Greg Block has recently won the Riding for the Disabled Association (RDA) High Performance Coach of the Year Award due to his endless patience and empathy. Greg has been working at Chigwell Riding Trust for the last seven years and works with people aged 2 – 80 with a range of mental and physical disabilities. We caught up with Greg to find out what motivates him and hear about some of the inspirational people that he has worked with…
- How did you get into horses?
As soon as I could talk it was all about horses, and coming from a non-horsey family at the weekends I used to cycle to the local riding school and watch all the children have lessons. Eventually they invited me in and it snowballed from there!
- What led you to your current role?
I combined horse’s and travelling, working in America and Bermuda. In both places I ran summer camps which were inclusive of children with additional needs and for 6 years I gave up horses professionally to work in many different areas of the care industry, but I still kept my hand in by teaching for the Waveney Harriers Pony Club and doing the odd day at various friend’s riding schools. I introduced horses and equine therapy to the majority of the people I cared for. Then the job came up at Chigwell Riding Trust so I applied hoping to combine my two passions – and luckily I got the job!
- What has been your favourite moment in your career?
Two stand out this year, four of my riders represented the British Dressage Eastern Para Teams at the Home International competition and one of the teams won. Another is a young four-year old lad, unable to walk, over the course of three years built enough core strength and coordination to begin crawling and then start walking using a frame. The day he walked in holding only his mother’s hand, everybody was in tears.
- Do you have a favourite horse, past or present?
My current favourite horse is Hugo, who is a 16.1hh Irish Sports Horse who is currently here at the Riding Trust. I compete him myself and he does the whole spectrum of RDA lessons and has taken riders to the RDA National Championships and he was BD Para Bronze Summer Champion with Adrian Hare, a visually impaired rider whom I teach. One of my all-time favourite horses was Milton – I could watch him show jump all day long.
- Which is the best part of your job and why?
Lunch haha! Only joking, difficult question as there are so many, but I particularly love seeing a wheelchair user ride for the first time and enjoy seeing the world from the height of an able bodied person- seeing the amount joy it brings and watching their confidence grow as individuals.
- Has your job ever led you to meet someone famous?
Yes, I met Carl Hester at Hartpury College at the Nations Championships. It was a very brief handshake as I was about to call a test. I also had the privilege of meeting Sophie Wells four days before she flew to Rio for the 2016 Paralympics when two of my riders were given a training session by her – which was just awesome!
- What piece of equipment could you not be without
Knife and fork haha!! My leather boots that zip up at the back which allow room for my unreasonably large calves.
- The best line you’ve ever used to blag your way in or out of something?!
In my 20’s I was lucky enough to teach out in Bermuda for four and a half years, and the circus was coming to the island. My friends and I all decided our chat up lines of the evening was that we were all part of the circus. I was the ‘elephant trainer’!! At the end of the night I had almost convinced a young lady that this was true. She was very sceptical and I was on the verge of convincing her, stating I had travelled ahead of the circus to make sure that it was not going to be too humid and the ground was going to be worthy of my elephant’s feet. So she then asked the killer question; “So is it the Indian or the African elephant that has the big ears?” Naturally I got it wrong and almost wore her drink! Funnily enough the lion tamer and monkey trainer were unsuccessful too.
- The best date you’ve ever been on?
My annual bromance at pony club camp with fellow Waveney Harriers instructor Liam Brinkley!
- What is your least favourite part of your job?
There are no bad parts to the job however something I never anticipated was writing and delivering a eulogy to one of my six year old riders who unexpectedly passed. A devastating moment for us all.
- What is the best piece of advice anyone has given you?
Don’t live in the past, enjoy the precious present and the here and the now as you never know what the future holds.
- What advice would you give someone wanting to make a career out of coaching?
To work hard and keep a fun element to it as the winter months are long and hard!
- What is the strangest/funniest thing that has happened to you during your career?
There has been so many, but we once had a horse who when nervous blew raspberries! At first we thought it was windsucking but it was actually blowing raspberries!
- Your favourite TV show?
Jeremy Kyle...haha! I think it has to be planet earth.
- The last time somebody did something to surprise you?
My manager Deborah Hall MBE nominating me for this award.
- If you hadn’t got involved with the RDA what would have been your second choice career?
Chef as I love my food.
Our thanks to Greg for SPILLing the Beans and if you’ve been inspired, you can find out more about volunteering with the RDA here …..oh, and by the way, it’s the African elephant that has the big ears!!!