What kind of coach will I be in 2023?

A winter sunrise over the fields at Abingdon RDA

It's 2023 - Happy New Year. 2022 was challenging in lots of ways, including for my relationship with RDA and the way I viewed myself as a coach, but now it's time for a fresh set of 12 months. This blog was unprecedentedly quiet in 2022, but was still viewed more than 15,000 times - I found it very humbling to look at the stats and see that people were still coming to view past posts even when new ones were infrequent. I hope you've continued to find the blog useful and/or interesting, if you're one of those readers.

Planning and wondering about the future can happen at any time, but a new year is a tidy time to do so. I'm hoping not to need to regenerate myself to have a year of achievements I'm pleased with, but this first blog post in a while is inspired by the ways I am hoping to develop my skills as the next 12 months unfold. What kind of coach, athlete, volunteer or supporter are you going to be this year?

I'm going to... be a better listener

Full disclosure: I don't think I'm a bad listener and think it's important that my riders are part of the conversation. This can mean that some riding lessons get really deep and others get really surreal ("would you like to talk about sausage rolls?" - genuinely). I do also think I could do this stuff better, because I can be overly driven by my own opinions and get overexcited when I've got a plan and think I'm onto something. I also talk as much as I think which means it takes practice to get a word in edgeways (my introvert dad admitted defeat when I was in primary school).  I'm really interested in finding out more about how things actually feel for the people I'm coaching - not everyone volunteers that info automatically. I could also do more to seek out the thoughts of the volunteers assisting me in my sessions. It's so useful when a volunteer mentions something they've observed about a rider, but not everyone will think to do so unless I ask and set aside time to listen. I love coaching for progress and I think it's all going to help.

I'm going to... seek out the new things

A big slice of RDA is about not reinventing the wheel. Only yesterday I was talking to another coach about how I couldn't see the appeal of grandmother's footsteps for the hundredth time myself, but some of our classes never tire of it and often request to play. By the end of 2023 I will have been in RDA for twelve years, so I don't think it's unreasonable to say I feel comfortable with a lot of what I'm doing. The thing is, for every part of us which is happy perfecting grandmother's footsteps, there's another which craves variety, new experiences, and new skills. I think I need a bit of a top up of new and different. On a small scale, social media can be a great source of ideas (pole layouts and similar), and a lot of exercises featured in equestrian magazines can be adapted to multiple levels. On a medium scale, I think I'd like to seek out opportunities to teach different riders and collaborate with different coaches this year. On a larger scale, there are some exciting plans in the works which will mean a totally new learning curve or two. Watch this space...

I'm going to... be technical

Just that, really. New skills should be built on good technique, and RDA coaches are in such an interesting position to interpret "good technique" for a huge cast of individuals: both horses, and disabled riders (or other participants). Teaching rising trot is a totally different experience when you are teaching a rider who is blind; explanations for riders on the autistic spectrum will need to be as varied as the spectrum itself; and sometimes you will have to make something work in five different ways because everyone in your class is so different (and that's before you even think about the horses). My first year of RDA was characterised by surprise that it "wasn't that different" to my existing experiences of horses and people who ride, and that observation continues to get more and more nuanced with each passing year. There is almost always going to be a way that a coach can a) try something new and b) explain something better, so I'm going to enjoy finding that for each of the incredibly different group of riders I coach. It's a huge buzz when they get it just right for the first time and get to understand what "good" feels like in a sport they love. 

Florence, ready to take on the new year, riding Elbow, who is realising she'd better just follow Florence and her plans...

I'm going to... help set goals

We hosted our first para training day at Abingdon in a long time at the end of last year, and I think I left with just as much to think about from the goal setting element of the day as I did from the actual teaching. The key message was that you could set productive, meaningful goals regardless of who you were or what you wanted to achieve, and I think that's something I can help lots of my riders do - even those who are some way off dipping their toes in the world of para dressage. This will tie in with so many of the other parts of the coach I'm trying to be this year, and I think it will help inform the whats and whys of my coaching too. I'm excited!

I'm going to... delegate

I think I tell myself this every year, but I think 2023 might be the year I finally crack it. The biggest thing I took from watching National Coaching Lead, Karen Thompson, giving a training day demonstration at our yard, was when she highlighted what the helpers next to each rider were doing alongside her. ("Isn't coaching easy?" she joked, as I mused about my talents for making life difficult for myself.) I got very bedded into the post-lockdown way of doing RDA with as little outside interference as humanly possible and honestly, I don't think I'm fully dug out of a lot of that stuff even now. Giving volunteers missions to find out what a rider finds fun or difficult; asking another coach to pick up a small task which would otherwise be a rush for me to do; of sharing the coaching of a session are not radical ideas, but added up consistently will I think make a solid difference to what we are all trying to achieve together. 

I'm going to... give myself a break

I feel no guilt whatsoever about using every last drop of my annual leave from my day job, but thinking about taking a Saturday off RDA brings me out in a rash. RDA has actually been a big factor in me establishing a proper work-life balance in my professional life, but the relationship doesn't seem to be 100% mutually beneficial. What hasn't helped in the past is that it's been difficult for my group to find weekend coaches, so a restorative Saturday of maxing and relaxing for me could easily mean cancelling a busy day of sessions for lots of our riders. We have a great team of four coaches on a Saturday at the moment, including two who qualified last year and are absolutely wonderful, and it is making such a huge difference. I don't often go on holiday so it was a surprise to all of us when I went away for three Saturdays on the bounce last autumn: a change of scene for me, and a change of coach and routine for the people I left at home, meant I was excited rather than prematurely frazzled about getting stuck back in. So, you know, I might manage a few more Saturdays off in 2023, and they might not even need a three page spreadsheet of handover notes this time.

Aside from actual time off to make the heart grow fonder, I'm also going to try my hardest to give myself a mental break from, well, myself. I spent a lot of time grumpy and demotivated in 2022 because I was spending even more time being ruthlessly critical of myself. Aside from having a bit more breathing space to do a good job, looking at a rider who I have taught since she was four, managing a larger horse over trotting poles, confident and relaxed, aged eight made me realise just before Christmas that I did have a lot to be proud of. An RDA group is the perfect environment to practice kindness of all types, in all directions - including to ourselves.

A coaching POV in our indoor arena

Blogs will be continuing, on as regular a basis as possible, in 2023: I hope you'll join me!


  1. The very best I can be, either as a coach(Green) county chair and participant.


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