My RDA Christmas traditions

Christmas is nearly here: whether or not it's your most wonderful time of the year, and whether or not it's going to look a bit different from usual this time around, I think there's always magic to be shared during the festive season. "Christmas" at RDA; the last sessions I run before the stables closes for the holidays; is also something I look forward to months in advance. In my last blog post of 2020, I'd like to share some of the Christmas traditions which have evolved for me during my time with Abingdon RDA.

Ten ponies dancing

Usually, the Christmas Box appears at the stables as we move towards the last lessons of the year for each class. The Christmas Box contains things like the baubles for the Christmas tree decorating race (this year, I came to terms with skipping this game, as I really don't have the time or inclination to disinfect 40 baubles multiple times in one day), novelty headwear for any hapless volunteers who didn't bring their own Santa hats, and lots and lots of tinsel. The tinsel is to decorate the horses: some wear it with panache, some roll their eyes at you but get on with it, but one, Bryn, finds it utterly horrifying. Bryn was a little bit of a wimp when he first came to live with us, and it's easy to forget this now he is so well-versed and comfortable in his job as an RDA pony. Until Christmas, when he sees the Christmas Box and the tinsel it houses.  My theory is that he doesn't like the rustling noise it makes (he will walk past it when it's decorating something else). Every year we politely ask Bryn if he would like to join in with the tinsel-wearing fun, and every year he does a special Christmas jig to avoid it. Until this year: I am delighted to report that this Saturday, he finally embraced the tinsel without having a festive meltdown. Here's to personal growth!

Bryn, with added tinsel

Hark the ancient sound system sings

Musical freestyles aside (no such fun this year anyway), Christmas is the time of year the sound system in our indoor arena is dusted off. I'm not sure how old it is, but it was definitely well established long before I started with my group, and when I switch it on each December there is the added element of mystery as to whether it will still be happy to function or not. When it is on, and you have plugged in an MP3 player or phone, the speakers are set up to serve the outdoor arena. This means that when you are using the indoor (as any sane person would, in the bleak midwinter itself), the system has the effect of placing the singers of your favourite Christmas party hits in a box and making them perform. 

This has never especially bothered my riders: the atmosphere still works, and they all seem to agree that the alternative of me singing the playlist is far less attractive. Our more musically inclined horses still enjoy it, too, and it's always quite fun to see them respond to even the cheesiest of festive tunes. Perhaps when we have our new indoor school built (coming soon...) we can have a new sound system which takes Shakin' Stevens and Wham! out of their boxes. Until then, it remains a tradition.

Pass the parcel

I referenced my Christmas pass the parcel tradition when describing a blunder in a recent post. It is tradition at this point for the Never Ending Pass the Parcel to be referenced each Christmas, but for my riders (many of whom are, thankfully, too young to remember this incident) this always seems to generate among the highest levels of excitement for all the different games we play. I count the layers very carefully and also scour online shops for bargains in January ready for the next set of Christmas antics. 

As the parcel is typically thrown without ceremony between riders, at volunteers, and occasionally hits the ground, the prizes must also be robust: I've had great success with job lots of model horses, and this year the prizes were pony Top Trumps in robust plastic cases. I have seen parents well up when their children have won the game of pass the parcel, saying that they don't often win party games and that they love seeing their excitement as shredded paper falls onto the sand and into ponies' manes. This year, there was be no throwing between people, but I wrapped miniature, individual parcels (and set them aside for maximum risk management) and rolled dice (if you don't have physical ones, Google can do it for you!) to determine who unwrapped each layer with the assistance of parents and carers. I've got more than enough Christmas traditions on hiatus this year: 2020 wasn't going to take my pass the parcel.

A game of pass the parcel last Christmas

Let it snow

One of my riders, Conall, inadvertently created one of my favourite Christmas traditions a couple of years ago during the "lucky dip" race (we'll be benching that one this year). Buckets are filled with shavings and then chocolate coins and other similar items are hidden in the shavings, with eager competitors tasked with finding one and then racing back to the rest of their team. Alice had opted to bring some extra festive cheer that Saturday, and in response Conall used the shavings to make her a personal "snow" storm. I managed to capture the exact moment on camera, which continues to make me laugh even now (see below: you'll understand why). Jasper the pony was completely unbothered by the sudden indoor snowstorm, which has been repeated with glee a couple of times since...

...let it snow, let it snow...

Driving home for Christmas

If I could bottle the feeling of tired, fulfilled contentment I get at the end of an RDA day, I think it would be a great fundraiser. The specific feeling I get after getting home from the last Saturday before Christmas is the very best of whatever it is. A regular RDA Saturday feels good, but the Christmas version has added sprinkles of gift giving (I love giving presents, and enjoy picking out small pony-themed ones for my riders every year), a party atmosphere, and gratitude in all directions. It's a great time to express your gratitude to those who have improved your year or made it possible in the first place: I wrote an extra message of thanks in Christmas cards for all of my Saturday volunteers, who have done such a wonderful job since we have been able to start up again. I really don't do RDA to be praised or thanked, but some of the loveliest messages I have ever received from families at my group have been in Christmas cards. It's a warm, happy, "job well done" feeling to mull over when you're clean and dry and sitting in front of the Christmas tree.

Always believe

If the topic ever comes up in one of my Christmas sessions, whether broached by adult helper or rider of any age, Santa is absolutely real and I am absolutely hoping, after approximately 25 years of asking, that this will be the year he brings me my horse. My riders are traditionally very generous in going along with this for me. Although for a different celebration, one of them took me aside this year and said "I know it was you who made my birthday card and not Bryn, but that's OK!" 

Father Christmas aside, it's never been more important for RDA supporters to continue believing in the very real magic our organisation is able to spread. It might not have felt like it all or even any of this year, but it really can last all year round for those we exist for. This year's Christmas games definitely felt different from the norm this year, but being able to run any in the first place was good for more souls than just mine. We all still have a lot of work and probably a lot of waiting to do in 2021, and with that plenty of fundraising, campaigning, communicating, and championing. This Christmas, I am adding hope and strength to my standard festive wishes for the whole RDA community. It might not be quite enough to power a flying reindeer, but I hope my Christmas traditions have given you a little boost of RDA magic.

Regular blogs will continue on 3rd January 2021.  Have a wonderful Christmas.