Inside my coaching journal: entries from 2020 to give 2021 hope

Natalie's first post-Covid riding lesson, August 2020

 I resolved at the beginning of last year to keep a coaching journal: a record of every RDA session I coached, and notes on any additional learning opportunities attended. I ended up recording rather fewer things than expected or hoped, but I did keep it up for the whole year. My coaching journal is going to be looking rather empty, again, for the first few weeks of 2021, but I realised that reading back over what was achieved in 2020 is a great way of reinforcing the importance of championing RDA as a cause for this year and beyond. 

For this week's blog post, I'd like to share some of my post-Covid journal entries (and their contexts), in the hope that they give you a similar reminder of why it's worth staying hopeful and proactive in these grey lockdown days.

June 2020

This month was very quiet in terms of coaching: I only had Laura, my oldest and most independent rider, actually back in the saddle. I was, however, able to start bringing another, younger class in to spend time with their favourite horses on the ground. I started off feeling bad that I was offering a bit of a "consolation prize"; actually, these "meet and greet" sessions were anticipated with great excitement, and I really valued being able to reconnect with the riders too...

"Lily came to visit Bryn for her birthday. She was very sensible but also very happy to be there - just quietly content to chat to us and groom Bryn. It's clear how monumental it is for her to be able to access horses, even if not riding." (I doubt I'll ever forget this one: a birthday reunion! How lovely...)

"Sophia was absolutely thrilled to be able to visit and was overwhelmed by how happy seeing the horses made her (especially Candy, obviously). Lots of emotions: she had a bit of a cry when she thought about Speckles not being there any more."

"Thomas really loved being with everyone, lots of questions and conversation. He was so relaxed around the horses and worked very hard to be as physically independent as possible around them, despite the fact that this is harder for him than actually riding and the fact that his stamina has decreased since March (mine too...)."

July 2020

I gradually started bringing some of my younger riders back towards the end of July (since parents/carers were able to be trained to help them, even if only with simple things like girths and stirrups). I also found that Laura put the work in and really bounced back throughout the summer and early autumn in terms of her strength, stamina, and technical ability. I think this was a big lift for me (which then translated into positivity across all my other returners' lessons) and for her.

"Much better paces from Rosie (horse) today and Laura seemed much stronger and fitter. Worked mainly in walk again as Rosie made the pursuit of rhythm and shape quite difficult, but still some lovely intelligent riding and hard graft."

(3 weeks later...) "Such an improvement across the board this week! Warmed up without stirrups. Laura's position was excellent today. Maple worked in a nice even rhythm and I felt that Laura's hands seemed stronger. Accurate and workmanlike work, especially in walk. A good lesson!"

(A further 2 weeks later, in August...) "Stepped it up today and did some more complex pole work with a focus on keeping Maple balanced and in an even rhythm. Also started canter work again! Just some minor corrections in terms of position which she applied quickly, and the right rein remains her weaker one. Still very pleased."

Laura and Maple, flying through August

August 2020

I spent all of August teaching individual lessons, enjoying the focus this enabled me to give to each rider, and in all cases finding that they were ready to trash my carefully lowered (lockdown adjusted?) expectations by being resiliently fabulous and fabulously resilient. This continued into September...

"What progress! The combination of the slow work in the last two weeks and (of course) being reunited with Bryn meant that the Lily I know really is back! Bryn was about as perfect and helpful as I could've hoped for. We rode some shapes, circles etc, did bending cones - I felt able to push her more this week, and she was able to return to trotting independently again. Leg position much better this week. So pleased!"

"Thomas' position was good last week but even better this week. We worked a bit on his hand position and did stretches, bending etc all on the mood - lots of confidence and very independent in walk. His posture also really levelled up today: no reminders needed for lower leg and far fewer needed for straight back. Thomas' dad is proving an excellent leader."

"This lesson was easily the best I have seen Sophia ride all year. We started off without stirrups and I just forgot to give them back as she was sitting so well. She really got to grips with using her whip which in turn meant her legs could do less and her core got tired less quickly. The lesson was basic but technical but that seemed to suit her: she really shone today."

"I was fully prepared to take things very slowly but Natalie had other ideas completely and was stronger than I have perhaps ever seen her: no wiggling feet or hands and strong, clear leg aids. We also managed to keep things fairly accurate, despite having to call letters and orientate her in a different way to how we are both used to doing it. She was very keen for a challenge so I taught her 10m circles in a figure of eight across the centre line. We both had a (very safe!) blast."

