With the bizarrely worded recent news article “Pregnant Fraser Wins 5* Kur to Music at 2019 CDI Wellington,” showing up in my Facebook just this weekend (and I remember quite a bit of comment several years back when Zara Phillips was eventing while pregnant)…it’s more obvious than ever that there’s a lot of opinions on horses and pregnancy. Should women ride (or even work around) horses while pregnant? I have my opinions…you have your opinions…and the doctors have their opinions! From western to english…professional or adult ammy and all that’s in between, we gathered stories from a group of ladies from various backgrounds to see what they did while they were pregnant and why it was the right choice for them!
Kristin Phillips is a regular contributor to Decidedly Equestrian. Kristin owns several horses at her ranch in Ohio. Kristin works on the outskirts of the equestrian industry as a writer and rides recreationally focusing on western pleasure and trail work. Her daughter Ellie is a new member of the DE review team and will be showing Hunters this year.
The two pink lines. Everyone knows what it means, but few understand what it REALLY means for an avid equestrian. Healthcare professionals tell the newly pregnant women to do “everything” you would normally do through the pregnancy. You run? Amazing! You work out? Even better! You are a workplace professional? Keep working! You are an equestrian? (Eyes get big, the precaution speech starts, and God forbid you ride that 1200 pound animal with the mind of its own.)
I was lucky to have healthcare professionals that didn’t recommend it, but told me to do what I was comfortable with. For me that was cleaning stalls, handling horses, filling buckets, throwing hay, and ‘gasp’ riding. I rode consistently until I was almost 7 months along. I would have stayed in the saddle up until I gave birth, but the seasons worked against me. My daughter was born in January, so the brutal Ohio weather made it easy to make the decision to take the time away from the saddle. After the birth of my daughter, getting back into the saddle was an easy decision. I had a quick and easy delivery, with an even easier recovery. I was back in the saddle 4 weeks after giving birth (my obstetrician ordered 6-8 weeks for recovery)! I cleaned stalls with a newborn strapped to my chest, as she got older I turned out and did my daily chores with a toddler strapped to my back. (Let’s say I didn’t retain much baby weight with that workout). Horses are our passion, our lifestyle, and the addition of a child to that was hard to say the least. But we made it work, and 7 years later that toddler climbing into buckets, reaching up to big fuzzy muzzles and rolling around in shavings is a horse loving, butt kickin’ little equestrian who has the same passion running through her soul.
Lauren Morlock is the co-owner of Galleria Morusso (the US distributor for Sarm Hippique and Cal Rei) and owns and shows several horses as an adult amateur in Northern California. A life long rider, she was on her college equestrian team and met her husband while working for a barn in Italy. Before her pregnancy, Lauren showed competitively in the hunter/equitation world winning Medal classes and finals.
I rode seriously for the first trimester, but found it hard at times to push through the fatigue. Before we announced the pregnancy, I would make up an excuse not to jump if my horse seemed particularly fresh.
In my second trimester I stopped jumping except for some cavalletti and ground rails. I officially stopped riding the moment I felt my balance shift. This happened around 23 weeks. I lost my balance ever so slightly while getting up from the sofa and immediately knew that my center of gravity had shifted past the point of no return! I cried the entire way out to the barn as I thought about the many months ahead that would be spent out of the saddle. My “last ride” consisted of walking in a half seat, trotting in a half seat and hand walking my horse. **I had really only been putzing around and doing super basic flatwork from around 18 weeks on.
Amanda Saul has been involved in the horse industry her whole life and is lives on the Texas panhandle. She trains colts, rides and trains ranch horses, cutters, rope and reined cowhorses with her husband. She is an equine dentist and certified equine massage therapist.
