Ten things your RDA group wants you to know as lockdown eases

For some RDA groups (but not all, or even most), the wheels are beginning to turn again: we are starting, literally, to get back on the horse. The next few months are going to test us in many ways, not least because each group has to find its own way of adapting, staying safe and viable, as opposed to moving en masse to close as we did in mid-March. They will be testing for those waiting for the thumbs up to head back down to the stables, too, and it's never been more important to keep conversations open. Here are ten things your RDA group might want you to know during this weird time of not-quite-locked-down, not-quite-unlocked.

1. We've missed you

We've missed our horses, our routines, special events, fresh air, fitness... but most importantly we have missed our participants. What we do, whether before, during, or after lockdown, is and was for you. We've loved getting to know you as you've learned with us and felt privileged that you have made us part of your story. We've missed not seeing you every week, and you've never been far from our thoughts.

2. We have a lot to think about... and many of us are doing the thinking on our own time

As a charity run largely by volunteers, we occupy a different place to many of the other organisations and businesses reopening at the moment. When we were told to close our doors, every other group in the UK was told to do the same. Now the decision to reopen in any capacity is our own, because every group is so different, and this isn't a decision to be made in a hurry. Even if you are ready to ride, the horses might not be ready to go back to work. If the horses are ready, our facilities might not be suitable yet. If our facilities are fine, we might not have enough volunteers to be able to operate safely. It might be that we can satisfy every condition of current RDAUK guidelines (and it takes a while to get this all checked and signed off), but are choosing to stay closed a little longer because we don't feel it is ethical to open only for a select few. Some of our volunteers, including coaches, might be shielding, or working in busy front line position, or just not be comfortable with coming back to RDA just yet. We have all of this to get in order (on top of our day jobs, in many cases) before we can even think about picking up the phone to ask if you would like to come back to the stables.

3. We've asked a lot of you, but we need to ask for one more thing

You've been generous, understanding, and patient, and we are endlessly grateful for all of it... but we're going to need a bit more patience. Reopening, it turns out, is much harder than closing, and we need time to get things right.

4. Some things will be different when you come back

Some things won't be different. We hope you will step onto the yard for the first time since March, take a deep, contented breath and feel like you are home. We are looking forward to reuniting you with the familiar faces who you have missed and who have missed you. But the last few months have been a whirlwind, and some things will be different: the way you have to move around the yard, or how much time you are allowed to spend there; in some, sad cases, a horse who was with us before lockdown may not be with us any more. We will do our best to prepare you for these differences: this year is turning out to be all about adaptation.

5. We're finding these decisions hard

We gain no enjoyment from saying "I'm sorry, not yet" or "no, I don't know when". We know that we cannot yet accommodate as many riders as we have received emails, phone calls and messages saying "we'll come back as soon as you will have us". We like to think of ourselves as an organisation with a big heart, and as such we are finding it strange and difficult to have to tell so many of you to keep keeping away. The decisions are having to come from a colder, more dispassionate place right now, to keep everyone safe...

6. We aren't ignoring how you are feeling about being without RDA

...but yes, we hear you, we understand you, and we desperately wish we could do more. Would something else help? A picture or video of your favourite horse? A note in the post or a phone call from your coach? We might (but also might not) be in a position to offer you a different activity involving horses, like stable management or grooming, which might help to bridge the gap until you can ride again. We don't expect you to spare our feelings when we know that our decisions, no matter how well justified, will not have a universally good impact on our participants. We also know that RDA is so special because it is an experience near impossible to replicate away from an RDA group. It is completely OK to feel sad and frustrated that any lovingly offered alternative doesn't quite compare to being back properly. 

7. There is no expectation for you to snap back into the rider you were before lockdown

You might have hopes, even expectations, of your own, but our expectations start and end at following safety protocol. For everything else, we want to remind you not to be too hard on yourself. Yes, we loved the progress that you were making and the things you were achieving back in March, but it's nobody's fault that we've been stuck on pause and are perhaps a bit further away from those things than you would otherwise like. We believe in your abilities and we can't wait for you to get back to where you were (or as close as possible) either, but there is no rush and no judgement. We're just happy to have you back.

8. We want to make this work for everyone

Getting it right for absolutely everyone might be near impossible, but we want to give it a try. Please remember that "everyone" includes volunteers, coaches, yard staff, and the horses themselves as well as you: it's a big equation. Getting it "right" may also differ from your ideal of "perfect"; we can help each other by being open to compromise.

9. However close you are to coming back, communication is so important

Communication works two ways, and we can all go up and down in how well we do it. Let's do our best for each other by keeping communication as open and clear as possible. It's important to us for the members of our community to feel heard and respected, and also for us to be able to articulate what we are doing and why. And if we aren't able to welcome you back quite yet, we still miss you (see point 1), care about you, and want to hear how you're doing.

10. Seeing you back will make our week

This year has made us all appreciate how happy it makes us to see you riding, progressing, and being with our horses and people. We've never been away long enough to forget how that feels before. Being able to reconnect you with everything RDA has to offer, even if it is a painstakingly slow process, is like having a light switched back on. We don't doubt that getting back in the saddle, or even just being able to be around horses again will be a huge lift for you. It is for us too.

Photo taken from my first RDA session back... yes, I am back!


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