"Change is exactly what we do": five more questions with RDA CEO Ed Bracher

Photo courtesy of Ed Bracher & RDA National Office

Following on from last week's Part 1, I am delighted to be able to publish the second half of my interview with Ed Bracher. Thanks again to Ed for responding so thoughtfully to my questions!

1. The “Horses, Health and Happiness” report really emphasised the benefits of volunteering for RDA, particularly on individuals’ emotional wellbeing. Are there any other benefits or transferable skills which you wish more people knew about?

There are multiple benefits to volunteering with RDA. As you say, emotional wellbeing is one of them, and I would put physical wellbeing alongside that. We lobbied for some time to have volunteering accepted as a physical activity by Sport England, in order to have that benefit recognised and supported by the government. I am really pleased they now do.

RDA volunteers cultivate a wide range of skills during their time with us, many of which are useful outside of RDA too. Many skills start with the two qualities that I think RDA is good at nurturing: confidence and a ‘can do’ attitude. From these two attributes so many good things can happen, and they can be a catalyst for change both within RDA and outside of it.

2. 2020 has been a year of unprecedented difficulty for RDA and its member groups. I know that many participants and volunteers have struggled immensely without access to their regular sessions, and that those involved in running groups have been concerned by financial viability, safety, and the unknown timescale of the pandemic. Have you found anything particularly encouraging, whether personally or on behalf of the organisation, in weathering the storm?

I am an optimist, but I firstly want to acknowledge how devastating this time has been. For the whole organisation, for each one of our groups, and for every individual involved with us. The closure of every single one of our groups for three months – with the prospect of returning to normal still a long way away for many – is unprecedented, and there is still much we don’t know about the impact this is having, and will continue to have in the coming weeks and months. As you mention, we do have some insight into how this is affecting individuals, and that’s why our priority now must be on trying to restart, even in a small way, to help people reconnect with their groups, their RDA communities, and the horses.

Sometimes this needn’t actually be on a horse and I think there is an opportunity here for us all to try new things. This situation has created opportunities, and helped us to see what we do in a new light, and as such I am encouraged by some of the possibilities I see emerging from this crisis. The resilience and creativity that many groups and individuals are showing gives me hope, as they find new ways to offer time with horses – in whatever form they can. Many of the ideas coming out of this time will benefit us in the future, even after we return to ‘normal’.

It has often been said to me that RDA is an organisation that doesn’t ‘do’ change. This is a view I have always challenged and even before COVID-19 it never rang true. This situation has hopefully put this misconception in its place once and for all. Change is exactly what we do. We have always adapted, evolved, been flexible and embracing of new things when we needed to – and the last few months have demonstrated that strength like never before. Change is a prerequisite for all our groups if we are to thrive after this year – and I believe wholeheartedly that this is possible.

3. What do you think are the most valuable lessons or learning experiences RDA will take away from this year?

Paradoxically one of the most important lessons we must take is the importance of the work we do, and the people we do it with. Being able to ask people the value of RDA, having taken away access to it (along with everything else) was a unique (and unwelcome) opportunity, but it did underline the importance of our work and redoubled our efforts to get things back up and running as soon as possible.

Alongside this, I think we have learned more about the people that make up RDA – flexibility and team work are always important but this year they have become more so, especially when we have been communicating remotely and physically separated from each other. I hope we can harness this and continue to find new ways of working in whatever world appears in the aftermath of the pandemic. I think the “new normal” will be whatever we define it to be and so we have an opportunity to continue to be more flexible, to listen to what people need and to try new things.

Finally, I should say that this year has underlined that we have a great team here at National Office, that I am really proud to be part of. Everyone has really pulled together and given a lot of themselves to RDA and it has been a great team effort – I hope (and think) the results have been worthwhile.

4. When normality returns in some recognisable form, what is the “RDA is back!” moment you are most looking forward to experiencing?

As I said before, visiting groups is one of the best bits of my job and so I am looking forward to getting back to being able to do that – meeting volunteers, riders and drivers. I have been lucky to volunteer occasionally with my local Group (Stratford RDA) and, like many people I suspect, the chance to spend a Monday morning doing that is something I have missed.

I am also sorry that we had to cancel the Championships this year and am already looking forward to next year’s. The competition itself is important, but for me, of greater significance is the chance to spend a weekend with so many positive and excited people and to feel the energy that is the heart of RDA. This is the first year since 2004 that I haven’t been there and I have noticed!

5. Looking beyond the immediate future, where would you like to see RDA go, do, or achieve in the next five years?

I am determined that we need to reach more people in more ways. There has been a lot of talk about mental health and we are starting to look at this and how we can blur the lines between volunteer and participant to have a more inclusive experience of RDA. Now that people better understand the value that we create, we need to bring that value to more people.

At the heart of this will also be better and more agile communication – blogs like this and more open and democratic ways of communicating are central to our plans, this will help us make sure that the people we are here to serve are at the heart of planning how we deliver that service.

Photo credit: Michael Martin Photography

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