could angle the stump differently.’

It’s not necessarily a sentence one might hear every day. But it feels rather appropriate. At HorseBack, we do angle the stump differently, literally and metaphorically.

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25th February 2014

Posted by Tania
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on Tuesday, 25 February 2014
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Although we can sniff spring in the air, and are itching for the courses to begin, there is still a stream of exciting visitors to HorseBack UK to keep us occupied.

After yesterday’s tremendous visit, today we welcomed a team from the mos...t excellent Equal Adventure. This organisation runs a huge range of sporting and adventure activities for those with disabilities. The team has come to talk to us about equipment and coaching. There is rather thrilling prospect of designing a special Western saddle for those of our participants who are amputees. It is not even at the drawing board stage yet, merely a scribble in a notebook and a gleam in people’s eyes, but it’s one of those ideas that makes the room sit up and take notice.

The Equal Adventure team have a great discussion with HorseBack co-founder Jock Hutchison, and our own Baz and Jay, and we hope this may be the beginning of a fruitful partnership.

You can see that quite apart from all the galvanising talk, there was also some top headgear on show.

If you are interested in finding out more, the Equal Adventure website is here: http://www.equaladventure.org/See more

— with Helen Burgess.

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Mr Letwin Views New Arena

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on Monday, 24 February 2014
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Rather a lot of pictures today, because there has been much news to tell. It was a great pleasure to welcome our visitors, and we thank them for taking the time to come and see the work we do at HorseBack UK.

Here you can see Mr Letwin standing in front of the new school, still under construction, which was paid for by the Armed Forces Covenant Libor fund. Rodney, as you may notice, is putting on his most sweet and charming face for the occasion. (Five gold stars for that horse.)

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Brook Foot-Perfect

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on Monday, 24 February 2014
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Brook, our retired racehorse, continues in his new role as demonstration horse. He was again foot-perfect on this very important day. He is now becoming such an old hand that he even knows where the photographer is, and takes a moment to pose for his close-up.

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Baz, A Shining Role Model for HorseBack

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on Monday, 24 February 2014
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Here, HorseBack’s Baz Barrett talks to Mitchell Harris. Baz is a shining role model at HorseBack, because he not only does not let a thing like a few missing parts hold him back, but he actually makes jokes about it. (Those of you who serve..., or live with those who have served, will know all about this idiosyncratic humour.)

Baz said a wonderful thing this morning. He said: ‘The biggest satisfaction for me is seeing someone achieve their aim, and knowing that I have helped them with that. This place has given me the confidence to get on in life. I just want to help other people reach their goals, and here I can do that.

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24th February 2014

Posted by Tania
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on Monday, 24 February 2014
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Rodney was magnificent today. As the regular readers will know, he is a horse of strong opinions and great character, and a tremendous favourite on the courses. He did some lovely groundwork with our own Jay Hare.

It was interesting to see... the look of slight surprise in our visitors, not only that a horse could be so soft and responsive, but that in only three days we can get men and women in the saddle who face serious physical and mental challenges, many of whom will have never clapped eyes on an equine before. It is this method of training which makes that possible, as well as the kindness and willingness of the horses themselves, and it leads to a huge sense of confidence and achievement in our participants.See more

— with Jason Hare.

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Government Minister Visits HorseBack

Posted by Tania
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on Monday, 24 February 2014
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It was a very good morning at HorseBack UK. Minister for Government Policy, Oliver Letwin, came to visit, accompanied by his Private Secretary, Mitchell Harris.

It is always incredibly helpful for an organisation like ours to have governm...ent recognition. It is not just in terms of grants, although that is absolutely crucial. It was a generous government grant which paid for the new indoor school. But perhaps more importantly, it is a question of awareness. If the charity is known through various different Whitehall departments, this helps establish the HorseBack model and makes our future plans more possible. This is particularly the case since no British organisation has used the combination of horses and veterans before, so ours is a truly novel venture.

HorseBack’s Royal Marines, Jay Hare and Baz Barrett, both told their stories for our visitors. Both were severely wounded in Afghanistan, and both found at HorseBack a new sense of mission. Their testimony is particularly revealing, because they can trace a journey all the way from the battlefield to these blue hills, and explain the highs and lows along the way.

HorseBack co-founder Jock Hutchison gave a presentation, and Rodney and Brook did their demonstrations, so that the visitors could see the methods of horsemanship which are used with our course participants.

The visit went wonderfully well. The minister was interested and engaged, and asked many pertinent questions. The rain held off. The horses behaved beautifully. And the humans were not too shabby, either.

