Quite without meaning to, I have created a completely new life for myself.
It all started with the whimsical purchase of a ravishingly beautiful red mare. This led to a snaking chain of new friendships which brought me to the door of HorseBack UK. I fell in love with it as I fell in love with my horse. After a while, I realised that I could not just visit once in a while, but that I had to contribute. I thought of various ways of volunteering and decided that the only thing I really had to offer were words. It turned out, thankfully for me, that words were exactly what they required.
At first, it was a once or twice a week thing. I could do grant proposals, explanatory literature, any writing they needed. There was talk of a weekly blog, which may yet happen. Then, again on a complete whim, I offered to take on another project for them, which now takes me there pretty much five days a week.
I could not be more glad if someone had brought me a lottery cheque. As I’ve said before, working with a charity is the most winning of win-win situations. It’s not just that you feel you are doing some tiny thing which actually matters in the world, which has nothing to do with the burnishing of your own ego; it’s also vast amounts of fun. From my point of view, it is a fine corrective for my vanity. None of the work I do for them is under my own name. It’s not about anyone saying: good gracious, that was a perfectly turned sentence. It’s all about subsuming oneself into something bigger and much more important. This, I think, is a bloody good tonic as one charges into middle age.
The remarkable thing about HorseBack is that it is like a family. Once people have been there on the courses, they are part of the family, and often they will return as volunteers. There is one veteran of this sort there at the moment. He has suffered such crashing PTSD that until he came to HorseBack he was unable to leave his house for six years. He told me yesterday, quite matter of fact, that he sometimes goes for ninety hours without a single wink of sleep. (Rat-tat-tat go the steel-capped boots of The Perspective Police.)
But it’s not just the servicemen and women and the veterans who are the family. Once you start working for the organisation, you are a relation too. I know the people and the horses now; I start to see all their idiosyncrasies and trace their stories. I realised this morning how fully accepted I am, because they have got to the stage of teasing me. I come in and out, with my camera and my notebook, with my hair all anyhow and, as today, my ratty old cardigan covered in hay and horse hair from doing morning stables, and I don’t care, because that’s what you can do with your family. No one bats an eyelid.
Suddenly, I don’t just have a book to write and a dog to walk. I have this entire new wide prairie of possibility. As the spring rolls on, the real work is hotting up at HorseBack. I will be snapping and scribbling at full stretch.
I tell you all this because it means two things for the blog. It means it is going to move more and more into being a very personal record. I used to try and talk about world events a bit, or politics; I would generate theories and try out ideas. This has been happening less and less, and I realise now will probably not happen at all. The thing is going to shrink, to the size of my day.
Someone on Twitter recently asked me how it was that I could be a self-professed politics geek and not have a word to say about Mrs Thatcher’s death. Quite apart from the fact that every woman and her dog were weighing in on the subject and I had nothing original to add, I replied honestly that there was no time. I still sneak off to catch up on the Rachel Maddow show and start each day with the Today Programme, but I have no space to form proper opinions on the events of moment. There are many other places you can go for those good thoughts and knotty arguments.
The second thing is that it will be shorter. Many of you will throw your hats in the air at the thought of that.
When I started this enterprise, I wanted huge numbers and worldly success. I was convinced I could go viral and everyone would buy my books. Now it has become a tiny, intense personal pleasure. I no longer look at my numbers. I don’t care about them. It’s just me and Red and the herd and Stanley the Dog and the hill and the shining shaft of sunlight that is HorseBack UK. And you, the Dear Readers.
Gus the Foal, flaked out:
This is Winnie. I’ve only recently got to know her. I am besotted:
Mikey, another of my favourites, who is a famous escape artist, as you can see:
Cody, ambling in from the field:
This the gentleman I was telling you about. Not only does he have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, but before he came to HorseBack he was terrified of horses. Now he gets a great sloppy kiss from Apollo:
At home, signs of spring:
And lovely girls:
Stanley the Dog on his favourite perch:
And the dear old hill: