By Lena Andrews Licata
To ride or not to ride is definitely a question all of us female equestrians that get pregnant are going to have to face. Everyone has their own reasons for what they decide to do and none are wrong as it’s a personal decision for you and your journey. I figured I would channel my personal reasons for what I did.
In the middle of my two week pony vacation at Vermont Summer Festival in July 2016, I found myself unexpectedly pregnant. I made the assumption that I was likely very early pregnant and other than refraining from alcohol the remainder of those two weeks I didn’t change anything I did. When I returned I found out I was actually 6 weeks pregnant. Neither my husband nor I had planned on this for our near future. We personally decided that until we received news of a healthy baby at 20 weeks we were going to go blissfully on with our lives, avoid all planning, purchasing and preparing.
I was in the middle of a fully planned out show season with my horse and had already sent in my fully paid capital challenge entries. I was selfishly unprepared for fully uprooting my life. I wanted to complete the show season through October, and hack until my third trimester. The thought of stopping riding at 12 weeks and putting riding on hold for the next 30+ weeks didn’t sit well with me. Riding is my outlet, my stress relief from my full time job and my social scene as pretty much all of my weekends are spent with barn friends. I reviewed my plan with my doctor. His opinion was that anything I had done before I was pregnant exercise wise was safe to do while I was pregnant. He did encourage to stop jumping once I felt it might affect my balance. The act of riding isn’t unsafe IMO, it’s the challenges that come along with riding that make it potentially unsafe (getting harmed by the horse by getting bitten, kicked, or falling).
So I rode. I competed at PHA finals (13 weeks), M&S Finals (14 weeks) and Capital Challenge (16 weeks). Capital Challenge had been a horse show I’d always wanted to go and participate in. I didn’t bring home any ribbons and I have to admit, the riders in my 3’ Equitation were really great and I was probably easily out ridden, but my horse was fantastic, and if you ignore the chip or two in each class we rocked it. Ha!
By the end of October, I was definitely starting to realize, but not process, that it was about time to stop jumping. I started riding more “protective” and it wasn’t helping me find a distance. I stopped the half lease I had on my second horse and stopped showing. Around the middle of November the universe intervened and my horse was injured with a 3 month stall rest prescription and 10-20 minutes a day of hand walking. Still to this day hand walking reminds me of being pregnant. Luckily there are always extra hacks to be had in my barn, and one super ammy safe horse, Match often needed a ride. I hacked Match a few days a week through my 30th week of being pregnant.
I never felt as if my belly unbalanced me. If anything I felt like it forced me to sit up straight and placed my hands in the correct position (instead of my lap). Even after my 30th week there was once or twice I jumped on the little lesson pony and took a lap at the walk just to keep my brain sane.
I gave birth in March to an amazing healthy beautiful little girl. My mental state on being a Mom completely changed once I had given birth. All of the selfish – I’m not giving up on who I am just because I’m pregnant – melts away once you meet your little one. Riding is still important and so is maintaining my non-mom identity, but she comes first.
Stop reading if you don’t want the TMI…..
I was personally back in the saddle 16 days after giving birth. Generally you are advised to avoid exercise for 6 weeks, but as long as you’re bleeding is under control and you are a fairly fit person, starting back up for me personally was no problem. I also had CrossFit my entire pregnancy up until 3 days before birth. My doctor said he knew I was never going to abide by 6 weeks. One key thing I did to help increase my chances of being saddle ready quickly were perineum stretches. Starting in the 34th week of my pregnancy I had my husband help “stretch” for 5 minutes each night. In addition, I drank tons of red raspberry leaf tea leading up to and during labor.
Managing competing and getting to the barn is more complicated but I’ve been able to work out a balance and am very excited to watch my little girl grow and hopefully ride one day herself. In conclusion, I don’t regret any of the decisions I made, but they were the ones that were right for me and not riding could be right for you. Best wishes to everyone pregnant out there for a happy healthy 40 weeks.