Six things I hope I won't forget how to do before RDA restarts again

Quiet arenas: a definite "new normal"

This stretch of involuntary time off from my voluntary role as an RDA coach has had me wondering: is coaching like riding a bike? (Hopefully not, given that shortly after ditching my childhood stabilisers I went off on my bike and careered swiftly, directly, splashily into a lake.) I was fortunate enough to spend at least some of last year experiencing a reduced form of RDA, so I know I haven't forgotten absolutely everything. I have, however, definitely had times where I've convinced myself that I really am out of practice, or felt sad that I might forget how some of the real high points of being involved in the organisation feel. I've collected six examples on my mind at the moment for this week's post.

1. Training new helpers

If I had to name one thing I was feeling particularly rusty about, it would be training new volunteers. (I'm sure there are plenty of others in the RDA community who would agree with me.) I've been able to return to coaching, but when that's happened I have been assisted by established volunteers who are number-limited and able to do everything necessary (tacking up, untacking, moving horses around etc...) without my input. Training, green-carding, and keeping up to date with new volunteers was always squeezed into my regular routine, but since March last year the only training I have done is for parents and carers to assist specific children (theirs). It will definitely be an adjustment, when the time comes, to reacquaint myself with the rhythms of welcoming, training, and adapting to the needs and skillsets of new volunteers. That said, the adjustment will be very welcome: saying "yes" to new volunteers again will be a side effect of a much more open, safe, "normal" way of doing RDA...  

2. Teaching full classes

Speaking of adjustments, new volunteers are likely to burst back into my Saturdays at around the same time as full classes. "Full" for my group means five, or occasionally six riders; in Covid-era RDA I've been teaching groups of no more than three, and spent an entire summer juggling multiple individual sessions. Looking back at my coaching journal from the summer, I've left myself more than one angsty note saying I "hope I remember how to teach a full class when the time comes!!". Three riders is an absolutely lovely size for a class, and I love (love, love) teaching private lessons for the space and impetus they give my riders to progress... But being able to switch back to teaching full-sized classes will be important. My volunteers and I agreed in the autumn that the arena felt so much smaller when we switched from individuals to groups of three. Five will be a level of "busy" nobody has felt in a while, no matter how experienced.

3. Working for long term, external goals

I am always working on the long game: it's how I like to coach. Covid life, however, has made the long game considerably shorter: we've all had to adapt to thinking a few weeks in the future, responding to policy changes at the drop of a hat, and genuinely not knowing when we will be able to get back to more regular goals and ways of reaching them. I will be beyond thrilled to start counting down to a regional or national competition again, or when I can talk about a rider's goals with them without saying "if we're riding then" or "all being well...". There are plenty of well-run, virtual competitive opportunities out there, and there is also the potential for plenty of small goals and subsequent victories in any RDA session, providing they can take place in the first place. I just know how much we're all missing the buzz of big, in person events, and all of the extra opportunities to gain experience and enjoyment (like holiday pony days) which add so much anticipation to the RDA calendar. I can't wait to get back to all that, but I know it will take a bit of recalibration for me and my group.

4. Befriending other groups in person

We've all got far more used to keeping up with other groups and making new RDA friends and contacts in the digital realm, and periods of mass-closure have been a great (for want of a better word) bonding experience for people across the organisation. I welcome absolutely all of that, but I hope that we can approach in-person inter-group relations with a similar enthusiasm when it's safe to do so again. I would love to see online training sessions, meet-ups, and enriching and informative talks to continue long into the future (even when we're all going out again), but hopefully not at the expense of the enjoyment which comes from meeting another group's horses, celebrating their achievements with them, or offering a bit of hands-on support away from home. I think my inner and indeed outer extrovert is starting to worry about how easy it's become to stay home and sort-of socialise: a happy, healthy future for me definitely prioritises doing that away from my laptop. So, who (in the fullness of time) wants to come and visit us?

5. Standing on the sidelines

It isn't so much something I worry I'll forget how to do, but something that already feels a million miles away: the feeling of watching a rider you coach or support from the sidelines as they strike out on their own for a competitive performance. I enjoy watching RDA riders (my own or anyone else's) riding well in any place or circumstance, but there is something really special about watching them "on stage", handling it all completely on their own. This was just one type of RDA magic in which last year was seriously deficient, and I am particularly keen not to forget what it feels like.

6. Fitting a social life around RDA

I'll admit, this was the one I had to work hardest at pre-Covid. The rare occasions that I'd say yes to something on a Saturday night would be met by wonder that I'd managed to de-horse myself and unweld myself from the sofa (from other people), and a nice sleep on the way home (from me). I'm no recluse, but giving half of pretty much every weekend to my RDA group means that Sundays in normal times would often be prioritised for recharging. Now socialising without the use of a computer screen is at best limited and at worst illegal, I know I can't be the only person longing for the days of juggling social events with RDA and work, and even for the satisfaction of getting a brief pause from it all. Hopefully those juggling skills will come back to us all when it's safe to brush the cobwebs off our diaries.

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