I’ve been mulling over what to write about for the blog. And while I plan to keep writing posts, not only so we have something else to read about, but also as an all-important means of maintaining a connection, I wanted to address how I, and I’m sure most of us, are feeling right now. Because, like everyone, I am feeling more than a little sad and scared. I actually started writing this post last week, but things have changed so quickly and so often, that I’ve had to redraft it more than once. Not a problem. I love writing. It’s my passion and it’s something that (mostly) comes pretty easily to me. Trying to articulate how we are all feeling just now though has been much harder. And I can only try. It is my hope that it can offer some comfort and support in knowing we are all in this together. That we are not alone. Here goes…
For the last week or so, I’ve had a Harry Potter quote replaying over and over in my mind. Now this isn’t necessarily unusual, given how big a Harry Potter fan I am But if you are unfamiliar with it (then shame on you, educate yourself for goodness sake ), the quote comes from a scene where the Minister for Magic is addressing the wizarding community in the wake of the world’s evilest wizard trying to overthrow society and all that is good within it. The Minister begins by addressing the people thus:
“These are dark times, there is no denying. Our world has perhaps faced no greater threat than it does today”.
‘These are dark times’. It’s stuck in a loop in my mind at the moment. I have no doubt we are all feeling the same way. And I thought by writing about it, we might get a sense that we are not alone in this. Because it is big and it is scary. As humans we are innately hardwired to control our surroundings. It’s how we ensure our survival. And so when so much is out of our control, and the jigsaw pieces of our life no longer fit together, we struggle. We struggle to not go to work, to not see our friends, our family, and for us horsey humans, not to be able to do the sport we love. Because of course for us, one of our biggest fears is whether we will be able to see our horses and keep riding. Even if we can’t compete for months. We can get over that. But as long as we can still see them. And that’s probably hard for a non-horsey person to understand.
They are just a pet after all right? But we know they are so much more. They are our sanity. Our salvation. The bond we have with them speaks to us on a deep, unconscious level. It connects us with our soul. With who we really are. And in a world of chaos, that is a stabilising force. An anchor. Like breathing. And when we are all so scared of being washed away, that anchor tightens and pulls more than ever.
I have seen this anchor at work first hand at my own livery yard and riding club, Aberdeen Riding Club (ARC). Never have I been prouder to be part of a club that does everything in its power to keep providing us with horse time. Within the constantly shifting landscape of government guidelines, it responds and adapts. Always adhering to the guidelines, while at the same time using bucketloads of initiative and hard work to facilitate time with our horses. Sally (the boss lady) and her team understand better than most the value to our mental wellbeing of spending time with horses. It’s the club’s raison d’être. It’s why they work so hard to make riding accessible to everyone. And I mean everyone.
We are sociable creatures by nature too. We need input from others to feel safe. To feel loved. To feel connected. Social distancing and self-isolation are not in our nature. We wouldn’t survive long as a species on our own. It’s hardwired in us to seek out others. To find safety in numbers. And I think that’s one of the biggest fears we have at the moment too. The social isolation that comes from being cut off from not only our horses, but from the friends who come with them. The horsey community, as well all know, is a tight one. We are part of a big extended family, we all know each other one way or another. We spend more time with our ‘barn friends’ (to paraphrase my American friend), than we do most of our other friends. Horses are all consuming. They take up so much of our time that there isn’t much left over for anything or anyone else. It’s why we end up so close with the people we livery with. They are the people we often spend most of our time with. And we all know how time at the yard seems to go at a different speed. That ‘I’ll only be an hour’, actually means you’ll probably be at least 4. Time seems to operate on a different continuum at the yard. How many times have you caught yourself looking at your watch and thinking ‘god how can that be the time?! After you only meant to sit down for 2 minutes, then ended up having a coffee and a chat and a wander (this is especially true for me – as anyone who knows me will know! ) Our ‘yard time’ is an escape from the stresses and strains of daily life. At ARC we call it ‘the bubble’. A protective layer from the outside world. The fact that it’s the only place where I have actually felt normal at all lately is testimony to this. I need not even explain how it feels to be in the saddle.
So while we naturally feel vulnerable with everything that is happening at the moment, we need to remember that we already have everything in place to be the most incredible support system to each other because this is what we do anyway! We celebrate each other’s triumphs and commiserate in our failures. We are well rehearsed in this! We are good at this! And though it may look a little different than we are used to, these support systems do not simply disappear. If anything, this is when they really kick in. So get the House Party app downloaded, make the WhatsApp chat, get FaceTime on the go. At ARC, Sally has invested in video conferencing equipment, as well as filming daily stable management videos that can be accessed anywhere by those stuck at home, so that all the club’s members can still feel connected. I’ve been watching them and they really do help! (not least because I am now becoming aware of all the bad habits I have picked up over the years! ) Beyond this, they also offered help and support to the wider Culter community (not just the ones with horses!) Offering support to the elderly and vulnerable, to be a drop off and collection point for groceries, or offering to phone people just for a chat if needed. Everywhere you look just now, there are so many examples of kindness, big and small, so many acts of humanity in the face of this crisis. In a weird way, despite the physical isolation, we are more emotionally connected to each other than we ever have been. We have a renowned sense of compassion and care for each other.
And this is something we are going to need plenty of. Because as of today, a lot of people are now facing the unprecedented prospect of not being able to see their horses at all as their yards go on complete lockdown. It’s a scenario almost impossible for us to comprehend in its surrealism. As if someone ripped the carpet out from under your feet, the impact so visceral that it feels like a sucker punch to the gut. A screenplay of ‘what if’s’ racing through our minds. Because no one knows our horses better than we do. All their subtle quirks and intricacies. Their many likes and dislikes. I know my boy likes a carrot when he is caught in and then one again when he is turned back out. I know the scratchy spot on his tummy. I know he is a lazy mud monster most of the time and his favourite past time is to stand and eat yummy haylage with his pals. But I also know he is a horse and he will be fine. It will be us who fret and worry. It’s us who are largely the neurotic ones and it’s them who put up with it (it’s what makes them such good therapists!) I know that whether your livery yard is on full lockdown at the moment or working a rota system with all the concurrent protocols, there are going to be incredible staff and amazing friends working together tirelessly to carry on looking after them. And I also know that horses, if nothing else, make us resilient. The sport is tough and we are tough and friendships are fierce because of it. We will get each other through this too. And, when we come out the other side, by god we are going to have one hell of a party. Because we all know us horsey folk are fierce drinkers too!
I’m lucky to have just come back from my allocated slot where I get to see Leo. The yard, normally a centre of hubbub and noise, had an eerie quiet and stillness about it. But, as hard as all this is, we know why we have to do this, and why it is so imperative. We will save lives this way. And we will never take the same things for granted ever again. Not least of all our horses.
As I sign off tonight, I want to leave you with another Harry Potter quote. This time from Albus Dumbledore. And if you don’t know him, then we really can’t be friends
“Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, when one only remembers to turn on the light”.