Five Christmas wishes for my RDA riders

Christmas really is almost here. My last RDA Saturday for 2019 has been and gone, and brought with it the start of the horses' festive holiday. My riders have sought out chocolate coins and sweets, played pass the parcel (I didn't lose track of the number of layers this year...), and sung along to Christmas songs on horseback. I've said lots of thank yous and lots of festive well-wishes, and am settling down for the one time of year that I genuinely get the chance to draw breath. Work is shut down for the holidays; RDA is on hiatus with no holiday pony days (so the horses get a breather too)... it's the perfect opportunity to consider what has happened over the past year, and what the next one might bring. I wrote my own Christmas list at the beginning of Advent, but now is the point in the festive season for sending some Christmas wishes to the riders who have given me purpose for the entire year. These are the five things I am wishing for them this Christmas. 

Christmas baubles: the perfect mane accessory for the tinsel fearing equine


I have been thinking a lot recently about how RDA sessions run on trust, and how "trust" can mean lots of different things, manifested in lots of different ways. My riders can't get the most out of their sessions without trust: in me, in the horses they ride, in the volunteers who support them, even in their classmates. A rider who trusts is a rider who is happy to try new things, and a rider who is playing an active part in their own experience of horses. I don't need trust to go past the bounds of RDA if they don't want it to, although I've definitely found that riders who trust me in the context of RDA have also trusted me with things beyond it, from worries about starting a new school to helping with university applications. As a coach, trust has to underpin everything I do for my riders, albeit in a different way for each one: a calm, patient presence, understood without words; a missing sense; a voice that says "go on: I believe in you". Perhaps my greatest wish for all of them, and every other RDA participant I know, is to find, renew, or build upon that trust in 2020. It's in the root of every achievement.


In short, your dream is my dream. So long as it is both legal and non-life threatening (both yours and mine...), and so long as we can agree that some dreams take harder work, for longer, to make come true than others. As my riders get older and more experienced, I would love for them to start to understand the beauty and satisfaction of the smaller accomplishments; it isn't just about how fast, how high, or how many red rosettes an achievement involves, even if those things are all pretty nice. I always carry ideas with me for what I would like to see achieved by the riders I coach, but it is an incredibly validating experience when a rider lets me in on their own ambitions. RDA seeks to promote achievement, and I hope that my riders find what's going to spur them on in 2020.


To use a rather charming (if rather imperative) quote from my own group's website: "riding must be fun at all costs". Riding is fun, and sometimes it's easy to let our excitement for the physical benefits of it as an activity overshadow the beauty of how RDA gives its participants a shot at falling in love with (accessible) equestrianism like any non-disabled person. "Fun" could mean throwing things into buckets or learning to canter; trotting with the support of two side walkers or working on lateral movements; peacefully stroking a pony's mane or asking to go "faster" during a gymkhana race. At one time or another, it could well be all of these things. One of the reasons that RDA is able to have such huge effects on more "serious" parts of its participants' experiences is that there is always so much fun to be had on the route to personal progress. I can only wish as hard as I can that no RDA rider I ever coach, or indeed meet, ever loses sight of that fun.

Pass the parcel: Speckles is sporting a unicorn horn fashioned from one of the discarded layers!


"Acceptance" to me means belief, adaptability, love. It's a word we take somewhat for granted in the RDA world, so this is more of a wish for all of our riders when they step off our stableyards.  I know that our group is a place which is a second home to many riders in a way that no other place is. I also know that we, just like the hundreds of other RDA groups up down the country, take a more positive and proactive approach to being inclusive and making things happen for our riders than many other organisations, people and places they might encounter. I have lost count of the number of parents who have said that their child is "a different person" when they are around the horses, or that they "wish school could see them" when they are at the stables. I feel it's going to take more than one wish to make the world a place which is truly inclusive and accepting for disabled people, but I genuinely do hope that all of our riders are able to find the acceptance that they find at RDA glimmering in an extra place next year.

Pass it on

For all of us, RDA is full of lessons, skills, and experiences which we can transfer and translate onto other situations. I'm not just wishing for the world to be more ready for my riders and their needs; I would love little more than for them to be able to step outside their comfort zones and do something new outside of RDA, bolstered by the skills and confidence their sessions have nurtured. I want my riders to know "you can ride a horse", "you can do this cool skill that not everyone can do", "you can control an animal ten times your size", "you can be strong and resilient". The most important message of all is that "you can". The experiences our riders have with us are often the splashes at the centre of ripple after ripple. If the splash is big enough, the ripples can turn into waves: it brings me such happiness to see when my riders are happy to surf those waves to new places, people, and experiences.

One of my classes at the end of their Christmas party riding lesson

To my riders, their parents, carers, and everyone within the RDA family: wishing you a fun, peaceful, uplifting, and very merry Christmas.
Archie, shortly before his first ever pass the parcel win!