So you just found out you’re pregnant. How exciting! Hopefully you are able to bask in the excitement and joy of this moment for a little while before the onslaught of questions, planning and advice that is headed your way. As a rider, one of those first questions will probably be: “Can I keep riding?” The answer to this question, like almost every question concerning pregnancy, will depend on your individual situation.
Professional dressage riders and friends, Eliza Sydnor Romm and Kelly McGinn met through the annual Young Dressage Horse Trainers Symposium organized by Scott Hassler in 2005. Incidentally, they happened to become pregnant around the exact same time and they even shared the same due date. Here, they share their personal experiences of riding while pregnant—but, please consult your OB/GYN or midwife to develop a plan that best suits you.
I have ridden all my life, as my mother, Cindy Sydnor, is a dressage trainer as well. When people ask me when I started riding, I always say, “In the womb!” which is sort of a joke, of course, but my mom did ride with me until she was six months pregnant. I found out I was pregnant in late April 2013. My husband and I were ecstatic, and I had already considered my options of riding while pregnant and talked with him about my “plans.” I put plans in quotes, because any planning you do for pregnancy can go right out the window depending on how you feel. But for me, my plan worked out.
Eliza Sydnor Romm was advised by her physician to keep doing what her body was used to until she felt it telling her to stop or do things differently. “Because my body was used to riding eight horses a day, I continued to do that in the beginning,” she says. (Credit: Courtesy, Eliza Sydnor Romm)
I was extremely lucky and had a very easy, joyous pregnancy. I had no morning sickness whatsoever. Honestly, the most annoying thing was how often I had to use the restroom! I had to make sure to empty my bladder before getting on the horse—not something I was used to. While I kept riding normally, about eight horses a day for the first three months, I did find myself being a little more cautious about certain things. For example, I did not get on horses that I didn’t know and I didn’t ride horses that I knew had a tendency to act up or had any history of dangerous behavior.
Of course, we all know any horse can spook, but I tried to be smart about riding ones that I knew quite well. Luckily, all the horses I had in training were wonderful, and I never felt in danger. I did have to ride a few spooks, and as I got further along in my pregnancy, I noticed that my body felt different in handling those spooks. But it was all very manageable.
I was advised by my physician to keep doing what my body was used to until I felt it telling me to stop or do things differently. Because my body was used to riding eight horses a day, I continued to do that in the beginning. I started to notice that I would be sore in different places than normal. As with most riders, I’m pretty used to being a little sore much of the time. But this soreness was different and was mostly from the stretching of tendons and ligaments in my pelvis. The round ligaments began to stretch, and I found that I would be sore more when I got off the horse, rather than while I was riding. I also found that the soreness was worse on the left side for some reason. It started to become harder for me to effectively use my left leg while riding. Again, none of this was painful, but there was just mild soreness in places that I wasn’t used to feeling sore.
In July, three months after I learned I was pregnant, I went to Lexington, Kentucky, as the chef d’equipe for the Region 1 Junior Rider team at the North American Junior/Young Rider Championships (NAJYRC). I was gone for a week and didn’t ride at all during that time. When I came home, I jumped right back into things and rode eight horses. After my last horse, I felt pretty sore when I got off.
Later that day, I drove to the feed store. When I got out of my car to go in, I found I could barely walk. I got really scared that I had hurt myself or the baby. It turned out that all was fine, but I just really overdid it that day. To deal with this, I learned to condition my body accordingly. So, the next day I rode one horse, then the next day two horses and so on and so forth. I never did get back up to riding eight horses, but I did ride three to four horses per day regularly and then I would teach my lessons without offering to get on students’ horses.
Around five months into my pregnancy I only rode two horses per day. I found that I couldn’t sit the trot anymore because it was definitely not comfortable and I couldn’t give much of a half halt. My balance still felt fine, although it did feel a bit different.
At six months I decided to stop riding. My belly was beginning to hit the pommel of the saddle, which felt weird. I wasn’t so uncomfortable that I couldn’t keep riding, but I was beginning to feel that I wasn’t riding well anymore. I didn’t want to be up there and not be able to give an effective half halt or not help the horse to come into a better balance. At that point, the risks clearly outweighed the rewards.
My balance was changing, and it was not satisfying for me to just get on and ride around at the walk. I was still teaching a lot and felt comfortable enough to longe horses and do a little work in hand, although I couldn’t run very fast. I also definitely still made a point of getting to spend quality time with my horses each day through grooming and just generally loving on them.
I was so lucky to have two wonderful young women who work for me. They rode all the horses in training under my supervision. I decided to take the next few months to focus on my teaching. I do lots of continuing education for my own riding each year, but it is not as often that I get to work on becoming a better teacher. I also read a lot and tried to watch lessons given by instructors that I thought were exceptional teachers.
My husband was supportive of my decision to continue to ride, but he was very happy that I decided to stop when I did. He is not a horse-person, so it made him very nervous. But he trusted me to make safe choices for our child.
Update: My son, Daniel, is now almost 11 months old. I had a wonderful birth at a birthing center, completely natural with no drugs. My midwives advised me to wait six weeks to ride, but I sat on my FEI horse about two weeks after Daniel was born and just walked around for 10 minutes.
I rode other horses at the walk a little and then at six weeks post-partum started trotting and cantering. I definitely felt wobbly and like I was made of jello, but it was great to ride again! This experience has made me more sympathetic to my amateur students who don’t have the core strength necessary for the best balance and ability to half halt.
I gradually got my strength back and felt really good three months postpartum and then 100 percent around six months. I gained about 35 pounds during my pregnancy, and that came off gradually but easily since I was working and breastfeeding. I didn’t diet, just ate normally and chased this wild little boy around!
Balancing my business with a new baby could be its own article, but so far it’s going well. There are definitely days that are tougher than others, but I am very lucky to have an extremely happy, easy-going baby boy and a phenomenal support system. My mom lives on the farm where I train, and she helps out a ton with Daniel. My assistant trainer, Emme Johnston, and my working student, Katie Taylor, are always willing to help and have never shied away from changing the occasional diaper.
Daniel comes to the farm with me each day. I ride four to five horses each morning. I do not plan to get back to riding eight horses per day. I have two afternoons per week dedicated to teaching multiple lessons while one of the grandmothers watches Daniel.
Two afternoons a week I stay home with him, which I love. And one afternoon a week I take him with me to teach a couple women who love seeing him and don’t mind if I have to take a break for a second if he is upset for some reason. But he has been very happy to sleep while I teach. I think in the womb he was so used to hearing me coach that it just puts him right to sleep. We will see how things go once he starts walking, which is right around the corner. Balancing the business with being a mom requires some serious flexibility, but it is absolutely doable.