All I want for Christmas: gifts every RDA coach wants this year

I don't want a lot for Christmas...
By the time this blog goes live, it will be December, and even the most staunch of Scrooges will be forced to accept that Christmas is coming (threatening undertone not intended). I was trying my hardest to tell my boyfriend what I wanted, save the horse I have put at the top of my list every year since I was three years old, when I found my mind wandering to some more fanciful "gifts" that I would request to make RDA coach life a brighter, warmer, more efficient place. More fanciful than my horse wish? Maybe. But I'll post them all off to Santa just in case.

Do you deliver to the North Pole, please?

1. A decent head torch
Saturday day times are my domain at the stables, so if I find myself turning out in the dark in even the darkest depths of winter, it's a good reminder that I have been faffing on the yard for too long and should go home. Many others, however, including a good portion of my Team Abingdon comrades, inhabit week day evening slots, so for six months of the year find themselves rugging up and turning out after dark. It never fails to surprise me how dark the dark is at the stables, and observing this always gets a grumble about how "Saturdays don't know what we have to deal with" or a snigger that "India is such a city slicker, she doesn't know what the dark looks like". Both fairly justified, I admit. As such, I think a good head torch would be an ideal gift for an RDA coach who brings light to many lives with their sessions, but hasn't yet found a way to channel it into literal kilowatts.

2. A top-quality volunteer selection box
RDA volunteers are a bit like chocolate bars in Christmas selection boxes: they are highly varied, and I would always welcome another one. I have a core team of volunteers who help me in my sessions and around the yard who are complete stars, but they are all human beings with busy lives, and can't necessarily spend every weekend with me and my riders. The maths is simple here: more fabulous volunteers = more fabulous opportunities for my riders and my group at large. If there is always another volunteer in the box (NB: I do not actually keep my volunteers in boxes) then there is no need for concern about holidays and families being started, awards schemes being finished, or winter bugs being passed around. I firmly believe that there is no such thing as too many good volunteers, only too little time (see the item below for how this could be solved) to organise and motivate them. Volunteers are far more the lifeblood of RDA than coaches are, so they need to be an essential on our Christmas lists, and indeed lists for every other time of year.

3. A time turner
I've watched the Harry Potter films enough times (usually at Christmas) to envy the merits of Hermione Granger's time turner. For the uninitiated, it's a (completely fictional) hour glass-like device which enables the user to skip back and forth in time. Somebody needs to hurry up and work out a way of marketing these things outside of Hogwarts, because it may well be my most realistic option for fitting in the extra teaching I will want to do in the run up to regionals next year, or for having enough time to dedicate full-time headspace to both my full-time job and my supposedly not full-time RDA thinking habits. Even an extra couple of hours a week to keep the Instagram spruced up would be a delightful year-round luxury, and I could even use it to have the odd lie-in on a Saturday morning (I feel slightly faint just thinking about it). This gadget's only flaw is that it doesn't actually exist. Maybe an elf could whip up a prototype or something?

4. A unicorn
There's been a pony on my Christmas list every year since 1996, but with my RDA coach head on I am wishing for something a bit more specific and a lot more elusive than just "a pony": a perfect RDA equine. RDA requires a lot of its mounts (see point 3 here), but there isn't a single person involved in the organisation who doesn't hero worship the sort of horse or pony who manages to carry an entire group, literally, metaphorically, emotionally, on its back.

The RDA horse I would like to find under my group's Christmas tree would be of a perfect average "just right" height and build, to accommodate the widest spectrum of riders (even the difficult to please Goldilocks types). They would have kind eyes, the softest nose for receiving gentle "thank you" strokes after lessons, and the sort of confirmation that keeps them effortlessly sound. They should be well mannered and photogenic, so they are a pleasure to handle and a pleasure for social media followers (including those who might be inclined to donate generously to our group) to view. Their paces should be even and easily requested by legs, hands, voices, email, text, or carrier pigeon, and be characterised by the movement quality of both a Coldstream Guard and the actual Sugar Plum Fairy. They should adapt a stoic, wholesome attitude to lead rein riders, and the leaders attached to them, but also relish the guardianship of those ready to fly solo without gnashing their teeth and fleeing at a great rate of knots to the opposite end of the school.

They should have the body of a well-schooled nine year old, and the mind of a 25 year old international para horse. They should be a good, but not too good, doer, requiring no feed supplements other than the hopes and dreams of pony mad young riders. They should have an encyclopaedic knowledge of our riders' conditions and human levels of empathy for each one; immune to strange, loud noises, but suitably sensitive of ear that a timid, whispered "walk on" is acted upon immediately. They should never require the attention of the vet, physio, chiropractor, or (outside of pre-ordained 6 weekly appointments) the farrier, and indeed should be capable of keeping themselves fit and sane whilst hanging out in a field with minimal human interference if necessary. Their tail should remain untangled and free of poo streaks at all times. They should be capable of setting up a show jumping course and clearing muck from the arena themselves, stand like one of those street performers painted up as a statue at any mounting gallery, block, or hoist, and maintain their own vaccination records. Professional experience of vaulting and carriage driving would be a bonus, but, I suppose, not completely essential.

