RDA supporters: how to spot them in the wild

Two RDA supporters enjoying a day out. (Personalised tops are not a universal characteristic of the RDAS, but are a fun identification aid)

Are you an RDA supporter (RDAS)? Are you friends with or related to one? Are you unsure as to how to identify this intriguing species in the wild? This week's blog, written with the benefit of almost a decade of first-hand observation, details how anyone can spot (and appreciate) an RDA supporter in the wild... just for a bit of fun!

Typical appearance: 

For all they have in common in ethos, RDA supporters are highly diverse in appearance. You may not necessarily recognise an RDAS at a distance, although most are in the habit of wearing group-branded clothing even when they are not at the stables. Aside from being practical for most occasions ("nothing is more waterproof than my RDA coat"), such outfits can be used for the practical agendas of asking for raffle prizes, touting for new volunteers, or collecting donations: anywhere, any time. You may think "isn't that person a bit old to be wearing a school leavers' hoodie from 2015?", but on closer inspection it is actually an RDAS sporting their souvenir garment from RDA Nationals of the same year. RDA supporters may be young (but no younger than 12 for insurance purposes), not so young, or in the middle of the two: all of them look windswept, muddy, and contented when spotted directly after a volunteering or riding session.

When to find them:

Actually, this is more a case of when not to find them. RDA supporters may well appear to lead fairly normal lives for five or six days a week, but on their designated RDA day or RDA evening? Only a very special or very exciting occasion will force their side walking stint down in their priorities. If they volunteer after work, they can probably be found in the toilets fifteen minutes before leaving putting on thick socks and their group colours (see above). If they are a weekend volunteer, they will be found leaving home when the rest of their household is either still asleep or lounging around in front of the TV. When they return home from RDA, they will probably be found asleep. If you live with an RDAS, look out for them (and your utility bills) by making sure they don't drop off in the shower.

Once a year in early/mid July, many RDASs will attend the National Championships in Gloucestershire. It is easy to know whether your neighbourhood RDAS will be at Nationals or not because it will be in your shared office calendar, there will be a countdown on every social media platform, and they will tell you. They may well go on actual holidays sometimes, but you will probably hear more about Nationals without asking directly about it.

Photo credit: Darren Woodlow

Typical behaviours and attitudes:

Social media: the RDAS, regardless of anything else they choose to like or share on Facebook, will consistently comment on video posts made by large equestrian bodies with "what a shame you couldn't include any para dressage". This may also extend to BBC Sports Personality of the Year ("did you know that Sophie Christiansen works in tech alongside being a decorated Paralympian??") or the Olympic channel. RDA supporters are keen followers of para riders at all levels; their Facebook feeds are full of updates from such riders, and fellow groups from every corner of the country (and some in other countries all together). They will get to your non-RDA news eventually, honest.

Attitudes towards the British royal family: whether they are a staunch republican or a permanent displayer of union jack bunting, every RDAS' favourite royal is Princess Anne. It is a coming-of-age ritual for RDASs to acquire their very own anecdote about meeting, seeing, almost walking into, or being watched chasing an escaped pony across a car park by Princess Anne.

The weather: RDASs at groups with indoor facilities have slightly greater tolerance for rain than those without, mainly because they know their exposure to it will be limited to the time it takes to scuttle across the car park. Those who work with sensory-impaired riders (e.g. blind or deaf) are particularly unimpressed by wind, which makes it harder to communicate. Those who volunteer in evening RDA sessions are hyper-focused on the number of days left before the clocks change. All enjoy "sunny with a light breeze", especially for special occasions, but when push comes to shove will grit their teeth and put up with most conditions for the sake of getting their riders in the saddle and/or raising money to keep their riders in the saddle.

Diet: RDA supporters thrive on post-session tea and biscuits, with cake on special occasions. Although not consumables as such, they are also fuelled by teamwork, laughter, and witnessing the achievements of others. At competitions, they can be found flocking to chip and ice cream vans for nourishment.

Children: there are many varieties of RDAS: some with children of their own, some with professions involving other people's children, and some eschewing both of these things. In all cases, an RDAS will speak about the achievements of their group's young riders (and in many cases, their older riders too) as if they are a member of their own family. Even those RDASs who you didn't think even knew how to talk to small people would probably walk through fire for the six year old they have been leading in their riding lessons for the last few weeks. Some RDASs may even be prone to crying at significant moments like seeing a small rider do well in their first ever competition, even if actually they cry very rarely outside the RDA bubble (it's me, I am "some RDA supporters").

Creativity & innovation: RDA supporters may specialise in new adaptations for tack (pass the velcro...); creative new ways of raising money for their group; novel communications; or even cost-effective stable yard management. All of them have a spirit which is part magpie and part Blue Peter presenter, constantly thinking up ways of making the experience of being part of their group even better for everyone involved. The organisation has been around for more than fifty years, and thinking outside of boxes is in its DNA. The people who benefit from RDA sessions never get any less unique, so their supporters aren't likely to run out of boxes.

Photo credit: Darren Woodlow

Observations of character:

There is no such thing as a common or garden RDA supporter: they are all much too different, with new varieties appearing and flourishing constantly. What RDASs do have in common are the very best parts of their characters. These are the sorts of people who would stop to help a stranger who had fallen in the street, or would go many miles out of their way to brighten a sad person's day. They are not necessarily experts of any sort, nor blessed with endless free time, yet manage to keep finding space in their hearts for their RDA group and all that commitment might entail. They relish the differences, challenges, and learning experiences their group (for want of a better phrase) throws at them, and know which small things mean a lot and which big things don't matter so much. They are, arguably, a bit bonkers for giving so much of their free time to their cause (even when they aren't at the stables, they are likely to be thinking RDA thoughts at some point...), but understand innately what the rewards are for that act of generosity. They are good eggs, and deserve to be valued as highly outside of their RDA group as they are within it.

Handling advice:

  • Avoid booking activities (meals out, days out, weddings, christenings, surprise parties, pandemic related lockdowns etc) which clash with designated RDA Time
  • Note down frequently used names of horses, participants and fellow volunteers so you can follow what the RDAS is talking about (nobody wants to confuse Annie the pony with Annabel the rider, oh no)
  • Struggling to think of a birthday or Christmas gift for your RDAS? Find out how to make a donation to their group
  • Keep expectations low after an RDAS has been involved in a special event or busy day at the stables, and try not to complain about the snoring
  • If you can't beat them, join them: why not ask your neighbourhood RDAS about how you can start volunteering with their group?