A few years ago, I lost three friends from diagnosis to death in just a few weeks, each with different conditions. It was a shocking awakening...
One thing that we, as friends, wished we could have done was to take their horses to see them in the hospice. It would have brought some sort of normality into that surreal world and been a chance to simply 'talk horses' as we said our goodbyes.
Over the next few years I became acutely aware of how getting older can bring challenges I simply hadn't thought of. We knew being in a circle of friendship and shared dreams, working hard, living for our horses, enjoying an active lifestyle untouched by disability. It's easy to think it won't happen to you.
I began to hear of more and more of my friends and peers experiencing life changing injuries and illnesses. Sight loss, stroke, head injury, spinal injury, cancer, MS, sepsis, diabetes as well as 'simple' age-related conditions such as Parkinson's, Dementia and frailty. Their lives were devastated, each needed intense treatment and extended rehabilitation. I felt shock at their news, and was left reeling, feeling helpless and a deep sadness. It was hard to know what to say or do.
I also realised how illness is often accompanied by depression. I knew the families of people who had attempted or completed suicide. In earlier years I had worked in Equine Facilitated Coaching and used NLP to support riders and sports coaches. These strands came together as I realised just how much horses can help people beyond being ridden. With this awareness of the wider issues of disability, I also trained as a Mental Health First Aider - a powerful training.
So when I had some time between jobs, I started to train as an RDA coach to understand the practical issues of supporting people with disabilities. I learnt that, for many adults, RDA groups were not able to help as they needed larger horses and special mounting facilities.
Then one day I saw a lifting platform in use and thought “You could put one on the back of a horsebox!” “...Then we could help riders get onto taller horses and escort them to ride in the countryside….. and "…We could take horses to hospices too! …” My mind was racing - It all sounded so simple…… It wasn’t!
Yet now, 4 years later, the first not-for-profit Happiness Horsebox is ready to roll on the road! It is a fully mobile service, based in the Valley of The Racehorse (near Lambourn /Wantage ) The design means that we can take horses to safely visit care homes and hospices without unloading them, and to support those who can ride to mount easily - either in beautiful places for an escorted hack - or at competitions to ride on equal terms again... It is run as a not for profit service, with the asset of the horsebox locked into charity for the future.
It’s already winner of a Sport England Award for Innovation, and has been part funded by charities setup by Sir Peter O’Sullevan, Hannah’s Wilberry Wonder Pony and the CLA. Now it urgently needs people to support it, book it, promote it, even become involved in fundraising to set up and run one in your region….
We never know what the next day holds – but you can ‘pay it forward for a friend’ here , spread the word – or simply register your interest to come and join us as a volunteer, driver or coach!