And because you don't get if you don't ask, I'd also like this charming animal to be dun, dapple grey, or palomino. Maybe one in each colour. What's that? I might have a better chance of waiting for the unicorns to be restocked?

5. A "reschedule" button
I have received a number of Christmas present deliveries over the past couple of weeks, and noted the options available to divert, cancel, or reschedule deliveries. I'm not so unrealistic that I'd ask Father Christmas for a free pass to avoid any and every kind of unfortunate horse crisis which the universe might (will) send completely, but it would be nice to be able to hit "divert" on three horses going lame or sick in the fortnight before the regional qualifiers. Or six days before Nationals. Just like my time turner, I would use it exceedingly responsibly, with the exception of avoiding the need for sleep over Nationals weekend (if I don't do that already...).

6. A mud repellent slanket
I find that my group lessons keep me quite warm in the winter, especially if I seize every opportunity going to have a jog with my riders when they trot. When the temperature drops and I'm teaching privates in the afternoons, however, I am likely to be found shrouded in a turnout rug I've dragged off the driers to beat the shivers. This does the job (kind of), but isn't really built to stay securely on a person: what I need is a slanket of similar structure and material. If it's waterproof, I can even turn out at the end of a wet day, and it would leave my hands free to tighten girths and move trotting poles. Many have mocked the humble slanket (myself included) in the days since its inception, but I think I'm onto something here. Catch me on Dragons' Den, haters.

7. A new, transparent, inclusive, logical classification system for para dressage
Sophie Christiansen, one of my favourite equestrians (and South Region RDA alumna), stood up and made her voice heard on this subject last month. The world of para dressage is growing and becoming more competitive, and, therefore, so is the competitive side of RDA. Classification, or "profiling", is a process within every Paralympic sport to sort disabled athletes into groups of athletes with similar needs and limitations. It would seem, increasingly, that disabled athletes in the equestrian world are finding increasingly that they are either given a profile which they feel does not represent their abilities accurately; that competition within their grade does not reflect the "level playing field" classification is meant to provide; or that they cannot be profiled at all for various reasons. I can see myself writing much more about this in the future, when I've had some time to read more about it and organise my thoughts, but I still thought it'd be a nice addition to my Christmas list. Fair, inclusive sport is a pretty worthwhile festive wish.

8. Peace and goodwill, acknowledgement and appreciation
This is a wish for anyone who works hard for and gives a lot to our organisation. I want all of you, all of us, to feel content and inspired by your time with your RDA group. I want you to feel like you can take the breaks you need, when you need them, and return from those breaks feeling refreshed and ready to keep driving change and improving our participants' lives. I want you to be able to rise above (at worse) or dissolve into nothing (at best) any yard dramas, whatever or whoever they might entail. I want your riders to stay safe, to progress, and to enjoy the experience you provide for them. I want you to enable them to reach the milestones you've dreamed of for them.

I also think that perhaps the greatest gift a volunteer of any kind, in any place, can receive, is gratitude. Not in an extravagant or material sense: simple and sincere is more than enough. Sometimes it can even be transmitted without words, and it doesn't have to be communicated non stop to mean something. I have felt incredibly lucky for the acknowledgement and appreciation I have felt over the past year from all sorts of different places, whether justified or not. Very recently, I helped out a young rider in another coach's class. The earnest gratitude that she gave me for the small corrections and reassurances I gave her, and her drive to put them into practice, genuinely made my day brighter. I also think that gratitude generally comes from a place of trust, which makes it all the more meaningful when it is expressed.

If there is an RDA coach, volunteer, or even horse who is making a difference, big or small, to you or a loved one's life, please do use this festive season as an opportunity to make sure they know it. The good ones don't do it for the thanks, but it does help to keep that peace and goodwill flowing all year round.


Festivities: coming soon

If you would genuinely like to get this particular coach anything for Christmas, my RDA group are in the final stages of fundraising for a new full size indoor arena. We have needed one for years: our current indoor arena is too small to do everything we need to do (it's undersized for dressage, and for exciting progressions like cantering and jumping), and our outdoor arena can only be used for lessons in daylight and decent weather (at least 50% of our riders have evening sessions). There is no end to the ways the new facility would improve our work and the lives of those who benefit it, so the "near but yet so far" feeling is tricky to swallow. Abingdon RDA's JustGiving page can be found here: every little helps!

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