Today was a HorseBack UK day. There is a project I am doing for them which I really want to get finished, and I went up for an afternoon meeting. (I found their newest Quarter Horse being scoped and having his teeth done, which was fascinating, because I always love to see a good vet at work.) I had spent the morning working on the long piece. I wrangled and strangled unresponsive sentences; started and stopped; typed and deleted. I find this kind of writing really hard, perhaps that hardest I have ever done. Writing a novel is demanding, but there are days when you can slot the imagination into a good groove, and off the fingers go. You are only really painting pictures with words, and if the words are poor ones, and the picture dull and muddy, the single thing at risk is your own amour propre.
Doing this for someone else, particularly an organisation that does something important, is peculiarly difficult, and stretches every sinew. There is something real at stake, not just my own paltry pride.
It’s also hard because it’s quite difficult to describe the thing. What is it they do? people sometimes ask. Well, I hum and haw, they take servicemen and women who have been blown to bits and put them with horses and something transformative occurs. (It’s much more complex and thought-out than that: the courses cleverly designed, the rehabilitation ethos constantly honed and worked. But when I am looking for a single descriptive sentence, that’s about as good as I can get.)
And how does that work, exactly? the people say.
How does that work exactly? I’ve seen it and talked about it and asked endless questions about it and scribbled wildly in my notebook, and I’m still not sure that I can tell you. I keep thinking of that line in the film Seabiscuit, when the voice-over was describing what happened to working men in the Depression, and the effect that Roosevelt’s great recovery plan had on them. It went something like: men who were broken only months before suddenly had a reason to go on.
Not everyone who goes to HorseBack is broken, exactly, but they are bashed about, in mind and body, in ways it is hard for a civilian to imagine. They have seen things which no one should have to see. And some alchemy occurs, with the horses, with the people who work there, with the very place itself, that brings them back. I try not to get too flowery about this; the emotive adjective is my besetting sin. But I would say that there is something there that gives people back their sense of self. There is something there that brings them peace.
For me, there is interest (the best conversations, the most fascinating insights into a world of which I knew nothing), there are good jokes, there is a sense of people doing something authentic and worthwhile. There is always some new plan, something going on. I get the crazy gift of feeling part of something which is true and good.
After all this, I get to the end of the day quite worn out, and type the blog with creaking and crabbed old fingers, and a brain scattered with the never-finished Christmas to do list. (Must go to the post office, shouts the trying-to-be-organised voice.) I attempt to read this over, to see if it makes sense, to check whether my precious semi-colons are in the right place, and the words dance in front of me on the screen, as imponderable as if they were in Sanskrit. Soon, I shall have to risk pressing the publish button and hope that there is something there. I shall have some chicken soup and take my iron tonic and go to bed early and tomorrow I shall start all over again.
Some quick pictures before my faculties pack up altogether:
Stanley the Dog: