A question a lot of dressage riders face is “will I ride again after having a baby?”
This comes will a range of follow up questions like “how long will I have to wait to start riding?”, “how will I feel when I begin?”, “will my body be so different that it’s impossible?”, “will I even have the time to ride with a newborn at home?”, and “how will my confidence be altered when I know that someone at home is relying on me to be home and to be well?”.
I was in the process of getting back riding after a long term injury when I fell pregnant. I had suffered from chronic hip pain for many years until finally I had to stop riding altogether to recover properly, and I had just starting riding again slowly when I made the decision to stop again during pregnancy. A lot of women continue to ride well into pregnancy , my mother rode until she was 8 months pregnant, but given I was worried how my hip would cope with the pregnancy itself I didn’t want to add more stress on top of that. I spent 9 months worrying about my hip after a doctor told me that probably given my injuries pregnancy and labor would be a struggle that may make it “hard to walk”. However, I found both pregnancy and labor to be amazing experiences and I have never felt healthier or stronger in my hip and back.
So of course 20 days after giving birth and I started to think about riding!
Many times over the last few years I have thought about giving up altogether, but everytime I feel a bit better for more than two days I want to go and ride my horse!
How to begin again after having a baby is tricky. First of all, waking up every two or three hours to feed leaves you feeling a bit depleted, so finding the time in between day naps and feeding and cleaning etc is a task in itself.
Also relaxin, the hormone that loosens your joints during pregnancy, stays in your body for about a year after giving birth, making you more prone to injury, therefore it’s probably not a good idea to jump on a two year old stallion. On top of that your baby needs you, even more so if you are breastfeeding, so you are very aware that you can’t afford to get injured.
And finally, the first time I went for a walk after giving birth I felt a bit like a newborn foal walking for the first time. It was my body but everything felt a bit wonky and sore and new. It takes time to adapt your muscles again because everything down there shifts (your butt for example in a rather dramatic downward slump) and has to gradually move back into position and regain strength.
So once you have decided whether or not you have the time/mental and physical stamina, and confidence to get back in the saddle, how do you go about it?
If you already have a calm horse that you trust that’s a good start. If you don’t it can be tricky. If you have been riding for a long time, on nice horses, the thought of riding a school horse is not that appealing. Typically they feel like wooden rods and I’d rather not waste my time feeling sore and frustrated!
Secondly, for many people, myself included, riding is about the partnership, so having your own horse is important to create that bond.
Even recovering from injury I realized that I needed a horse with experience that I could gain my confidence on, while being a horse nice enough to not feel like a wooden board. Sounds simple but as many riders will probably know finding an experienced calm horse that is relaxed and not completely “stuffed up” due to bad training methods is unbelievably hard to find!
Once you have a horse in mind that ticks all those boxes, how and when do you begin? Typically they say 6 weeks until you can do just about anything, but of course that depends on how your pregnancy and labor were and even if they were relatively straight forward you have to start slowly, and I plan to underbid time to not just start riding but also work on the things I know need more attention.
I think that’s something a lot of riders could use actually, the chance to start again slowly. Something I constantly come back to in my articles is the importance of working the horse at the walk, and establishing the fundamental “stop/go” buttons. It’s when the horse comes to a complete stop on the riders aid and then waits until the rider gives the lightest leg aid before again moving forward. Without this we end up seeing riders hauling their bodies back towards the horses rump with the horse constantly running into the bridle and putting weight into the reins. Without the rider’s ability to have the horse responding to light aids, and the ability to ask the horse to stop and remain still when all aids are released, the horse can never establish self carriage, using instead the rider to hold him up, and push him constantly forward.
With this in mind I hope to begin again and work on all the things that sometimes get left behind in daily training. Also hopefully using the hormones of pregnancy to get more relaxation through my hip , something again many riders lack!
The things we have become stuck with over time often take a drastic change or reset to overcome and correct!
Sometimes slowing down gives us the chance to focus more on those things and we can use the time to better ourselves as riders in the long run.
So I am seeing this as a positive step towards hopefully enjoying riding again, and starting each day with a more patient and relaxed approach to training.