The Riding for the Disabled Association (RDA) Virtual National Championships that took place over the weekend of October 29th to 30th were watched by thousands of viewers across YouTube and Facebook, showcasing the skills of disabled competitors via these digital platforms.
The RDA Virtual National Championships were originally conceived in 2021 as a substitute for the RDA National Championships at Hartpury University & College, which were cancelled due to the pandemic. However, the event proved to be so popular that RDA have chosen to make it an annual addition to their calendar of events, which was announced by RDA Chair of Trustees, Rachel Medill MBE, during the live stream. “This is now a standing fixture in our calendar as it offers everyone the opportunity to participate in an RDA championship on their regular horse in familiar surroundings. I recognise the huge amount of time, passion and hope that goes in to preparing for every one of those entries – competitors, helpers and horses all play a crucial part and it is that level of effort that makes for a competition with real heart”.
Given that the RDA National Championships went ahead at Hartpury in 2022, the number of competitors and virtual participants as well as the positive reception that the Virtual National Championships received proves that it is a welcome addition to the calendar.
An impressive total of 527 competitors took part, 200 more than last year’s event, from 183 RDA centres across the UK. The schedule featured 56 classes in dressage, carriage driving, showjumping, endurance, showing, musical ride & drive, vaulting and the countryside challenge – an RDA speciality that involves riders tackling everyday challenges that test their control and riding skills. One of the highlights of the programme was the Wild West Musical Ride, performed by a team of riders and volunteers from Brae RDA, and a moving Remembrance of Tabole Musical Ride by riders from Haworth RDA.
The dressage was sponsored by Dodson and Horrell and the Countryside Challenge was sponsored by Trefoil Guild. Other discipline sponsors included Red Gorilla (carriage driving) Child’s Farm (vaulting and musical ride and drive), Oliver Wight EAME LLP (showing and showjumping) and JM Finn (endurance)
Each test was live streamed to Facebook Live, to the RDA YouTube channel and via the RDA website. The two hardworking commentators were Rosie Russell, who is a commentator and producer, and Lauren O’Hagan, who is a dressage trainer and commentator. Between them they provided 18 hours of uplifting and positive commentary on each horse and competitor, interspersed with interviews with RDA partners and sponsors and some good luck messages from RDA’s Ambassadors and VIPs, including Clare Balding, Alastair Stewart, and Carl Hester.
Coverage via Facebook Live reached over 5,000 people across the two days and whilst the majority of viewers were watching from the UK, the broadcast also reached 11 other countries including the United States, Australia and Japan. On YouTube, nearly 800 hours were watched by approximately 3,000 viewers across the weekend with plenty of comments and engagement from all those watching.
Many participants overcame significant challenges to be able to compete. Verna Clifford from Avon Centre RDA Group rides with severely impaired vision and navigated the dressage test with the help of callers at every marker around the dressage arena who spoke the letter out loud as she approached.
Vaulting competitor Eden Hayes from Gaddesden Place RDA gave an impressive and gymnastic display both on and off the horse. A previous winner at the RDA National Championships, she is known for her dramatic cartwheels and tumbles when she dismounts.
RDA Director of Fundraising, Lisa Ramsell interviewed two of RDA’s partners during breaks in the competition.
Sam Horrell, MD of Dodson and Horrell sees many benefits in the partnership between his business and RDA “It’s the teamwork behind RDA that is the inspiration for us. It is a huge privilege for our brands to be able to support RDA and to be a part of their journey. It’s hard to think of another organisation that gets the same level of enthusiasm from competitors”.
Anne Marie Kilkenny of AM Business Advisory believes that there is much to be learnt from interactions with RDA “Every interaction I have had with RDA gives me an experience that can be related to or translate back into a business. I am always really struck by the teamwork and the trust within the team as well as the risk taking. There are many examples of this type of activity that can be taken back to the workplace, which is good for our organisation. From a commercial perspective it is really helpful in connecting with our past, present and future clients as I get more responses on LinkedIn when I post about RDA than anything else! It gives us something meaningful and positive to help us connect to clients”.
The Championships rely on support from so many volunteers, but it is the incredible RDA horses and ponies who also deserve a spotlight; the joy that they give their riders makes them priceless treasures for the community. To recognise this, a special award of “horse of the day” was presented by commentators Rosie and Lauren. Saturday’s winner was Charlie from Newtownards RDA and Sunday’s prize went to Ebony from Erme Valley RDA. They both won a headcollar and saddle pad kindly donated by Black Heart Equestrian.
The highest dressage score of the Championships was achieved by Jessica Limb from the Helen Atkin RDA Group at 75.5% in Grade 7 Canter, followed by Catriona McCartney Kitson who won her Freestyle Grade 6 walk & trot class with 75%. The highest Countryside Challenge score was 92.85% by Harry Jones from Stratford RDA in the Sunday Class 85 National Championships Countryside Challenge Led or One Side Walker.
Everyone was a winner at this event. The RDA Groups where the competitions were recorded, the volunteers who called the tests, the organisers behind the scenes, the cheerful commentators, the sponsors, the incredible horses and above all the riders, whose smiles said everything about how much this meant to them. This year’s Virtual National Championships demonstrated beyond doubt, how RDA really does transform the lives of disabled adults and children.
If you would like to see the results of the event or watch the videos from the live stream, you can do so here:https://rda.org.uk/rda-virtual-national-championships-22/