Confessions of a volunteer RDA coach

Bob says "I know all your secrets"

I grew up reading the "Confession Time" pages in Pony Magazine: tales, mainly, of falling off in unfortunate places or being embarrassed in the presence of the coolest girls on the yard. I probably did enough cringe-worthy things as a teenager spending at least half of every weekend at the riding school to fill my own double page spread. One thing I've never seen before? Embarrassing RDA confessions: a niche to which, for better or worse, I can contribute plenty. So, to keep you warm on what I hope will be many of our last weekends before going back to RDA (again), here are some of my RDA confessions...

I am a bungling box breaker

At Regionals in 2013, our yard manager had carefully and lovingly filled several (supposedly) heavy duty plastic storage boxes with the many thousands of items of tack, tack cleaning paraphernalia, and other items needed to transport almost all of our horses for a clean, tidy, and safe day out (at this point, the Southern Region still held its qualifier at South Bucks RDA. Our horses loved it there because the lorries had to park on one of their fields, and the grass in May was more than worth the trip...). After a morning dedicated to the same loop around the warm-up, the indoor arena, and back up to the lorry with multiple horses and riders, I decided to rest my feet by perching on one of said storage boxes. Rather insultingly, the lid of the box I chose did not live up to its stickered promises of "HEAVY DUTY STORAGE!", snapped and deposited me in the bottom of the box with about fifteen sets of stirrups to cushion the landing. There was no way I could pretend it wasn't me, because the process of extricating myself from the box proved to be an unmissable pantomime for everyone in eyeshot. Happy days.

I managed to switch around two horses' bridles

...and only realised when doing a pre-lesson tack check, which is notionally to check that other volunteers have tacked up safely. "Is there any reason why Candy is wearing Charlie B's bridle?" I called out, before remembering with a crescendo of utter mortification in my stomach that it was in fact me who had tacked up both of those ponies. I was in revision mode for some university exams at the time and hadn't been getting as much sleep as was ideal. I think we all also have the capacity for slipping up like this from time to time. Hey, at least I had my routine tack check to pull myself back up, although I know a couple of my volunteers still remember this and like to chuckle at it...

I created a pass the parcel palaver

...which is still talked about three, or possibly four, years down the line. I have a post planned about my RDA Christmas traditions for next month, but pass the parcel is an essential, and perhaps notorious, part of them. I was introduced to it by a long line of RDA coaches who came before me on Saturdays, the children love it, and actually there is very little adaptation needed to make it work on a horse. This year, it's going Covid safe, but more about that later. One year, I merrily sat down in front of the TV on a Saturday night and started wrapping my parcels. I got so into the swing of things in creating parcels which were enticingly large, I completely forgot how many layers were present in each one. This meant that when they were brought out in the RDA Christmas party lessons, they took about half an hour to unwrap and even the most enthusiastic of unwrappers started to look at me as if to say "there is an end to this, right?" Nobody can remember what the prizes were that year or who won them, but I still occasionally get a (well deserved) point-and-laugh for the Never Ending Parcel year. Nowadays, I count everything out very carefully.

2019: a more successful pass the parcel year

I am unscrupulously competitive in gymkhana games

At an external competition, or when I am judging or watching some sort of competition at the stables, or especially when I am preparing my riders for their first competitive experiences, I preach the doctrine of sportsmanship and I genuinely do mean every word. It is incredibly important to me that I am "raising" riders who can win, lose and learn with good grace and resilience. If another coach asks me to help them out with some gymkhana races, however, the rider I'm helping has just become part of a winning team whether they like it or not. I'm not sure what it is about the glory (and it pretty much always is only glory, or maybe a chocolate coin or something, on offer) associated by helping an RDA rider be the fastest at bending in and out of the cones in walk and then trotting back down the long side, but it's definitely a buzz I'm not inclined to miss out on. In some instances, this (I like to think) well-hidden competitive streak has helped to clinch some teeny tinies' first ever first place rosettes at group Fun Days. In others, I have some really fun memories shared with riders who like to reminisce about the time I tripped over a trotting pole during a novel race which involved volunteers running the length of the arena at a speed which would have dazzled and bewildered my long suffering school PE teacher. 

I've chilled my prosecco stash in a horse's water bucket at Nationals

...but surely I'm not the only person who's done this? Wait til the last horse of the day is doing their test (and therefore doesn't need their bucket at that precise moment) and fill up a bucket fresh from the tap. It isn't quite an ice bucket, but cool water in the shade of a stable does the trick of protecting your team from popping a lukewarm (and therefore slightly disappointing)-- bottle in front of the burger van to celebrate a day well spent. I would and I will do this one again.

I don't always jump out of bed on a Saturday morning full of the joys of RDA

I am a morning person rarely found awake after 11pm, but sometimes that alarm goes off too early, when it's too dark or too cold, and I can't help but feel that I could actually do with a nice day off RDA. The typical hours I do on a Saturday make RDA the equivalent of a sixth working day, and sometimes the five I've already spent at my day job have been quite busy enough, thank you. This sounds like something utterly terrible to admit: I know a number of my riders' parents read this blog, and they are all probably horrified at the idea that on occasion I have rolled out of bed anything less than enthused by the idea of teaching their child's riding lesson. The reason that, actually, I don't think this is such a bad thing to confess is the fact that I never get back into bed feeling like I haven't spent the day well. I have stressful RDA days, frustrating RDA days, and RDA days where the rain is lashing down and all the horses are conspiring against me, but I never end the day thinking "why on earth did I waste a day on that?" 

If you commit to anything for long enough, you're going to find that you aren't at maximum hype levels all the time. I know that all RDA long-haulers go through periods of feeling a bit burned out, whether it's because of RDA or because of commitments in the rest of their lives. I might mutter about my eye bags when I'm shuffling around putting my boots on before the sun has even tried to start to come up, but once I'm at the stables I am constantly reminded of why I'm there and why it's worth it.

Are there more things for me to confess? Absolutely. Everyone is on their own learning curve, and everyone also has it in them to be a complete wally. But who gives away all their embarrassing secrets in one blog post? Maybe there will be another one day... Have you got any funnier RDA confessions?