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Blair Castle Horse Trials Select HorseBack UK as Chosen Charity

Posted by Tania
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on Friday, 21 February 2014
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It is a very exciting day for HorseBack UK. Blair Castle International Horse Trials have officially announced that we are their chosen charity for 2014. Blair is a legendary event; the mere mention of the name will bring a light into every...horse-lover’s eye.

It’s particularly interesting for us as it is involves a rather different equine aspect to the kind of horsing we do here. You don’t see too many Quarter Horses at international horse trials. One of the things we really enjoy, as we build relationships with people who work in different disciplines in the horse world, is seeing how much there is in common. The traditional view can tend towards division: the eventer has nothing to do with the racehorse, who has nothing to do with the Western horse. In our view, the differences are superficial ones, of technique mostly. All horses, whatever work they do, need the same fundamentals from their humans: confidence, patience, consistency and kindness. That is what the course participants here learn, and it is part of what makes the time they spend with us so effective.

We are incredibly grateful to the good people at Blair for supporting us in this work. It’s a real boost for a charity like ours, and we are absolutely delighted.

It’s a long way from the muddy fields of February to the high days of August, when the gleaming equine competitors will strut their stuff in the Scottish sun. (At least, we hope there may be sun.) But we are already looking forward to the day when the HorseBack team shall journey over the hills to Perthshire.

If you would like to find out more about Blair, there is a link to their Facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/blairhorsetrialsSee more

 
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Struan Raises Money for HorseBack

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on Friday, 21 February 2014
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So many people do such wonderful things for HorseBack, raising funds in the most imaginative and sometimes gruelling ways. We never have time or space to thank you all, but the gratitude is profound.

Today, we did particularly want to men...tion one young gentleman, who set up a fund-raising operation of his very own, and who arrived yesterday to present us with his very generous donation.

Thank you, Struan, for your great effort and tremendous initiative. We take off all our hats to you.

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Brian Prepares for Battlefield Bike Ride

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on Thursday, 20 February 2014
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Since we are speaking of good causes, friend of HorseBack Brian Payne is back in training for another epic bicycle ride. He is preparing for the Battlefield Bike Ride to raise money for our supporters and partners, Help for Heroes. It is a ...mighty challenge and a very, very great thing.

Brian was in the King’s Troop, and served in Northern Ireland, Germany and Canada. He suffered grave physical injury and also fought his own long battle with Post-Traumatic Stress.

He is riding the 320 miles for an amazing seventh time. What drives him on? He puts it best in his own words: ‘Soldiers of my generation did not get much help when injured in mind or body, and I am determined to do my bit to correct that for the youngsters. In the last five years, I have met and ridden alongside some wonderfully positive people, who have come through very bleak circumstances. If a man with no legs and only one arm cycles past you, your own problems seem pretty small. But they received help and will always need help to go on, from charities like Help for Heroes.’

We wish him, and everyone else taking part in this tremendous endeavour, the very best of British luck. If you would like to support him, his fundraising page is here: http://www.bmycharity.com/BWP2014

We would love it if you would spread the word and share this post far and wide.

You can see him on the right of this photograph, when he came to visit HorseBack UK last year.See more

— with Brian Payne.

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20th February 2014

Posted by Tania
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on Thursday, 20 February 2014
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We often get very kind offers of help on this page. Our voluntary system is structured in such a way that it revolves mostly around our veterans. It is really important for the people who have been on the courses to know that they have a sa...fe place to which they may return and find the satisfaction of hard work. Many of them cannot yet go into regular employment for medical reasons, and so it is here that they find the rhythms and rewards of a job.

Taking on volunteers on an individual basis is logistically complicated, so we have decided to institute official volunteer weeks. This is where anyone can come and put their shoulder to the HorseBack wheel. It will be tough work, and we cannot promise you glamour. But we can offer you the feeling of accomplishment that comes from helping a good cause. The first volunteer week starts on the 7th of April, and we will give you more details nearer the time. We just hope the mud will be gone by then.

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19th February 2014

Posted by Tania
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on Wednesday, 19 February 2014
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It is always a keen pleasure when visitors arrive at HorseBack from another charity. Even if it is one which works in quite a different area, we find it incredibly interesting and useful to compare notes and explore areas of common experien...ce.

This week, we have had a visitor from Retraining of Racehorses. This charity comes at the equine aspect from the opposite angle to us: they help horses, whilst we use horses to help people. But there are great parallels.

Our visitor was particularly interested in imaginative ways that thoroughbreds can be used after their racing career is over, beyond the usual dressage or eventing or polo. He started thinking about putting them to therapeutic use. Then he heard of HorseBack, and wanted to come and see the model in action.

