If you had walked through the HorseBack gates this week, you would have seen men on horses, slouching in their Western saddles like something out of The Magnificent Seven, laughing their heads off. You would have heard the sound of banter and unrepeatable jokes. You would have seen serious drills and hilarious horsing games.
That looks like fun, you might have thought.
One of the veterans said: ‘That was fun.’ He was smiling all over his face, outdoing the Scottish sun for sheer dazzle.
He looked down at his horse. ‘He’s so brilliant,’ he said, stroking that good equine neck. ‘It’s a great partnership. It’s a great feeling. It’s like nothing else in the world.’
And again that smile shone out, as vivid as a lighthouse beam on a clear night.
The fun is not skin-deep. The fun is important. It’s come about through a lot of hard work, so that the novice riders can get to this stage, but all the same, it is fun. The fun matters.
Later, it turns out that this veteran had been close to the roadside bombs of Afghan, and had been kidnapped in the Yemen and kept in solitary confinement. Everybody knows what that means. Nobody has to spell it out. That is the enduring light and dark of HorseBack. That is the journey: the road from there to here.
Some of these veterans have lost their laugh, when they come to us. They have lost their very selves. They can’t banter; they can hardly look you in the eye. Some put on a good front, and hide their scars deep inside. All of them have the scars. And yet, by this stage on a course, the sound of laughter is the sound you hear, as you walk up that drive, deep in the Scottish hills. There is a renewed sense of self, a renewed sense of mission, a renewed sense of purpose. Fears have been faced; challenges risen to. The heads are up. There is, in its best and purest and most meaningful sense, fun.