At HorseBack, we are always looking to try something new. We constantly want to widen our horizons, expand our scope, and generally keep ourselves on our toes. Sometimes, we get lucky and the stars align and a novel opportunity is presented to us.
This happened recently when we met Nick, whom you can see in the photograph. We were discussing a partnership with Riding for the Disabled, one of the most loved and respected of all British charities, when Nick came into our lives.
As you can see, he is in a chair after a life-changing accident. He was a top level rugby player until a catastrophic injury put paid to that dazzling career. It’s very easy in this situation to see only loss, to concentrate on all the things that can no longer be done. There is loss, and hopes and dreams and possibilities that must be mourned. When a person is paralysed, there absolutely are things which cannot be done, and even simple tasks which most people take for granted have to be undertaken with the help of a carer. But at HorseBack, we always concentrate on what people can do rather than what they can’t.
When we met Nick, we at once started thinking about how he could work a horse. We introduced him to Brook, our ex-racehorse, and their first meeting was electric. We could hardly believe how Brookie responded to Nick, with tremendous gentleness, interest and what we can only call empathy. This gave us hope that we could adapt the groundwork to suit Nick’s needs.
And so we did. He made remarkable strides with Brook, and then moved on to Spotty. Spotty is a sweet mare who used to play polo. She has never met anyone in a motorised wheelchair before, and has not been taught to respond to someone working her from the sitting position. We simply applied the exact same principles that we use with all the horses: good, steady leadership, calm confidence, stillness, clarity, kindness and patience. We made a few physical adjustments with the rope, and Nick and Spotty were off. They went round a fairly complicated obstacle course as if they had been working together for months.
What was fascinating about watching Nick work was the intense concentration he brought to the task. He is not only in a chair, but he has never worked horses before. The whole thing was a fairly tough ask. But he drank in the new information we gave him and put it into action. Spotty, who in the authentic way of horses, has no preconceptions about life-changing injury, responded to him with softness and lightness. You could see why Nick had been so brilliant in the rugby field. He is a true competitor. He did not go all mushy about the fact he was working a horse from a chair, but was constantly trying to make each new step better than the one before. If he and Spotty did not precisely hit a mark, he would analyse what he could do better and raise his game.
At that point, we forgot we were watching someone whose body no longer works as it once did. The strength of personality took over. As Nick bonded with that mare, concentrating entirely on the task in hand, all his strengths and talents revealed themselves, shining into the Scottish afternoon.
We now have intensely exciting plans for the future. The idea is that Nick will work out a method of groundwork for wheelchair users that can be put into action at the Riding for the Disabled centres. We hope that HorseBack veterans who have been through our courses will be able to help with this new programme, and complete our virtuous circle of helping veterans by empowering them to help others. We gave Nick some simple tools, but he is the one who has opened our eyes to a whole new possible future, and he is the one who will take the lead in this venture. We salute him.