Where are we going? Five hopes for RDA in the future

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I've enjoyed using this period of no or seriously reduced RDA to think about the more distant future and what it might mean, both for my group and for the wider RDA community. Even if for now, perhaps more than ever, "it's what you can do that counts" rings true of our groups' limited endeavours, 
the idea of a hopeful future where RDA is able to operate at full capacity and power is a welcome focus. Allowing those hopes to grow as big as they like is even better for knocking back your recommended weekly intake of optimism. These are five hopes I have for RDA in the years to come: what are you hoping for?

1. Let's get digital

This point needs to be prefaced with a disclaimer that the very best of RDA activity cannot possibly be delivered in any other way but face to face. There is no substitute on earth for being around or riding horses, and all of the social interactions, physical and mental stimulation, fresh air, and general sense of content and belonging incidental to that. This year, however, plenty of other things have revealed themselves as having decent digital alternative forms. We would have dismissed those alternatives out of hand in the heady days of 2019, when meetings happened between people in the same room and being sneezed on by an entire RDA class was no big deal. I'm not alone in finding that there are things I am doing digitally in my day job which work really well, and as a result I am planning to keep them up when I am able to reinstate my regular calendar of travelling and hosting in-person events.

I'd love to see RDA training, education and discussion evolve into a similarly hybrid model in the future; we wouldn't need to wait years to see it happen. Some things need to remain in-person (or suit the format better), and some people will prefer or need to access in-person sessions, but how much of the training and development which takes place within the organisation could go digital? Offering certain coach training modules via webinar, for instance, would improve access for trainees who could otherwise be waiting months for a module to be hosted in their region or county. For those running sessions, too, opening up a potential pool of attendees could make a huge difference in terms of efficiency. Optional seminars for coaches, volunteers, and participants could be offered as podcasts, YouTube videos, live webinars (possible even on Facebook!) or discussion groups on Zoom or Microsoft Teams; the possibilities are endless, and create a new level of accessibility which is completely compatible with the organisation's core values. The digital revolution is far from old news in the RDA world.

2. Coaches as educators

In terms of training content for coaches, whether it's delivered online or not, I would love to see a shift towards pedagogical approaches which focus on developing coaches who are dynamic, emotionally aware, and confident in their own individual decisions and approaches. I have long felt that the training sessions I have attended over the years have been too focused on the "what" and too straightforward in their approach to the "how", when actually it's the "why" and the most expansive sort of "how" that would generate the most productive and interesting results. We should be enthusiastic about developing our own identities as coaches, about self reflection and taking charge of our own progress, and about discussing how to deal with the difficult stuff on more than just a surface level. RDA coaches are not professional educators (even if they are actually teachers in their day jobs) and don't need to be treated as such, but there are plenty of educational theories and processes which would be of benefit to the coaching community, or which could be adapted to apply to RDA. In a completely ideal world, this approach would be complemented by access to technical training resources which could be tailored to a coach's own interests and aims, whether condition-specific detail or instruction on how to teach the scales of training for dressage. Our coaches are educators, and the more they are educated in their own methods, the higher our standards will be.

3. The new wave

It's not news that I am very keen to see an increase in the number of young people volunteering long term, and especially coaching, for RDA groups. This isn't because the organisation is somehow worse off for higher numbers of people who aren't in a particular age bracket, but because I have gained so much from what I have dedicated to RDA during my late tweens and more than half of my twenties. We are going to need my generation of "RDA people" sooner or later, so why not try to encourage them to sign up now (or at least, when we are fully operational again) so that in forty years' time they will be incredibly experienced in all things RDA, including in setting a precedent for finding the time to commit to it fairly early on. I did think before everything ground to a halt that the young coach community was feeling a little bigger than it used to, and I would love to see it grow even more over the next five or ten years, perhaps with the assistance of some sort of mentoring programme which encourages young coaches to make connections with other, more experienced young coaches, and also draw upon the expertise of those who are far more experienced.

