Why I'm missing my RDA riders during lockdown

Happier, busier times in 2019 (photo credit: Darren Woodlow)

It's been a "missing things week" for me: friends, family, places, plans. I miss my RDA group's horses, of course, because I like horses and enjoy spending time with them (that would be a very short blog post). I am also feeling the absence of my riders from my weekly routine, despite the fact that by now we are all well practised in missing RDA and all it entails. Why and what? I'll tell you...

They are hilarious

I don't think I've ever taught an RDA rider who hasn't made me laugh. There isn't a huge number of universal similarities between those who have participated in my sessions over the years, and I'm not really in the business of chasing such similarities when every rider is so different. This one, however, rings true for everyone, whether it's jokes saved up each week to tell me on Saturdays; an infectious chuckle at a bout of equine flatulence; or an opportune hat theft (see number 6). I think everyone laughs a bit less in lockdown, and I'm missing the opportunities to do so with my riders which I had taken for granted until a year ago.

The more the merrier

Or, actually, the more the better, if we're talking the amount of hours I coach these riders and how it improves my understanding of how to keep coaching them better. I find that RDA coaches are on the whole incredibly invested in knowing the people they coach: we aren't just going through the motions. I don't want to frame the time away as putting individual riders behind my or their plans and goals, because that isn't fair on them. What I am sad about is the missed opportunities that tick by each week which would've put me ahead in terms of being a better, more clued up coach. There have been plenty of discussions about riders regaining physical strength and coordination after the enforced break, but their coaches have their own ground to regain.

Part of the progress process

I have said in more than one previous blog post that I consider it an exciting privilege to be part of so many different people's experiences. As a coach, being able to see the ways my riders progress week on week is one of the things that motivates me the most. It's a particularly exciting milestone when a rider first indicates that they are setting an aim of their very own for themselves: "I want to be able to do that." "Can I try this on my own?" Or one of my favourites, "Now, you go and stand over there!" My very people-orientated world has slowed down a lot thanks to Covid, and I miss being front-row spectator, cheerleader and manager for so many pieces of RDA progress.

A lesson in early 2019 which feels like light years ago!

That's a vibe

Has anyone else realised over the last year how much they generate energy from being around other people? I know I have, and it's shed new light on how I've powered through past RDA Saturdays after long weeks travelling and organising for my day job. My RDA riders are the best ever at giving me an extra spring in my step, whether it's the jokes, the achievements, the way they bounce off each other, or the ways they demonstrate that they trust me as their coach. Regardless of why they were referred to our RDA group in the first place, and to-be-expected ups and downs notwithstanding, my riders tend to show up for their lessons very clear they are there to enjoy themselves. Chatting with their favourite volunteer, hugging their favourite pony, going as fast as a trot on the lead rein will allow or sweeping to victory in the troll game... even mastering a twenty metre circle for the first time. The vibe is fun. What's not to miss about people who bring a bit of that to your life?

Just checking in

RDA sessions are a fast-moving hour in an often very busy week. It's impressive how many different things that hour can be and mean to different people, and I think one of the more universal sets of descriptors which members of my group (participants and volunteers) would use the words "safe", "comfortable", "happy". My time with my riders is short, but I am always struck by how much the experience of coming for a riding lesson, or even just to spend time with the horses, can open a person up. It's good to be able to use our time together to check in, to acknowledge that I care about what happens for the other 167 hours of their week, and to reinforce the existence of that safe, fun space. I know I'm missing being able to do that.

One of a kind

Even where I've been able to keep in regular touch with my riders and their families during lockdown(s), I've been acutely aware of the fact that what they are able to access at our RDA group is impossible to replicate away from RDA. Yes, there are some things accessible from home (like Kesteven RDA's fantastic Online Learning Zone), but the uniqueness of the sensations and experiences provided by an RDA session is, fortunately or unfortunately, our greatest selling point. Knowing that, and knowing how much my riders will be missing it, hasn't got any cheerier this time around. It's the thought of being able to reconnect my riders with that one-of-a-kind experience which is keeping me powering through.