Six ways RDA is like Christmas all year round

A pretend postbox (used in RDA sessions) painted with "RDA", outside on a wintry, frosty morning

One of the few good things to have been blown in by last weekend's Storm Arwen is the festive season: Advent is here! I love writing about and around RDA Christmases, but while doing a bit of planning for this December's blogs I realised that, if I really give way to my cheesy side, RDA is one of the few places that Christmas spirit in its purest sense can be found all year. Would you add anything to my list?

1. Season of giving

Generosity is the name of the game when it comes to RDA, and in far more senses than material or financial. Those involved with the organisation freely give expertise, encouragement, love, and one of the greatest commodities of all: time, with no need for a specific season to prompt them to give. Charitable giving at Christmas time is often encouraged as a tonic to the more materialistic elements of the season (38% of people in the UK gave money to charity in December 2018), and in all sorts of community groups there is a big emphasis on considering the less fortunate as we hurtle towards our own festive celebrations. RDA is not, of course, the only charity which benefits from year-round generosity of all types, but I know that awe-inspiring generosity is never in short supply at any time of year for us. Anyone unconvinced that giving is better than receiving should be scooped up by three ghosts in the night and deposited at their local RDA group, pronto.

2. Wish upon a star

I am very happy to be swept up in Christmas "magic" (inverted commas for the benefit of non-believers), but I regularly get to witness and even engineer scenarios more magical than an average festive film all the time at RDA. When I was still fairly new to RDA (I think only a couple of years deep) a parent thanked me in an email for "making my daughter's dreams come true" when she placed at Nationals. I got to extend personal invitations to riders to return to RDA after the first Covid lockdown and see how happy that made them and their families; I've since experienced a slower-burn type of magic as I've seen their resilience come out on top over the course of two further lockdowns and restarts. I regularly see bonds forged between our horses and riders which can only be described as magical, and I even managed to make Easter eggs magically appear at the end of a session this spring (with a slightly clunky delivery and the help of my ever willing volunteers). There's something special about even the smallest of interactions and achievements, and we're lucky to have that every month of the year.

3. Everyone's a friend

"Everyone is family, we're having so much fun" sang one of my greatest muses, Kermit the Frog. That's just it! RDA groups are like big, complicated, but ultimately happy families (mine certainly is), and I know I've adopted the attitude that a friend of RDA is certainly a friend of mine. RDA friendships can also be incredibly powerful, both for volunteers and for participants who might have struggled to find people to relate to or who are willing to accept them without reservation in other places. If we limited this all-embracing attitude to Christmas alone, we wouldn't be anywhere near as powerful as we are together. Although I think some people in other parts of my life (not least Alex the Unhorsey, my partner) might be grateful if my constant chatter about the people I coach, volunteer with, and generally respect and admire in RDA was limited to 1/12 or so of the year.

4. Break from the norm

Whether you're fortunate enough to have at least some of Christmas to step back from the everyday routine and put your feet up, or if you're still working over the holidays but get the odd chance to enjoy some good cheer and have the long winter nights brightened, Christmas represents a bit of a break from the norm. Like it or loathe it, it goes some way to breaking up a dark and cold time of year which in my opinion has few other redeeming qualities. RDA can be as little as sixty or thirty minutes of a person's week, but it has the capacity to spread light into all of the other minutes. It gets people outside, moving, and trying new things. It offers the comfort of a routine - even traditions! - alongside sheer excitement. It might not be quite as relaxing as settling down on the sofa with a Bailey's and not moving for a week, but it is an escape from the less-sparkly everyday which I know so many people appreciate, and even rely on. It's impractical to wish it could be Christmas every day (I couldn't hack that much Bailey's 365 days a year) but I know plenty of people who wish they could be with their RDA group just as much.

5. Everybody's having fun

I absolutely acknowledge that there are less-fun sides to Christmas, especially for the people holding things together at the organisational end: I sometimes feel the same about my RDA Saturdays. That said, I associate Christmas and RDA with so much fun. Silly games, hilarious anecdotes, singing, dancing, and enjoying the repartee with those around you are ingredients for a lively RDA session as they are a Christmas party. I'm still laughing at the memory of Conall, one of my riders, storing all of his used wrapping paper from pass the parcel underneath his pony's numnah last year, and how it all came fluttering out like a snowstorm when we untacked at the end of the session. Nothing can feel like the most fun in the whole world all the time, but those are the parts that stick in our memories the best. As for an RDA Christmas party? Fun squared. Fun cubed. I've been excited about it for weeks already.

6. It's really cold

I couldn't publish this without at least one tongue-in-cheek point, and it is a truth universally acknowledged that only at the very height of summer are my group's facilities not noticeably colder than everywhere else in the county of Oxfordshire, if not the world. (Let's not think too hard about how well (or not) I would cope in a part of the country regularly battered by actual extreme weather...) My riders' parents often joke that they don't understand how it's sometimes colder in our older indoor arena than it actually is outside - I suppose it just makes any warm, fuzzy, possibly seasonal feelings even more evident. In or out of the bleak midwinter, I still wouldn't have it any other way. 

Maple modelling a lovely red, green and gold Christmas present head dress - 'tis the season!