I chose to continue in the horse industry when I found out that I was pregnant. My doctor said that was fine; I could continue with anything that I have been doing before I became pregnant. I chose not to continue to train colts for the time being and not to ride any horse that I did not know. I did not want to put my baby at risk. I took my 3 year old stud colt to a ranch horse competition when I was 6 months pregnant. We competed in ranch cutting, roping, trail, and cowhorse. We finished 3rd in the 3d. I felt accomplished at the end of that experience. I should also say that I went on a successful Colorado elk hunt at 8 and half months. During the entire duration of my pregnancy I took care of day to day care of our horses. I built pens, made sure they were fed, watered, and conditioned. I also continued in my dentistry career. I stayed active!
I went back to “work ” about a week after having my daughter. I started with feeding and watering. I went back to riding at about 4 weeks after her birth and at 6 weeks I went back to dental work and competitions. It’s a whole new balancing act of being a horsewoman and a mom but it can be done and is completely rewarding. It may require some thinking outside the box to get things done.
During my entire experience I had full support from family and friends. People who were not in our world thought I was crazy, but I never encountered any negativity; at least not to my face.
Kasara Mena is a life long rider, but has approached the sport as a recreational rider for many years in Northern California. Prior to her pregnancy she had been leasing, trail riding and showing low level dressage occasionally. She does not work in the equestrian industry.
When I found out I was pregnant I had been leasing a horse and riding recreationally 2-3 times a week both on the trail and in the arena for the last 7 or so years. My doctor recommended that I stop riding immediately (Kaiser), which I think is their universal stance and in the pamphlets they gave me during my first visit, it was listed as one of the ‘dangerous activities’ you should avoid while pregnant. I started doing some research online – reading different articles and message boards from the medical field and from the horse community and it seemed that the general consensus was that there were fewer risks associated with riding during early pregnancy but that potential risk of an injury to the baby particularly during a fall etc. increases as the pregnancy became more advanced. I was already considered a ‘geriatric pregnancy’ and had several close friends that had recently struggled to get pregnant and carry those pregnancies to full term. For me, it came down to confidence and comfort level. Because riding horses was not what I did full time or as a career, I felt like taking a break would not impact my income, have a big effect on my daily life, or change my identity. I also felt like I didn’t want to compromise how I was riding the horse I was leasing due to my own potential doubts or fear of falling – he was a big powerful horse that required a fairly confident rider. Lastly, I didn’t want to have any regrets about the choices I had made should there be any complications during the course of my pregnancy. I decided early on that I would continue to ride in the same manner I had before I was pregnant during my first trimester and then take a break for the remainder of my pregnancy. Although I missed riding, I never second guessed my decision; I feel like it was the right choice for me.
At the time though, I did feel some judgement on my choice from both sides. My non-horsey friends/family and Doctor didn’t understand why I would continue to take a risk that was against the recommendations of the medical field. The people I knew from the horse community wondered why I had decided to stop riding and kept telling me stories about people they knew who rode horses until the day before the baby popped out like it was a badge of honor.
I now have a beautiful little baby girl who just turned 1 and can’t wait until she is old enough to introduce to the world of horses – I hope she loves them as much as I do. Being a mom is hard, there seems to be more pressure than ever to ‘get it right.’ Amid the often unsolicited advice and massive amount of conflicting information available to us today, it’s hard to shut out the chatter and trust ourselves, but if there’s one thing I have learned on this journey so far, it is that there is no one right way to do things; it’s about figuring out what feels right to you.
Catherine Respess is the CEO of Red Mare Enterprises, LLC, the creator of The Equestrian Journal, and co-founder of both HorseWorldConnect, LLC and Equestrian Power, LLC. She has been riding her whole life and lives in Georgia. Over the years she has ridden hundreds of horses and gained perspective on how classical training could heal physical asymmetries and soothe fractious personalities. She has competed in dressage, but in 2016 she felt a call to dive deeper so she began studying in-hand work, soft touch massage, and barefoot trimming.
My life with horses has prepared me for the ever changing nature of being pregnant with my first child Wallace, due May 2nd. I joke with my husband that “by the time I finish this sentence the baby is going to bigger than he was when I started talking.” Like horses, pregnancy is reminding me to notice the smallest changes and enjoy learning from every observation.
As the creator of The Equestrian Journal, I am diligent about evaluating and developing a program that works and sticking with it. I can look back at my journal entries and connect a variety of factors with how I felt in order to make informed decisions about how to care for myself or the horses that I train. This habit has been invaluable throughout the pregnancy as my body and baby are constantly changing. I journal to count baby kicks, monitor my sleep, diet, and exercise!
Much like growing a tiny human, my nuanced approach to healing and training horses takes time. In 2017 I cut way back and began working with a single client who appreciates this “slow” approach on all of her horses. This shift in my work has been very accommodating to my pregnancy. I can continue to long line, work in hand, and massage the horses even though my body told me to stop riding at 5 months. Soon I will need to get someone to trim the ponies since an old rib injury is causing some discomfort above my belly and bending there is challenging. So far taking an epsom salt bath every day and getting massage & acupuncture for myself helps! Much like my work with horses, I’m listening to my body’s need for healing and recovery in this time of growth.
Rachel Masen is the founder of Decidedly Equestrian. She works in the equestrian industry as in OTTB rescue, as a photographer and lifestyle writer, and a sometimes groom. Before her pregnancy she was riding 4-5 days a week and showing regularly.
When I got pregnant it was a bit of a surprise because the doctors told us it wasn’t happening without IVF. Clearly they were wrong (as I hear they often are). I was absolutely not going to let “my condition” affect my riding and with approval from my nurse/midwife AND my doctor I planned to ride on as long as possible. They told me “don’t fall off, get crushed or get kicked in the belly.” Of course I told them that was my daily goal as is. Since I ride 5 days a week and at the time I was pregnant was riding three different horses, they decided it was more of a risk to my health to make me stop riding than to let me continue. Many people asked me if I was still riding, and all were pretty good about it since the doctor cleared it. Funny that it was my aunt (who rides horses herself and has had some bad accidents recently) that put up a stink about it…but after a very terse “don’t even” from me, the subject was dropped and never came back up. Everyone that knows me knows I’m going to do what I want to do either way, so no need to argue. Ask my poor mother how that went growing up.
My first trimester included press photography at WEG and RRP, and I puked pretty much the whole time (now I know what those bags on airplanes are for…pregnant ladies). Because of my “morning sickness,” I skipped many lessons and ride days simply because I couldn’t get to the barn without throwing up en route. I quit riding other horses around 4 months in. I showed my first Prix St. Georges with Spice at the end of my first trimester and then showed at PSG again at the beginning of the season (25 weeks pregnant) before calling it quits from showing. I stopped not because I’m not riding, but simply because all the show prep was too exhausting to do alone (and I don’t hire a groom). I do wish that there had been more shows during that 2nd trimester since I felt amazing.
I rode well into my third trimester (37 weeks) 4-5 days a week, but I got tired a lot more easily towards the end and everything hurt. By week 37…trot was long gone and canter was limited. Up through week 35 however I was still doing w/t/c, though I’d stopped doing trot extensions, hand gallops and trail riding. I limited my lead changes (since I know that gets Spice hotter) and focused on the basics – namely relaxation/bit acceptance, straightness/lateral work, and getting a little more activity. Those slow months paid off big time when I got back at it 4 weeks after giving birth. By 2 and a half weeks postpartum, Spice and I had our best rides yet and the work was excellent. Sadly I lost Spice at almost exactly three months postpartum before we got back to showing. We were almost there… now it’s time for a break and to see what’s next. I wanted to be one of those “ride until the day before birth” stories and I nearly made it. I wouldn’t take back any single moment I rode while pregnant and in hindsight feel extremely blessed that I chose to do so as it gave me a lot more time with Spice I would have not had otherwise.