The HorseBack Youth Initiative is one of the programmes we are most proud of. It started off as a bit of a pipe dream, a lone pilot programme inspired by and developed with Mr Colin Nicholl of Banchory Academy. It has developed into an integral part of HorseBack and now steams on under its own momentum. It is, as always at HorseBack, a real team effort, and watching all the different members of the team play their part in making it work is a galvanising experience.

The young people, who come from schools in our local community, face a variety of challenges in their lives, but the common denominator is that they are not thriving in school. Their teachers bring them to HorseBack and, over a fifteen week course, we teach them leadership, teamwork, bushcraft skills, and horsemanship. As with our veterans, we treat them all the same and expect the highest standards from them and they rise to those expectations.

It is hard work, both mentally and physically – we have photographs of them grooming horses in a blizzard. What we notice most is that as they face their own doubts and fears, meet goals they might not have thought they could reach, master new skills, bond with their horses, they visibly grow in confidence. Children who hardly spoke when they first arrived stand up straight and look you in the eye. The rowdier ones become attentive and motivated. They start to believe in themselves. They start to enjoy themselves. They find that, with a little application and determination, they can achieve great things. The sound of laughter echoes round the blue hills. It gives us a satisfaction we can hardly express.

One of the best things about this course is that often some of our volunteer veterans come to help. This week, none of them could make it, but instead we had two graduates of our own Youth Academy. Scott and Becky shone so brightly after hesitant starts that they now both work at HorseBack, Becky as a permanent member of the team, Scott as a visiting helper. The circle is complete.

We are so proud of this group. They have come so far and worked so hard. It was a very, very happy Friday morning in the Dee valley today.

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