The cat is out the bag, and I can finally blog about this subject. For weeks I’ve sat deciding on a blog subject, and this always came to mind. But my lips were sealed and I couldn’t write.
Should you ride whilst pregnant? Do you ride whilst pregnant?
And before anyone gets any ideas, it is not me I’m talking about!
I know a few horsey women who are pregnant or have been pregnant in the last year, so it’s a topic that has been covered, dissected and rebuilt.
Once you find out you’re pregnant you don’t tell anyone, just in case. No one can tell by looking at you. But you feel different and you’re more aware of your body and risks you’re taking. So what do you do?
I know some people who have found out and immediately given up riding. It’s personal choice, and I guess if you aren’t comfortable with the situation then the best thing is to stand back. However, for many women horse riding is the drug that enables us to function at work and at home, so it’s a big ask to give it up.
One of my clients told me she was pregnant a couple of weeks after I’d given her a gridwork lesson and whopped the fences up high. She knew in the lesson she was expecting, but I think if I knew I wouldn’t have jumped her so high.
Another client told me, to explain potential “wimping out” situations, and the knowledge definitely made me back off the lesson plan. But over the next few weeks I got used to the idea and I think she did too and started to relax back into riding, and now we’re up to speed and jumping normally. I do think it’s important that an instructor knows about your pregnancy so they can adapt lessons, and are aware if you need first aid.
Having not been through this myself, I’m no expert, but I have heard that whilst falling off is to be avoided (I’m sure doctors think we purposefully hit the deck!) it isn’t really a problem until you start to show. Oh, and you shouldn’t fall off onto hard ground or at speed. Or have the horse fall onto you – seriously, do you think we ask for this to happen?
So I guess what you do depends on how confident or safe you feel with your horse. And your riding may change during those nine months to accommodate your physiological changes.
I’ve known a couple of women who have ridden throughout their pregnancy, but the last couple of months were steady hacks in dressage saddles (apparently more accommodating that jump saddles). These women also didn’t have a large bump, which was the reason a client of mine stopped riding.
Some say that the horse’s behaviour changes towards you when you’re expecting a baby. I guess that you smell different because of hormones, and perhaps they can hear the heartbeat? Geldings seem to get really cuddly and gentle around pregnant women. I think mares can be hit or miss. Someone I know rode her mare before she knew she was pregnant and the mare tried to throw her off. It was like she had a vendetta against her. But when they knew the reason it made sense. Interestingly, the mare in question has always had problems with her seasons and has since had her ovaries removed – would her behaviour be any different around a pregnant woman now?
I don’t think it’s necessarily a good thing to stop riding immediately, or to stop any of your usual activities because your body would need to adjust to that as well as what’s growing inside. By losing fitness and muscle tone you could cause other issues, such as fluid retention and less fatigue. But you can start to pick and choose which equestrian jobs you do. For example, skipping out may be fine, but you don’t want to be lugging heavy wheelbarrows around. Someone I know skipped out each day until the baby arrived, but left the stacked wheelbarrow on the yard for her husband to empty on the weekends. She also clipped and regularly groomed all the way through.
This has led me to wonder whether you can compete whilst pregnant. Mary King competed at Pau in 1995 whilst five and a half months pregnant. There was uproar at the time, but I don’t think it did Emily any harm – except perhaps giving her an unfair advantage over her peers in that she’d already jumped a four star course by the time she was born?
I have seen a heavily pregnant woman competing at a riding club dressage competition, but there must be rules to cover everyone’s backs.
I looked it up and the FEI do permit it, however you have to inform the medical team and it’s very much down to your doctor to give you permission – here is their statement about it.
I’ve also been told, on a hack with a pregnant friend with a story I’ve sworn never to reveal; that once you start to show, it upsets your balance, which makes riding trickier. Which is also worth bearing in mind for anyone planning to ride whilst expecting. I guess the size of the bump and it’s effect on your balance is the main limiting factor in the length of time into your pregnancy that you can ride.
All in all, should you ride whilst pregnant or not? It’s all down to personal choice, really. I guess the most important thing is to listen to your body and your gut instinct. Just do what feels comfortable and make sure your horse is happy with the situation too. I’m not one for sitting still, yet I don’t think I would be going round Badminton, but dressage and hacking would certainly be on the cards.
For a bit of light reading, Horse and Hound did this amusing article about the problems encountered riding whilst pregnant.