Lily's first ride on Jasper (not that you would've been able to tell if you hadn't known...), September 2020

September 2020

"Lily took really well to Jasper, despite being nervous about riding a new pony (in fairness, I did expect this). Once she got on she was all business and if anything more assertively independent than when she's been on Bryn for the past few weeks. She was very keen to send me even further away so that Jasper couldn't try to follow me! Excellent focus and handling of reins this week. Jasper has been given the thumbs up for next week! VERY pleased!! (underlined three times)

"A lovely hack out for two of the girls on a beautiful sunny afternoon. Both seemed very "in the moment" and relaxed which was lovely to see. It is heartening to realise that we've enabled them to come back to their happy places."

"This was a lovely lesson for Thomas. Most important achievement: sufficient leg aids to move from halt to walk completely unaided. This really tired him out by the end, but it's a huge deal and I think he felt that as much as I did. Took on a 20 second balancing challenge with gusto!"

October 2020

October saw more riders return, and also the return of group lessons, even if they were smaller than what they were at the beginning of 2020. The "new normal" actually started to feel a bit more like the "old normal", which was good for everyone.

"A class of three together for the first time! Rode for just over 45 minutes, focusing on accurate steering ridden with legs and heads as well as hands. All trotted well. It was lovely to see them all together."

"Matilda had a lovely, happy first lesson back. Her speech has really improved even since I last saw her in July. Lovely strength in legs and core (although I need to work out how best to remind her of her hand position on the reins while I can't show her physically, like I've pretty much always done), and overall not far at all from where we left off in March."

"Another very happy first lesson back for Conall today. He rode Prin really well and particularly impressed me with the use of his legs. Played the troll game solo (much entertainment) and also did some stationary work on rising trot motions. Lovely seat, lovely hands, and huge double thumbs up for everything - a success!!"

"Worked on holding and using a whip with Natalie today which is completely new to her. She was really chuffed when she used it and felt Jimbob respond. Also did some work on technique and body awareness for rising trot in halt and walk: this is important stuff for me to work out so I can give her the feedback and advice she needs. I think we both made evident progress. A good lesson."

"Sophia's position was much stronger than it has been for the last few weeks so we were able to get her trotting completely on her own, which I think was a highlight of both of our weeks."

Another lockdown, another comeback... December 2020

December 2020

December was a really lovely month at the stables. Everyone came back from their month off for Lockdown 2.0 ready to get stuck straight back in, but not too out of practice. We had a wonderful time celebrating Christmas, even within the new guidelines. Given that we don't yet know when we will be able to kick off 2021 properly, I'm glad to have such positive last RDA sessions to look back on.

"The 9:30 group were worked very hard given that they'd just had a month off for lockdown, but they rose to the challenge beautifully. Started off without stirrups and spent time working on positions and re-engaging riding muscles. Used a steering exercise using poles set out as if "scurry cones". Good memory from all three re. the theory behind steering aids. Finished off with basic trotting poles. Very happy with how they all rode."

"The 10:45 group also had an excellent first lesson back: all three very positive and ready to get stuck in. It was like they'd hardly been away (and I suppose, after the gap during the spring and summer, they haven't really...). "

"Florence was thrilled to be back (again) and was very ready to listen and focus. She particularly impressed me with how well she applied my corrections during the no-stirrups part of the lesson. I challenged her to a standing trot and she managed all the way round - total respect, Maple is bouncy!"

"A great lesson for Natalie. Duke was a good fit for her: trustworthy, but needs an assertive rider to get him moving. For the first time ever she rode a sustained independent sitting trot with me stood half way across the indoor school. She took a while to get the transition (it was a genuine first in terms of circumstances and independence levels), but when she did managed a complete lap of the school by herself! She got such a rush from it and was absolutely beaming. I feel like we took a big collective step forwards in terms of her independence and my understanding of how to get her there."

(This same week, 5th December, I also wrote several times that I was "just really pleased to have them all back"...)

"The 10:45 group went on a mini hack at the end of the lesson to look at which horses were in the field. This was well judged: they all really enjoyed it. Florence was beyond excited by this (especially the new recruits), everything was a "WOW LOOK AT THAT!" Conall particularly enjoyed blowing kisses to Jasper. Have I been underrating these walks out?!"

My last Saturday of 2020 saw riders who were "happy, relaxed and festive", playing my newly minted Covid-safe Christmas party games. (As I always have done, I've also made a note of the pass-the-parcel winners, so that fortune may conveniently smile on different riders next Christmas...)

It's "happy, relaxed and festive" for me!

I hope you've enjoyed having a bit of a snoop at some of my coaching journal entries. I think the most important thing I wanted people to take from reading them was that the effort, the toing and froing and working out new things which characterised RDA last year, was absolutely worth it. There were times in 2020 when it felt very out of reach, but there were still plenty of achievements and a lot of happiness produced from the time we were able to spend at the stables. 

We have all this and more to look forward to in 2021, even if there's waiting and hard work to come too. I'm looking forward to looking back on what's achieved this year.