Wednesday, 5 February 2014

A fighting spirit.

Some of you will know that I volunteer at a charity called HorseBack UK. It does the rather wonderful and novel thing of using horses to help wounded servicemen and women and veterans back on the path to recovery, and inspires them to a meaningful future. It is particularly effective for those with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Through it, I have met remarkable humans, and heard stories of such terror and courage that they make me humble.

What I had to offer HorseBack was writing. It turned out they needed words. I write everything from grant applications to leaflets, and run their Facebook page. Quite often, when I say there is No Blog Today, it is because after I have done my own work and done the HorseBack work, I have no words left. Some days, it is quite easy, and I put up something antic and light. Some days there is something concrete to report and what must be said is obvious. On other days, I must wrangle and wrestle the words to the ground, and by the time it gets to tea, I have had it. It always astonishes me how physically draining writing is. I tell myself I am not heaving concrete blocks, or working down a mine. But there: the addled old brain apparently uses up idiot amounts of energy.

Today, I am all emptied out.  It is one of those times when there would usually be no blog, but I’m going to reproduce here what I wrote for them, so that you can see why I’m done for the day.

As well as the remarkable humans I have met at HorseBack, there are remarkable horses too. It’s quite a thing to work with complete novices, and these are not old riding school ponies, but proper Quarter Horses, some of them out of the Western competition circuit. A lot is asked of them, and they give it willingly and with open hearts. This summer, a dear little filly foal was born, and I have been watching her grow. She was bred to do this hard and important work, and she had all the fine qualities that would be needed, in spades. Last week, she fell ill. Today, I had to tell the HorseBack readers. This is what I wrote:


Last year, we lost a brave and well-beloved member of the HorseBack family. Paul Burns served in Northern Ireland, where he survived a bomb. Despite having no legs, he sailed boats, jumped out of aeroplanes, rode horses, and threw himself into fund-raising challenges which would have defeated lesser men, even those with all their limbs. He lived life with humour and courage and grace, and everyone who met him went away feeling a little better about the world. His sudden death came as a shocking blow. Only days before, he had been part of the HorseBack team which went with the inspiring pupils of Banchory Academy as they cycled and canoed and hiked across Scotland. Paul, on his specially designed bike, led, as always, from the front.

We wanted to do something to mark his memory. In the blinding heat of August, our mare, Awesome, gave birth to a filly foal. We named her Awesome Spirit, after Paul, whose own spirit shone so brightly.

From the start, the filly was special. She was bold and beautiful, curious and questing, funny and fleet. We watched her grow with pride, and thought with hope of the important job she would do in the future.

Last week, she went lame. The vets came and went and came again. They were baffled. Her hind leg swelled to terrifying proportions, and an infection was at last diagnosed. Pus was drained, the most powerful antibiotics administered. But whatever was ailing her would not go away. Two nights ago, we thought we had lost her. The pain and the mystery infection had mastered her; the light went out of her eyes. Animals have a way of shutting down, when their bodies fail. It seemed that our little Spirit was for the dark.

But it turns out that she was better named than we knew. She has the same battling heart that we loved in Paul Burns. Miraculously, she rallied. She was not going down without a fight. She damn well was not going gently into that good night.

As she will not give up on us, so we will not give up on her. This morning, she and Awesome were driven away on the long road to Glasgow. She will be operated on at the University Equine Hospital, under the care of one of the most innovative and talented surgeons in the business, Patrick Pollock. She could not be in better hands.

We have no prognosis. We cannot tell you her chances. If courage alone could win the day, then she would be in the clear. As it is, we can only wait for news.

At HorseBack, we have seen a lot of humans who have defied the odds. We have veterans here who have been shot, crashed, bashed, blown up and bloodied in ways that the frail body should not survive. But there they are, walking and talking, still in the world. We believe in long shots, because we witness them every day. We hope that our bonny filly will come in at 100-1. We hope her fighting heart will see her through.

Hold her in your own generous hearts today.


And this was the picture I posted to go with it:

5 Feb H1

As I write this, I hear that the sweet girl has arrived in Glasgow. They will be operating as we speak. She is too young to have to fight such a fight, and I hope more than anything that she wins it.

Oh, and here is a small PS. I loved the comment yesterday from the Dear Reader all the way away in California who really does worry that I am dead in a ditch. (Are you related to my mother, by any chance?) And I was rather touched by those of you who said you are disappointed when there is No Blog Today. Quite frankly, I would not blame you if you were secretly relieved, I do ramble on so. Kindness of strangers, as always.


  1. Dear Tania,
    Thank you always for the inspirational writing. My heart is with the little filly. I am all the way over in Santa Barbara, California and look forward to your words each day.
    Thank you so much for all that you do to make this a more positive world.

  2. Everything is crossed here for her.

  3. If I were the type to pray, I should have offered up one for little Awesome Spirit this morning when I first read this. Instead, I shared your Horseback UK post on my FB page, to help a bit to get her story further out there in the ether/universe. Isn't the Glasgow college where "James Herriot" trained? It has an excellent rep. If anything can be done it will be done there, for sure.

  4. Hooves crossed for the wee one.

  5. This Is beautiful. Remarkable people and remarkable horses. Everything crossed for this beautiful little lady x

  6. Well, if it helps at all - I'm here in Central CA so we've about covered the state and wishing the little one well. These beautiful creatures are so fragile in many ways, yet this one is putting up the good fight! Hope all our prayers are answered and Paul would be extremely proud of all of you!


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