This time next year I want to be at RDA Nationals, and other short term goals & hopes

Hartpury in 2019: only another year to go...

We might be in a better place for sporting excitement now than we were last year (football, anyone?), but it's not escaped me that at approximately the time I've published this blog post, I should be shuffling around Hartpury wearing some glittery traces of the disco the night before, getting ready for the final day of RDA Nationals. I neither resent nor criticise anyone for the decision to keep the full in-person shebang off the cards until 2022, but two whole years without their biggest highlight? It's enough to make a person a bit wistful - or at least keen to start setting out what they hope to be doing, being, and achieving in RDA by this time next year. I've written plenty about long-term hopes and dreams, but after all this stop-start uncertain stuff, I think it's time to look a little bit less far ahead.

First of all, this time next year, almost to the day, I want to be back at the national championships, enjoying everything from the atmosphere, to the achievements, to the friends old and new, to the cheesy chips acting as your major food group for the weekend. I've always said that I'd go for all of the above even if nobody from my group qualified, although it is obviously a bonus and a privilege to share it all with our riders. I can't wait for that feeling of anticipation, sat on the hill watching the first Hartpury sunset of the championships. Above anything else, it'll be confirmation that we really did get through the worst of times.

On the subject of Nationals, my post about competitions a couple of weeks ago also (unintentionally!) stimulated some healthy debate and discussion about changes and improvements people would like to see in our competition system. It's true that we are fortunate in RDA to have some way of accommodating every participant who wants to compete, which is far from the case across all disability sport, but the same could be said of an RDA competition where there was one single class for every participant to enter. It's inclusive, and therefore should be protected and encouraged, but it's also not quite perfect, so should continue to be improved and evolved. 

Judging from the scale of the discussion, it's not a year's worth of work and it will be very difficult to please everybody, but with no in-person championships this year I think it'd be a great opportunity for RDAUK to open up the conversation further and potentially make some changes to the classes on offer at regional and national level for 2022. I think for me, I'd like to see a name change for the "intellectual disability" classes (an opinion I know is shared by many), and potentially a process of sectioning out the existing ID and grade 6 (open) dressage classes, which are the biggest at the championships, to create fairer opportunities for riders who aren't able to compete in a grade.

Competitions are, of course, one small part of the RDA year for a smaller number of riders than any of our groups' participant totals. While I'm looking forward to feeling the buzz of a championship weekend again, I'm also determined to help all my riders progress in their independence and skills over the next year. This sounds like a no-brainer (in some ways it is) because most of us involved in RDA coaching love seeing participants growing, changing, and improving, but I think we've all had to adapt a less goal-orientated mindset when going through the Covid restart process. It is totally valid, especially when you're in the earliest stages of welcoming riders back, to think "you know what, it's just good to have them here safely". For me, and I do appreciate that I've been back longer than many coaches and volunteers, I think I'm ready to start thinking longer term again. Crucially, I think my riders are ready to do more too: they are asking about further online competitions (in the wake of virtual regionals); asking to do new things on their own; creating their own challenges in their sessions. I'm feeling really positive about helping them grow their skills and confidence over the next year, and I'm genuinely excited for seeing where we end up together.

My group is in the immensely fortunate (if hard won and hard fundraised-for, over a period of almost five years) position to have a brand new, full sized indoor arena receiving its finishing touches as I write. The process of familiarising the horses with our new space is underway, and as with any horses and any situation, some will need longer to get used to it than others. I can, however, already see myself underestimating how much this extra space is going to take to get used to. This time next year, I want to feel settled in our new arena, not thinking twice about how best to use those extra metres, and instilling confidence in my riders to feel the same way (and our horses too, but I'm sure it'll be a regular part of the job for them by then!). 

Physical spaces are the stage for most of the things we are hoping for in the next year, but I'd like to spare a thought for the humble Zoom meeting: I don't want to see virtual stuff totally sidelined in the wake of the Great Return to (insert place or purpose here). Some things do need to take place face-to-face (after all, RDA sessions do), but I think the organisation needs to be pragmatic about meetings, training sessions etc where in-person would be "nice but not essential". There has been plenty in the media about how disabled people have felt disappointed that the Covid work-from-home revolution brought about the sorts of changes they've been asking for to no avail for years previously. RDA tends to consider this sort of thing with much more heart than typical organisations, and even if something like a virtual safeguarding course won't necessarily have disabled participants, it's still worth providing where possible. Ultimately, it's good to make opportunities accessible to everyone: even the Zoom-sceptics have to admit that a well-run virtual course is a more desirable alternative to someone not attending at all...

On the subject of things which can be both virtual and in-person, incidentally, I'd like to refer back to my delightful interviewee from last week's post, Winnie, who expressed her wishes for large-scale social opportunities for all involved in RDA beyond the social element of our competitions. I'd definitely like to meet some new RDA people beyond the bounds of my group over the next year, although for the time being all social events are a novelty and I'm not too picky about the format!

Finally, volunteer recruitment will need to be a priority over the coming months. Whether through changed priorities during Covid; new volunteers not having enough time to get the habit embedded before March 2020; increased need following a period of decreased need; just because, I doubt that there are many RDA groups out there who have exactly the same volunteers as they did pre-Covid (maybe one or two classes at my group, not much more!). While I whole-heartedly hope that this time next year all of our groups are back in action and operating at full or nearly-full capacity, this is only a possibility with the right extended team. This time next year I would love to see a whole host of new volunteers playing active roles with their busy, happy, healthy RDA groups - maybe it'll be worth another blog post about finding the perfect recruitment strategy. Even with Covid still as a backdrop, I think we've got a lot to look forward to over the next year: what better to share with new and old friends?

If it could also be this nice and sunny for the next year that'd be great, thanks...