What I'm missing part 1: Saturday Snapshots

I've lost two RDA Saturdays to necessary social distancing and closures so far. In truth, I am pretty miserable about it. The stables would be a "non-essential" journey for me as I'm not a member of yard staff (and it would be impossible for me to get there and maintain suitable distances) so I've no idea when I will next get to pat a pony or do anything in person for my group. I am missing my riders and the purpose that coaching them gives me, the fresh air, the exercise, the unique head space that RDA unlocks. I'm worried for many people of all ages and roles who I know through RDA and who are particularly at risk from the pandemic; I am at least happy to stick to the rules and stay home for them.

It's absolutely fine to have a bit of a moan and feel sad about what you're missing out on at the moment (so long as you are being sensible about rules and grateful to the key workers keeping things going for us). It's also important, however, to take stock of what you are grateful for and to make an effort to keep spirits lifted.

This is where this new mid-week blog series enters. I'm going to take advantage of my extra spare time and write every Wednesday evening about four RDA memories that represent what I am missing, but also what I am looking forward to returning to. Part 1 is simply themed: stories from regular, bread-and-butter RDA sessions.

Many of my readers and most members of my group will be acquainted with our TVI (completely blind) rider Natalie. She is ten now, and will have to wait an extra year to defend her national title from 2019.  Although I am training up some younger (and potentially less busy) helpers to be able to assist Natalie with the level of verbal detail she needs in a riding lesson, I still spend a fair amount of time working with her. She's great company, so long as you don't mind being kept on your toes: Natalie has an encyclopaedic memory and I have never quite recovered from her disappointment that I couldn't remember a big chunk of the plot from one of the Harry Potter books (she is working through them on audio book, and whilst she is the dead spit of Ginny Weasley, she is definitely a Hermione). She never struggles with finding something to say and has a wicked sense of humour. 

This particular photo was taken at the end of a lesson in early September last year. She has had such a growth spurt since ("But I am ten now, India! Of course I've grown!") that I fear she has outgrown Bryn now. As it was such a pleasant day, her class was riding in the outdoor school, which is a lot more ground to cover when your pony and your helper have shorter than average legs. This didn't bother Natalie in the slightest, gently cackling as she gave out instructions: "Trot on, Bryn! RUN, INDIA, RUN!!" When I was drawing breath, I jokingly sang "my little pony" to Bryn, in reference to his little legs. Natalie was greatly amused by this and took on its performance, including writing some additional verses as we rode along, Bryn with one quizzical ear fixed on his rider. We laughed our way through the lesson, and actually, Natalie continued to ride beautifully. We were silly, yes, but we were also safe and happy, with the wind in everyone's hair and Natalie's (jaw dropping) complete trust in me to guide her. I keep "RUN INDIA RUN!!" in my head when I drag myself around my daily jog to keep myself fit during quarantine season. 

You've met Matilda and Thomas; Lucy (left) and Sophia are another third of their class, a six-strong squad of some of the biggest personalities I could ever wish to teach. I fully intend to write the stories of all six for this blog at some point. This photo was taken about a year ago, at the end of last winter, when Lucy and Sophia were the only two riders in their class who were around one weekend. Such small numbers don't happen so often, and I took advantage of the extra space to let them both ride almost the entire lesson independently on Pip and Candy. They are in some ways an unlikely double act. Their experiences of disability, Lucy with Jacobsen syndrome (a rare chromosome disorder which as far as riding is concerned manifests itself as an intellectual disability), and Sophia with spastic diplegia cerebral palsy, make for completely different experiences of participating in and understanding the world. But they both love to ride, love to talk (oh, yes), and love the sense of achievement that can be gleaned from riding. 

Sophia has a competitive streak and wants to continue taking her first steps into the world of dressage next year; Lucy, whilst more motivated by personal achievement (if there's a rosette in it, she's game) than competition as such, seems to have taken a bit of inspiration from Sophia's focus. They make a good team, and this is what I remember this particular lesson representing. Lucy cheered Sophia on as she rode over trotting poles. Sophia helped to show Lucy how to ride a new change of rein. Both of them had a good go at convincing me to let them canter (not quite yet, girls...). Amongst the obvious fun that was being had, they worked hard. They corrected themselves. They didn't go the wrong way (mainly). They took corrections and pushed themselves. Then, at the end of the lesson, they lined themselves up facing me on the centre line just so. When you see a rider every week, you don't necessarily notice them growing. I've known Lucy since I started RDA eight and a half years ago, and Sophia for six years. That day, I definitely had to step back and acknowledge how much they had grown up.

This is, fairly obviously, a Christmas photo, from not so long ago. Archie is riding Jasper. Archie was riding with another coach until last autumn, who had agreed to take him on for sessions which were largely hacking as he really struggled with the setup of a regular class in his early days of RDA. Archie, like Sophia above, has cerebral palsy, but is unable to walk unaided and has limited speech (although not limited communication - he makes himself heard!). The physical benefits of riding for a rider like Archie are huge, and particularly hard to replicate elsewhere as his mobility is so limited, so he kept up his hacking arrangement for a good few years.

Towards the end of last year, Archie's former coach and parents came to the decision that he was ready to move back into a class, and I had a potential spot in a group which would suit him really well. He spent the autumn making the transition and is now part of his new group, which he loves. Last Christmas was the first time he experienced an RDA Christmas "party", as it's quite hard to have games and races with a singular horse and rider. I am intensely enthusiastic about my RDA Christmas parties, but Archie's enthusiasm for everything was off the charts. The races! The decorations! The music! One thing that particularly delighted him was pass the parcel, from which (thanks to the fortuitous pausing skills of my helper operating the sound system) he won the star prize of a model horse. The celebrations that ensued were the definition of festive, and reduced a side walker and his dad on the sidelines to quiet tears of happiness. No small things are silly or unimportant when it comes to RDA.

Let's flip to a different season: this photo was taken towards the end of last August, on one of the hottest days (certainly hottest Saturdays) of the year. It was a glorious day of endless gold and blue, and much too hot to think about doing anything too complicated, so I spent my day walking the stubble fields, slathering myself in factor 50, and chatting with no agenda to my riders. It reminded me that nobody needs to be in active pursuit of their next goal all the time; a slow week to reconnect and enjoy the connections found in an RDA session is good for everyone, especially when it's thirty degrees outside. 

This photo is of Laura, my most advanced rider. She has individual lessons with me and in the last eighteen months or so we have been ticking off achievements left, right and centre, but we worked out on this day that she hadn't actually been out on a hack in at least three years. Definitely time to kick back a bit and enjoy the sun and the quiet companionship only a horse can provide. Nothing to worry about, not even my nagging to improve the rhythm of the trot or ride a corner better. As one of the A-Level students affected by exam cancellations and abrupt endings, I hope this year still has moments of freedom just like this one in store for her (with her 18th birthday coming up this week, I think she'll be owed a few).


Have you enjoyed reading this blog?

All RDA groups are currently closed as part of the response to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. My group, Abingdon, is likely to suffer financially as a result of this closed period: our busy fundraising calendar has been wiped clean for the foreseeable future, meaning that we will lose thousands of pounds which are desperately needed for the upkeep of our yard and the care of our 14 horses.

Can you help?

We have set up a Covid-19 appeal for Abingdon RDA, and are asking in particular for people to consider donating a small sum of money which they will not be spending as usual during this difficult time: the cost of a trip to a coffee shop, or petrol you are not using for commuting or coming to the stables. We have been so touched by the generosity of our supporters to date. If you are not able to donate (and we appreciate that not everyone can), sharing this blog post is a great way of spreading the word and showing your support. It is all appreciated so much.