A new sign has been donated to local charity HorseBackUK made by a pupil fourth year pupil from Banchory Academy.
HorseBackUK, situated between Aboyne and Dinnet, is supported by Help for Heroes and last week, Banchory Academy rector Colin Nicol delivered and erected the sign made by 15-year-old Drew Campbell.
HorseBackUK is gearing up for the start of their season by getting the horses and surrounding a ready for April.
The charity’s aim is to help our heroes help themselves. The centre runs week-long courses for servicemen and ex-servicemen (and women) who have been injured physically and mentally while serving in the armed forces.
They aim to restore confidence, self-respect and a sense of purpose to those who have life-changing injuries as well as teaching new skills and helping them to make the transition into civilian life.
It was set up by Jock and Emma Hutchison four years ago who now have 24 American Quarter horses at the stable.
Jock said: “The transition from the forces back to civilian life is very difficult - many soldiers have been in the forces since leaving school, some have lived that life for twenty or so years. When they’re thrown back into ‘normal’ life suddenly it’s a dramatic change.
“We carefully pick the horses - they’re all Western horses. They’re very calm, can move backwards easily, they’re bred to work and are very different mentally. You don’t need two legs and two arms to ride them.
“On a horse you feel elevated, empowered. It’s based on the relationship between the person riding and the horse. It’s mobility with dignity.”
Jock went on to say that it makes the servicemen feel a sense of leadership and said the change in people within a week is remarkable.
“Some of the amputees endure around 50 operations. They’ve got to be a patient and be patient for years. They can’t then just leap out into the big bad world - we try to give them the time and space they need. It’s run by people who have been through it too - everyone working here has served in the military at some point.
“We’re not medics or councillors. We’re not a solution. We’re a link in a chain and trying to create a pathway.
“We also educate to ensure the next generation can understand amputees and see the person before the injury.”
The servicemen live together for the week at a nearby house.
Tam Anderson first came to HorseBackUK at the end of last year. He left the army in 1992 after the first Gulf War and took 11 years to realise he had Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Tam became severely agrophobic and didn’t leave the house, at all, for six years. He described the last 10 years as a “real struggle”.
Aged only 23 when he left the army after serving for six years, Tam - now 43 - said he, and many others he has spoken to with PTSD say they would rather have limbs missing as so many people look at him and can’t see there’s anything wrong.
Tam, who comes from Ayr, is looking for somewhere in the area to move to so he can volunteer at HorseBackUK more often.
He said: “Being here makes me feel at peace. A peace I’ve not had since before leaving the army. It makes you trust again. The approach and philosophy here is great. Normally, when I’m at home, I’m just existing - I’m not living. Here, though, you have to consider other people and think about things that so many people take for granted.”
The 43-year-old said he previously went for four or five days without sleep, deliberately, because the nightmares he was having were so horrendous that he didn’t want to sleep. Now, however, the fresh air and manual work he’s taking on at HorseBackUK means he’s sleeping again.
Tam said: “I’m still bad in busy, noisy place because I get really bad flashbacks.
“But being here gives a sense of purpose and worth. Six months ago I would never have been able to speak to a reporter, let alone anyone walking down the street. I had been so shut off but I’m amazed at the difference this has made to me”.
Banchory Academy would like to thank Buildbase, Cordiners Sawmill and Timber Stone for donating materials for the sign.