10 Christmas wishes for RDA in 2021


Sophia, pictured in December 2019, was a perfect choice for the featured photo in this week's blog because she turns ten tomorrow! Happy Birthday, Sophia!

We've all wondered when on earth this year will finish and leave us alone, but I think many of us also can't quite believe that we've reached the final month of 2020. This is often the point in the year which lends itself well to reflection, although I think I've been so much less occupied this year I'm over the seasonal reflecting already. Last year I wrote a couple of Christmas-themed blogs, about light-hearted wants and things I wanted for my riders. Some of the things listed have taken on different meanings this year (acceptance, resilience...). Some things haven't aged well: "this is the perfect opportunity to consider what the next year might bring!" 2019 India breezily typed after her last RDA Saturday of the year. What indeed...

I know that most, if not all, of us have spent this year thinking about what we've missed and what we're missing. This inspired me not to consider what 2021 will bring, but to try and type some wishes for it into existence. So find a shining star, tap your ruby slippers together, or however you want to make your wish... here goes...

1. Forward planning

I'm the sort of person who considers good planning a gift to your future self at the best of times, but think what it will mean to be able to plan our RDA activities six months (or more) in advance with confidence. No more "if we aren't locked down by then!" or "we'll have to wait and see, there are lots of things beyond our control". A 2021 calendar might just turn out to be the most magical Christmas gift anyone could receive, if we're able to fill it with dates worth looking forward to.

2. Open gates, open arms

A lot of the joy I've experienced this year from seeing my group's riders come back to the stables and continue to progress and have fun has had a bittersweet undertone because I know our gates are still not fully open again. Every RDA group is somewhere on this same spectrum, whether they haven't reopened at all or have a small number remaining who haven't been able to come back and ride. Of course, none of us would have chosen these circumstances, but it still feels a bit wrong to have to exclude some of those we exist to include. Even if it isn't forever. I am wishing for the right circumstances to throw those gates wide open in 2021.

3. New faces

On a similar note, I am wishing for lots of new, enthusiastic faces to pop up at our groups next year: riders, volunteers, and all manner of other supporters. Limiting the numbers of existing dedicated volunteers coming to help at the stables at any one time feels wrong enough: it would be wonderful to be able to welcome new faces of all varieties to the full RDA experience we want to share with them. We know how much it should be appreciated after spending so much of the year without it. 

4. Rosette-collecting opportunities

"I haven't been able to add very much to my rosette collection this year," said one of my riders when I was chatting to her and her grandparents over a video call last week. She is quite right! There have certainly been opportunities to earn rosettes and/or compete in the absence of our regular calendar of competitions and other RDA fun, but many of my younger riders would enjoy picking up rosettes at a Fun Day, or for looking after one of our horses on a Pony Day, more than filming a dressage test to enter online (I'm sure they will enjoy that in the future!). Even those who have got involved with a few things are still going to be down a few rosette opportunities, and those opportunities more often than not come hand-in-hand with proud days out, sunny skies, and happy memories. I can't necessarily guarantee those things in the two weeks I've got left of the year at RDA, but I have purchased some special Christmas rosettes.

5. Poo shovelling opportunities

Less glamorous but more functional (and arguably just as fun) than rosette-hunting is poop-scooping, or indeed any other yard duties where participants can get involved. I'm not going to pretend that riding isn't the main attraction of my riders' weekly sessions, but that's not to say they don't love getting the opportunity to help untack, or put their pony's rug on, or even (in some cases, especially), help to clear up some horse poo. On Pony Days, it's all of this and more. Not being able to be hands on makes it difficult to, say, help a smaller person out with undoing their horse's girth straps, and extras of all sorts have had to fall by the wayside a bit this year. I really do wish that 2021 will give us back the opportunity to get our participants fully involved and watch them revel in this sort of stuff. Plus, it's always good to share mucking out duties...

Blue skies like these, please!

6. Blue skies and sunshine

After this year, I think the least the universe could give us is a year of exquisite, seasonally warm, dry, bright days for all of our RDA activities. (Rain to be scheduled overnight, for the benefit of the horses' grazing.) Who do I get in touch with to confirm this wish? The Met Office? Father Christmas? I'm deadly serious...

7. Progress

Who hasn't lamented the progress which could have been made this year if not for closures and/or restrictions? Even if we are in the fortunate position of seeing riders bounce back well, where would they have been otherwise? How much will it take to bring others back to the point at which they were in March? Strange times, unprecedented events, and emergencies mean that everything goes into "survival" mode: we have been treading water to try and keep going, rather than refining our racing strokes. I really do hope that wherever each group or participant is going into 2021 that their year will be characterised by progress, not waiting, missing, or hanging on.

8. Happy, healthy horses

RDA horses are the real bringers of magic in this whole arrangement, but I know 2020 hasn't been easy on all of them: many groups (including mine) have lost some key equine players, and across the board it's been a struggle to keep our faithful RDA steeds fed, watered, shod, fit, and healthy in the prevailing circumstances. For so many reasons, I'm wishing that your RDA horses stay happy and healthy in 2021, and maybe that the opportunity arises to welcome a new member or two to your herd...

9. Connection and reconnection

What an interesting year it has been for understanding and reshaping the way we connect with others. In some cases, the struggles that my riders and volunteers have faced and the way they have opened up to me about it have given me a whole new perspective on my relationship with them. Being able to reconnect with those returning to my group has brought me more pleasure than almost anything else that has happened this year. Even so, it remains that there is something very special about the way RDA relationships work: the whole combination of context, people and horses mean that the connections made within an RDA group have a very special energy of their own. Here's hoping that 2021 enables both connection and reconnection: we do both well.

10. Financial stability

It's always the bottom line, and no matter how much an RDA group has managed to do this year, money will be a bigger worry heading into 2021 than it was at the end of last year. Getting through such unprecedented circumstances with enough pennies to be there for our groups on the other side is a marathon, not a sprint, and much like Santa's reindeer, we have to feed our four legged friends more in the winter (unlike said reindeer, we have to budget for their food for the rest of the year too). 

2020, in so many ways, can only be characterised by loss. My greatest wish of all is that our wonderful community of five hundred smaller communities manages to keep going with the support it needs. Almost 18 months of writing these blogs has definitely reinforced to me how much it is worth fighting for.

Festivities in less uncertain times!


  1. So insightful and I recognise and share so many of your observations and feelings, especially about including all of our riders, drivers and volunteers. Also loved your Six Things I Hope I Won't Forget. I think the journey to get our horses, riders and volunteers physically and mentally ready and able might be a longer one than we might have thought.


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