The para vaulter: Working towards my first RDA coaching qualification

Lizzie's post last month was a bit doom and gloom, owing to injury and illness. This month, things couldn't be more different! Here she explains what she's been up to and how she's been inspiring the next generation at the RDA. 

Last month, I’d barely done any training. Training keeps my body going and it helps to keep me sane – when I can’t do anything for a while I do get very grumpy!

Fortunately for me – and everyone around me! – as January has progressed I’ve been able to get going again a bit more. The symptoms I was experiencing related to my latest neck injury are still present but not quite as severe, so I’ve very gradually been upping the workload.

   
  
   
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    Neck-brace vaulting! Arabesque/needle

Neck-brace vaulting! Arabesque/needle

January, therefore, has been much busier and as a result, much happier. I’ve...

  • been back to RDA and ridden a couple of times
  • had a side-saddle lesson
  • been vaulting
  • been getting more experience in RDA coaching and vaulting coaching
  • been to the gym and done some resistance training
  • started back at gymnastics
  • gone back to wheelchair racing for the first time in several months!

It feels SO GOOD to be up and about more. I still have to take it easy in lots of ways – for example, at vaulting I’m only doing walk moves at the moment, and only basic ones at that with no upside-down stuff – but I feel much more positive knowing that I am at least doing something!

Having some time out has given me lots of things to think about, and plenty of time to do the thinking! I’ve been planning what I want to do this year; what I want to achieve.

I’m always more motivated with specific goals to work towards. My competitive ones are pretty much the same as ever – hang onto my vaulting national titles, improve dressage scores and rankings, and keep pushing my skills and confidence in showjumping.

   
  
   
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    First attempt at ‘legless leg yield’ (that’s my concentrating face!)

First attempt at ‘legless leg yield’ (that’s my concentrating face!)

The problem with competitive aims is that they do depend on other people to an extent – it could very well be that the best performance I can give isn’t good enough to beat someone else’s best performance – so I’ve decided to set some non-competition aims too. Here’s what else I’m working towards in 2018!

  1. Complete my first RDA coaching qualification
  2. Become a qualified vaulting coach
  3. Complete some road races in my race chair to raise money for the RDA (obviously I also want to get a decent time but right now I am happy to settle for mere completion!)
 Riding my friend Penny’s lovely Welsh cob, Oliver.

Riding my friend Penny’s lovely Welsh cob, Oliver.

This year my blog might become quite heavily focussed on coaching as well as training, since my training is going to be quite unpredictable. Therefore I’m going to end with a little story from my (so far) very limited experience as an RDA coach…

Achieving challenges 

After Christmas, we had a new rider at our RDA group – let’s call him Ben (not his real name). He’s one of the youngest, and he has Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD). He arrived with two teaching assistants (TA) from his school.

At first, we weren’t sure how he’d take to being around horses. His TAs were sceptical about the whole thing, and you can understand why.

For someone with ASD, simply putting on a helmet and gloves can be a massive assault on the senses – especially when the helmet isn’t brand new, and the gloves are grubby and smell of horses!

It took a little bit of bargaining, but the TAs got Ben into a hat and gloves. Challenge number 1 achieved!

He’d already surpassed expectations, but while he watched the previous riders with avid fascination, his TAs told us that they didn’t think he’d get on the horse – or maybe even get anywhere near it. Not today, anyway. Maybe some other time…

All the same, when the previous ride finished we asked Ben if he was ready to go. The enormous grin that'd barely left his face from the time he arrived grew even bigger and he happily made his way to his trusty pony for the morning, Chip.

   
  
   
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  RDA ponies preparing to meet their riders on a chilly morning

RDA ponies preparing to meet their riders on a chilly morning

Mounting was easy. He was shown where to put his feet and hands, and carefully lowered himself into position with no hesitation. Challenge number 2 achieved!

Next, he took up the reins then sat quietly as three volunteers (one leader and two sidewalkers on either side) helped him to take his first steps on a pony.

Challenge number 3 achieved! They walked past the gallery where Ben’s TAs sat with a mixture of astonishment and enormous pride on their faces.

The riders warmed up on a 20m circle doing various exercises designed to get them moving and to put their balance and co-ordination to the test.

At first, Ben was really reluctant to let go with one hand, and, ‘Can you put one hand on your hat?’, was just met with a grin but a shake of the head.

After that, I tried saying, ‘Where are your pony’s ears?’ He lifted one arm up and pointed straight at them – challenge number 4 achieved!

He surprised himself when he realised he’d done it even though he thought he couldn’t. After that he became more chatty, because he’d realised he could use one hand to gesticulate.

By the end of his ride, he’d even had a little trot and his grin was ear to ear. His behaviour (a concern beforehand) was exemplary throughout.

He was polite and kind to everyone – human and equine – and he really concentrated hard. Challenge numbers 5, 6 and 7 achieved!

The best bit was when he slid off and, completely unprompted, went straight around all the adults to the pony’s head. He gently stroked her nose and thanked her for giving him such a lovely time. I nearly cried!

Why not find out about volunteering at your local RDA group? – http://www.rda.org.uk/donatefundraise/volunteering/

Don’t miss the latest issue of Your Horse Magazine, jam-packed with training and veterinary advice, horse-care tips and the latest equestrian products available on shop shelves, on sale now. Find out what’s in the latest issue here.