Sun Tui, who founded the Dare to Live Trust, which uses horses to help ease wounded veterans back into civilian life, describes a poignant moment on one of the courses.
“A particularly angry soldier joined the programme a couple of years ago. He’d lost contact with his family, he wasn’t in the right mindset to hold down a job and he felt he had nothing to live for.
I took him straight out into the horse’s field and our pretty little Arab caught his eye. She was looking particularly beautiful that day and as she quietly grazed in the sunlight. The soldier stared at her but the Arab kept her head down.
Meanwhile Jigsaw, our elderly riding school pony, was looking at him intently. He began making his way towards us, shuffling along in a mouldy sweet itch blanket, his mane disheveled from rubbing against the fence.
I asked the soldier if he’d noticed any of the horses trying to connect with him. “Well he is,” he said grumpily, pointing at Jigsaw. “But I like that Arab over there.”
It’s not my place to suggest clients connect with a particular horse but I knew from past experience that Jigsaw only paid attention to those who really needed some support.
He was close to us now, ears pricked, gazing into the soldier’s face – so I started to tell him a bit about this scruffy old pony.
Jigsaw was a brilliant riding school pony, ridden by numerous children every day, but as his sweet itch grew itchier and more painful he lost patience and grew bitter. He started to bite and buck children off and push people around. He became dangerous, quite frankly, until we took him in and loved him and he began to show some respect.
When I’d finished, I pulled off Jigsaw’s blanket so the soldier could see his beautiful tri-colour coat underneath. Tears began to roll down the soldier’s face. “His story is a bit like mine,” he said.
I opened the pen and the two of them stood there together in silence. Great big tears were rolling down Jigsaw’s face too and plopping onto the floor. It was one of the most extraordinary things I’ve seen, particularly given horses don’t have tear ducts.
These two grumpy, violent men were inseparable for the rest of the course, which was a blessing for me as Jigsaw is notoriously difficult to catch.
The soldier went home a different person and has since rebuilt his relationship with his family based on trust and respect, which was exactly how he communicated with Jigsaw.”