In any case, whether or not an age bracket is significant, I hope that RDA continues to be open to innovation, and to forward and fresh thinking. Often these kind of characteristics are, perhaps lazily, attributed to younger coaches and volunteers; perhaps I am more keen to see an influx of "enthusiastic and change-orientated" people, regardless of their age? The wish itself is also universal: any charity needs to be positive about acknowledging both its past successes and the necessity of evolution for its future ones. I think RDA is very well equipped to keep making both happen.

4. Talking, sharing, caring

It's also nothing new for me to champion networking, discussion, and inter-group partnerships. To paraphrase a previous blog post, "no group is an island". I didn't breathe a word to anyone outside my group in my first few years at RDA, save my county coach at my first coaching assessment and people I smiled at when they visited my group for training days. It wasn't because I was horribly shy (I'm really not) but just because I... didn't. It is very easy to stick to a one-group bubble, but it's getting easier and easier for individuals to connect with other individuals, regardless of geography. I would love to see the RDA community become even more open to connection and collaboration over the next few years, especially in ways which benefit riders, parents, and non-coaching volunteers, and not necessarily limited to between groups in the same region. I would love to see more blogs and articles spring up which deal with some of the issues I've talked about, and some of the many things which are beyond my own experience. I would particularly like the expertise of the most skilled and experienced of our community to be available more freely, whether as part of digital training (see point one) or in a less formal context. Most of all, I would love to continue to build a culture of supporting and caring about groups other than our own. There is always room in my heart and my lungs for another group to cheer for at Nationals.

5. Access all arenas

The competitive side of RDA won't suit all participants or groups, including a number of my riders, and that's completely fine. I do, however, love coaching for competitions, and love the lessons which can be learnt from them: who knew that the taking part really is what counts? RDA competitions are getting more competitive, which I also welcome, but I would love to see gradual changes to what is offered and how over the next few years to enable a wider variety of groups and participants to compete, in the fairest way possible. Plenty of groups are happy with not competing, but how many are out there who would love to if not for issues with accessing horses, or transport, or sufficient training to make coaches feel confident in producing riders? I'm not sure what shape it would take, but it would be wonderful to have some sort of scheme in place to support groups like this in making their first forays into the competitive world. 

I would also like to see continuous evolution in terms of the rule book and classes and categories available to enter. Para classification has been evolving and re-evolving for decades already, but is, I think, yet to reach a stage where it is as clear and accessible to RDA participants as it could be. I would love to see more events available which offer a no-strings-attached bridge between RDA and para classes (I know there was one such event planned at Solihull this August), which could be accessed easily by grass-roots RDA riders. I would also love to see more low-key RDA competitions available, perhaps at a county level, to offer further opportunities to those who may not be quite ready to step up to competing regionally or nationally (I know that this already happens in some areas, but not in all). At Nationals in recent years, some classes are disproportionately full compared to others, and I know not all entrants feel that there are classes available which are a good fit for them and their needs. We are very lucky in the UK that we are at this stage of refinement, rather than development, for the RDA and para circuits; we even have the option of staying at home, with Dressage Anywhere offering a number of online RDA dressage classes (of which I really need to start taking advantage). 

Even out of the context of competitions and championships, my sentiment remains the same for the future of RDA: we are outstandingly lucky to have what we already have. How do we keep pushing it to the next level to ensure it stays that good?

Photo credit: Darren Woodlow


1st Birthday Giveaway: ENTER NOW!

My blog is a year old. What started last summer as a bit of an experiment has produced more than fifty individual posts, many hours of reflection, connection, and discussion, and been read more than 26,000 times: modest numbers by modern "influencer" standards, but exciting given that I wasn't sure many people would be that interested in what I had to say (and all of those can't just be my mum). I have valued and enjoyed the conversations that have sprung up as a result of people reading and sharing the blog, and have become acquainted with people with whom I may never have otherwise communicated. I've also enjoyed being able to share the power of RDA beyond our immediate community.

To say a huge thank you to everyone who has read, shared, and otherwise supported Coach India's Blog, I am running a giveaway! (UK only) Fill in the entry form and share this blog post on social media: Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram (stories) before 1st August to be in with a chance of winning a £10 donation to your choice of RDA group; an RDA Nationals "2020: the missing year" polo shirt from Wainwright Screenprint (your choice of size and colour); an RDA pin badge and a horse print face covering.