Opportunities and Determination – Saul’s Story

20 April 2022

Having been in the RAF for 36 years in a variety of different roles at various Stations, Warrant Officer Saul Vine’s career has been full of opportunities. Whether they’ve been offered or sought out, Saul has always been determined to succeed through doing his best and making a difference. Here Saul explains how taking up a new sport a bit later in life doesn’t mean you have to stay at grass roots level and how he found himself representing the RAF in his fifties.

“Early in my RAF career, following a near fatal motorcycle accident, I was given a significant opportunity when sat in front of a Group Captain at my first medical board. I remember the doctor saying “AC Vine, I don’t know how well or even if you will ever fully recover from your injuries, but you have two choices. You can take a medical discharge effective immediately, or you can return to Halton and see how things go”. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out which option I took, and I returned to Halton 14 months after my accident! The fact is the doctor gave me an opportunity, he didn’t have to, but he did, and the rest they say is history.

for those that have the opportunity to do something different, don’t let your determination falter and who knows where you will end up

It is all too easy to get wrapped up in work, sport has been an important outlet for me to take my thoughts away from the job and means I can meet other amazing people from across the RAF. From a wellbeing aspect, sport is the best thing I can do as it challenges me both physically and mentally.

In 2005, at the age of 38 and having never ridden before, it was my son that first got me into horse riding. He was having lessons and one day on the way home he looked across at me and asked why I didn’t ride or have lessons. I didn’t really have any valid reason to give him, so I decided to give it a go and haven’t looked back since.

Having been riding for about a year I was contacted by the RAF Coningsby Saddle Club because they had heard that I rode and were looking for new riders. Although I had a horse of my own, I was still learning to ride, and I had never ridden competitively. Joining the saddle club and competing in the Inter Station League was a great way to learn and certainly provided a challenge due to riding different horses at different venues.

I stayed at grass roots level as a member and as OIC of two different saddle clubs, Coningsby and Brize Norton, until 2018 when I got an opportunity to take my new horse to Flemish Farm for an RAF Equitation Association (RAFEA) training camp. I never thought that in the twilight of my career I would be hurtling around on a horse representing the RAF, but having been spotted at Flemish Farm, I started competing for the RAFEA as a member of the Dressage development squad that year.

If I’m honest it was my horse that got the attention, not my skill as a rider. The Association got to know and love Diamond Buffet (aka Bob) and since then we have gone from strength to strength. In 2021 at the tender age of 54, I was selected for the RAFEA Senior Dressage team. Here was proof that I hadn’t given up my aspiration to compete for the RAF (despite the short hiccup that was the Covid lockdowns) and that there’s life in the old dog yet!

I don’t have a competitive bone in my body… well, that’s not strictly true. The only person I compete against is myself, to be the best I can on the day and do better than I did the last time. If I get a good score and am placed, then it’s a real bonus. For me it’s not the be all and end all, it’s about being part of something, being around other teammates and supporting them.

What has always been important to me, both as a member and OIC of the saddle clubs, is giving people the opportunity to ride, whether they have ridden before, lost their confidence whilst riding or have never sat on a horse before. Being there to provide support, encouragement and above all have fun with our four-legged friends is what matters to me. As OIC I didn’t always select the best team because I wanted to give personnel that had shown dedication in attending the training sessions the opportunity to compete.

The RAF Central Fund provide vital support for personnel to participate in their chosen sport. From Sports Association funding to club support at a Station level, sport in the RAF wouldn’t happen the way it does without the Central Fund. Whilst OIC of Brize Norton saddle club we were successful in an application for grant funding to help us purchase branded clothing for team members to wear, giving us a real sense of belonging and identity.

Finally, for those that have the opportunity to do something different, don’t let your determination falter and who knows where you will end up.”

WO Saul Vine

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