Homeless to Horseback: Timo's Positive Futures Journey
On a crisp cold morning Timo Condie wakes up and heads out into the dark. Despite the bracing temperatures of the pre-dawn he is in good spirits.
The working day is starting on the horse racing yard in the south of England where Timo is a work rider. His job is to muck out the stables and then ride the horses in order to exercise them and ensure they are in top physical condition before they race. Timo has also been training as a jockey and is due to make his racing debut in coming months.
Astoundingly, two years ago Timo had never even patted a horse let alone sat on one.
“I can’t believe this is actually my life. I have to sometimes tell myself ‘this has actually happened,’” Timo says.
It’s been an incredible turnaround for the 21-year-old.
Just a few years ago, Timo also found himself out in the cold and darkness of the early mornings. But back then there were no reasons to be happy. He was lost. Depressed and homeless.
A dream of becoming a soldier in the Black Watch had been shattered through injury and without the direction of the Armed Forces, Timo’s life had become rudderless. His relationship with his family broke down, he began drifting across the UK.
He ended up living rough. Amidst the despair and frustration, substance misuse also became part of the teenager’s life.
Timo’s experience trying to cope after leaving the army highlights the risks that can face early service leavers. He says he still had the military mentality ‘shut up and soldier on’. “It makes you feel there’s a stigma in asking for help, even if you’re desperate.”
He eventually returned to his home town of Inverkeithing but not to his family. Instead he survived on the streets and in the woods.
“I had a sleeping bag and a travelling shelter I’d put up. It was for about nine months and it got pretty bad with taking drugs to try to find the happiness I was missing,” Timo says.
“I was so depressed, anxious and was having suicidal thoughts.”
At rock bottom, Timo came into contact with Venture Trust referral partner Scottish Veterans Residences (SVR) which works with homeless ex-service men and women. With support, security and a roof over his head, Timo began his journey from homelessness to horseback.
He was referred to Venture Trust and engaged with his outreach worker Clare. She explained that he met the criteria for a programme specifically for ex-servicemen and women struggling with civilian life – Positive Futures. The programme has been funded by the Forces in Mind Trust (FiMT) - a £35 million funding scheme run by FiMT using an endowment awarded by the Big Lottery Fund, with UK Government LIBOR funding and the European Social Fund.
Timo was initially hesitant to commit to the programme. However, through regular meetings Clare discussed what the programme could offer. How it could provide him with the means to a better future. It was also during this time Timo encountered a horse for the first time in his life.
An SVR support officer asked if he wanted to spend the day at the Saddle Up Ranch in Angus. The ranch is a charity that uses horses for therapy. Timo remembers it was a Friday and the suggestion did not immediately appeal to the young resident.
“Why would I want to give up my Friday going to look at horses? I’d never wanted to be around a horse before in my life. I thought it’d be a waste really as I didn’t even like horses.”
This was a similar attitude Timo had been showing towards taking part in the second stage of the Positive Futures programme – a wilderness journey in the Scottish Highlands. Participants learn key skills include problem solving, communication, time management, accountability, establishing trust, dealing with challenging situations, and giving and receiving feedback.
But after taking the bit between his teeth, Timo committed to both visiting the ranch and taking on the wilderness journey.
Being around the horses “worked” for Timo. As he spent more time with them his anxiety and stress levels decreased and before long was offered a chance to ride. The lightweight lad was a natural.
When the train pulled in to Dundee station after Timo’s wilderness journey, Clare was there to meet him. It was a different person who alighted onto the platform she remembers. When she asked how it was he replied: "I’m now ready to take on the world. Before I was very much stuck”.
"I thought I was the only one going crazy but it was nice to talk to people going through the same things," Timo says.
Timo says the best part of being supported by Venture Trust was that there was never any pressure and I felt comfortable working towards the journey at my own pace.
“It felt like it was all up to me to make the decision that I was ready for change.”
And there were changes.
“I came back with new ways of thinking and doors were opened in my mind. After having been so depressed and anxious there felt like there was a way out. After the wilderness journey I was more motivated. Before I had ideas but didn't do anything about this, now I am more focused and determined. My relationship with my family also improved.”
The “way out” was horses. With restored confidence, a lot of hard work and support from all of the charities involved, Timo landed a jockey traineeship before getting a job with one of the UK’s leading racing stables.
The frost sits on the grass and the mist hangs in the early dawn. The thunder of hooves reverberates across the fields. On the back of one of the thoroughbreds blowing hot clouds of air sits Timo Condie riding into his future and hopefully a future winner.