Today, I gave everything I had to HorseBack, and I have hardly anything left for you. I’m very sorry about that.
It was a fabulous day, on about eighteen different levels, and I stretched every sinew. It sometimes strikes me as curious that this voluntary job is the hardest writing I ever do. I have to pay tribute to extraordinary human beings, without falling into whimsy, or sentimentality, or hyperbole. I have to remember always the power of the simple declarative sentence. I have to try to translate experiences which are on the very edge of my imagination. Imagination is my business; that muscle is pretty strong. Yet, often, the stories I hear leave me behind, panting like an unfit pony.
The words I write for HorseBack are for many audiences – a general interested public, people who might raise funds or donate money or offer grants, professional organisations like Combat Stress or BLESMA who may send participants on the courses, stalwart supporters like Help for Heroes, new partners like the Venture Trust or Retraining of Racehorses. I write to raise awareness about the coils of Post-Traumatic Stress, and the long road to recovery from life-changing injury. But most of all, I write those words for the men and women who have served, who face challenges I shall never know, who have sacrificed much, who have to find a new road to walk.
They do not like to be thought of as heroes. I have learnt that lesson well. They want to be seen, I think, as the complex, complete, sometimes contradictory human beings that they are. They don’t want to be herded into a neat box with a label slapped on them. It’s really easy to pin a medal on someone’s chest and then forget about them. Then what? is always the question. It is a question that HorseBack tries to answer.
Inventing a fictional character out of whole cloth is a piece of piss compared to trying to capture all that. I have the language of Shakespeare and Milton at my disposal, and still I fall short.
But, like those men and women, I go on trying. Respect is due, and the only coin I have is prose.
I got all poshed up with the kind Stepfather’s proper camera instead of my own ancient, battered article, and of course it was far too much kit for me, and I found out too late that I had the focus wrong most of the time. For some reason, this feels like a lesson in life and makes me laugh quite a lot. I do regret that I did not capture better pictures, because the two days have been so majestic, but I must be philosophical. These snaps will give you some idea:
I’m intensely fond of the horses I see at HorseBack, and always enjoy spending time with them. But there was a moment tonight when I came back to my own mare, to settle her for the evening, put out her hay, give her an extra special feed and rug her up against the coming snow, when I realised that nothing else would do. She is my people. She knows me so well and I know her so well and our hearts are stitched together by time and daily routine.
I’d been a little on show, meeting fascinating new people and trying to show them my best, most glittering self. I’d attempted, as Britons always do in company, to be funny. I’d wanted to be articulate. Back in the muddy old field, none of that mattered.
The mare does not care whether I am witty or whether I have hay in my hair (some had to removed, this morning, to much merriment). She brings out my best self without my having to do a thing. With her, I just am. Which is why I call her my little Zen mistress, and why I stand under a tree, stroking her dear face and saying out loud ‘I love you’, even though she does not speak English and does not know what those words mean. When we are together, we are all love. That is the gift she gives, freely, every single moment I am with her. It is beyond price.