As we have said before, the research on this is thin on the ground. Horses are increasingly used in various therapeutic ways, but data is rarely recorded in any systematic fashion. We ourselves are still in early days of calibrating the astonishing results we see with our veterans and servicemen and women, and the evidence we have is subjective and anecdotal. But we do see great transformations, and the horses are at the heart of it.

Most horses, not unlike humans, are happiest when they have work to do. The HorseBack model is focused on the recovery of men and women who have undergone physical or mental wounds in service to their country. But a lovely by-product is that it gives the horses themselves a serious purpose. It is this aspect which interests ROR.

It was great pleasure to welcome our visitor. He was very thoughtful and enthusiastic about what he saw, and we hope he will come back to see us again

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17th February 2014

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on Monday, 17 February 2014
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Awesome is back with her herd, and is definitely pleased to be home. She is not quite herself. There is something missing, a perceptible lack, as if something has shut down, just a little. But she has been through a difficult time in the la...st days, and she will return to her usual sunny spirits as the time moves on. She is a very kind and optimistic sort of mare, and she will revive. She has HorseBack’s Anna Andersson giving her all possible love and care.

Many, many thanks to all of you who asked about her

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14th February 2014

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on Friday, 14 February 2014
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Your overwhelming kindness in the last days has touched the hearts of everyone at HorseBack. Such generosity is very moving, and bolsters us greatly. Thank you.

It has been a sad week, but we march on. KBO, as Churchill is supposed to have... said in the dark days of the Second World War. (We so hope that story is true.)

We will, in the days to come, put together an album of some of the best pictures of Awesome Spirit, so that she may have a good memorial here. And we shall let you know how poor Awesome goes on. In our experience, horses do go through what humans would call grief. But she is a good, strong, brave mare, and she will come out into the light.

In the meantime, here is one of our favourite photographs of our dear departed filly

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13th February 2014

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on Thursday, 13 February 2014
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Photo: Terri Hunt, one of our original BLESMA course participants and old friend of HorseBack, sent us this beautiful photograph of Spirit and her mum, Awesome.Awesome will be hit hard. She is a tender and most affectionate dam, touching to watch. She will be getting a lot of extra love and care in the weeks to come.

Terri Hunt, one of our original BLESMA course participants and old friend of HorseBack, sent us this beautiful photograph of Spirit and her mum, Awesome.

Awesome will be hit hard. She is a tender and most affectionate dam, touching to watch. She will be getting a lot of extra love and care in the weeks to come. — with Terri Hunt.

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Heartbreak for HorseBack

Posted by Tania
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on Thursday, 13 February 2014
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Today, we have only the saddest news. Our little Spirit has gone. For all her fighting heart, she could not beat off the brutal infection, and in the end, it mastered her.

Our own hearts are broken.

Nobody understands why these things hap...pen. As anyone who keeps and loves animals knows, fate can sometimes be random and brutal. Awesome Spirit was so bonny, so bright, always a picture of health. She was such a vital and vivid filly, so present in the world, that it seems almost impossible to believe that she is no longer in it.

It is an especially cruel blow because of the great man in whose memory she was named. Paul Burns was one of the most remarkable people who ever walked through the HorseBack gates, and every time we looked at Spirit, we thought of him. It was a lovely thing to have a living reminder of his own mighty battling heart. And now there is just a space left behind, where these two beloveds should be.

A shadow has fallen over us, but we shall rally. If the men and women who come here have taught us anything, it is the value of dauntlessness, doggedness, a refusal to give in. They show, over and over, the shining virtue of grace under pressure, which was Hemingway’s definition of courage. There is work to do. The HorseBack ship shall sail on.

But today is a day of sorrow. We say goodbye to a beautiful, fleet, dancing girl, who was taken too soon.

Farewell, Awesome Spirit. You brought us joy, and we loved you well.

Run free now.

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Spirit Update

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on Wednesday, 12 February 2014
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We’ve been getting more updates on Awesome Spirit, and thank you so much to all of you who have asked. The news is mixed. The infection is not cellulitis, as was first thought, but a bacterial invasion of the hock. She has undergone another...procedure, poor little mite, and is having the strongest antibiotics drilled straight into the bone. The hope is that if the medication can get to the source, it may have some effect. The worry is that these levels of drugs can affect the internal organs. She still has a long and hard fight on her hooves. The small ray of light is that she continues to be bright, which is amazing under the circumstances, and is still eating.

We are very worried for her, and hate to think of her in this perilous state. All we can do is wait and hope

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