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A different kind of spring.

Posted by Tania Kindersley
Tania Kindersley
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on Wednesday, 26 March 2014
My obsession with spring continues, as the season shifts and a galvanic feeling of possibility seizes me. At the moment, this has moved from the mere fact of daffodils and oystercatchers to the human world.

The charity I volunteer for, HorseBack UK, is dependent on the weather. It runs courses for veterans and servicemen and women who have suffered life-changing injury or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, using horses as part of the recovery process. In the hard Scottish winter, the course work stops, and the herd goes out for its winter break, and the time is used for planning and organising and building new partnerships. There is a lot of activity, but much of it happens inside, in the office.

Now, as spring springs, the main work of the organisation gets back into its stride. The herd has come down from its winter hillside, and the horses are reschooled for the serious months to come. This week, there is a gathering of veterans who have come to learn to assist newcomers on the courses. This is a central part of the HorseBack ethos. Once someone has come on a course, they then become part of the rolling voluntary programme, and return to help their comrades in turn. Many of our veterans may never again have regular employment, due to severe mental and physical challenges. This work restores to them a sense of mission and purpose. It is very powerful and very moving to watch.

The returning veterans.The returning veterans.

The lovely thing for me is seeing the good work go on, and also greeting many familiar faces. It’s been a revelation, over the last eighteen months, meeting people who have seen and experienced extremes that I can hardly imagine. I now make jokes about being blown up by IEDs. (Service humour is famously dark.) I no longer feel embarrassed and distanced by my own feeble civilian existence, and the gap between my soft life and their incredibly hard one. Spending time with veterans is a privilege and an education, and it has widened my horizons in a way I can hardly put into words.

Mikey, doing a join-up with a Para.Mikey, doing a join-up with a Para.

Quite apart from that, it is a simple human pleasure. They are so funny and so stoical and so interesting. They josh and tease and make those jokes which I once found shocking and now take in my stride. At the beginning, my admiration for them made me shy. They had shown courage and fortitude which I would never know. They were a class apart. But now, I am part of the gang. I may never know what hand to hand combat is like, but they graciously allow me to enter the group. I do not have to loiter on the sidelines, fearful of saying the wrong thing.

Rodney, one of the HorseBack stalwarts, with his very own Royal Marine, doing a demonstration in the round pen.Rodney, one of the HorseBack stalwarts, with his very own Royal Marine, doing a demonstration in the round pen.

It’s interesting, working for a charity. I did it out of a rather clichéd, mid-life guilt. I wanted, in the hoary old way, to put something back. If you tell people that is what you do, it does sound awfully pious and worthy. But in fact, I get far more out of it than I can ever put back. You could say it is one of the most selfish things I do. Most of all, and perhaps most unexpectedly, it is tremendous fun. I get to see people who should, by any standards, be broken, coming back to life under the blue gaze of the Scottish hills. I get to watch beautifully trained Quarter Horses at work. I get to feel part of something bigger than myself, which is a profound human need. Mostly, I get to laugh and laugh and laugh.

The law of unintended consequences

Posted by Tania Kindersley
Tania Kindersley
Tania Kindersley has not set their biography yet
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 06 February 2013
About five months ago, I started volunteering for a local charity. I did not just wake up one morning and think: I must now do Good Works. It all happened quite organically.

Three miles up the road from me is a remarkable organisation called HorseBack UK. I have mentioned it here before, but it bears repeating. It does the rather amazing thing of using horses to rehabilitate wounded servicemen and women. It works with people who have everything from double amputation to acute post-traumatic stress. I run out of adjectives when I think of what it is they do there. I want to shout and hang out flags. They are absolutely bloody brilliant.

A veteran working with one of the American Quarter HorsesA veteran working with one of the American Quarter Horses

I met the people who set up the charity, quite by chance. I liked them; I was interested in what they did. I went along to visit. I started thinking that just sending a donation was not enough. I wanted to do something. I know a bit about horses, but they did not really need that sort of help. In the end, I offered them the one thing I can do, which is words.

It turned out, by happy chance, that they really did need words. They have to do grant proposals, produce promotional and informative literature, develop a website, and a myriad of other things that require sentences to go with them. Oh yes, I said, not a problem; of course I can do that.

The law of unintended consequences is something in which I have an enduring interest. This blithe offer had two, for me. One is that it turned into easily the most challenging writing I’ve ever done. It’s one thing writing a book or doing a blog or producing an article, in your own name. That is just about personal success; I’m afraid to say it is almost all ego. It’s quite another to produce words for an organisation which touches the actual lives of actual people.

If I get the words right, they may translate into cash, for a new project or a further programme, which may have a material effect on a person who has been blown up by an improvised explosive device. This is a very serious thing indeed, and I frown and struggle and squint over each sentence; each phrase really matters.

The second consequence is that I have become obsessed. I am in danger of becoming a charity bore. I understand now why there are those people who devote their whole lives to guide dogs or the RSPB or Amnesty International. I am like those old ladies in Agatha Christie, who are always going round the village asking for subscriptions for the church roof fund. I think about HorseBack all the time; everything else seems a tiny bit insubstantial by comparison.

It may also be my time of life. As I motor into middle age, I am falling into the platitude of wondering what it’s all about. Time is rushing past me, and I must decide what mark I wish to leave on the world. I’m not a Nobel Laureate or a stateswoman, so it will only be a tiny scratch. But I’d like it to be a good scratch.

Last year’s plan was to plant a lot of trees. I thought that would do. Someone, years after I had gone, would sit under the shade of a rowan or a beech I had planted, and take their ease. I loved the idea of that. Now I think, there is this other thing, that will mean something.

Charity is an interesting paradox. Giving to one or helping one is seen as an act of generosity or altruism. In my case, I cannot claim goodness or selflessness at all. Quite the opposite. It is they who are giving something to me. I get to feel as if I am doing something that counts a bit, even if it is only in my very small way. I get the glorious gift of feeling that my days are not wasted. And that, it turns out, is worth more than diamonds.


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