Horses have been a long standing constant in my life, through all kinds of changes.
Riding and the lifestyle that go along with owning horses and working in the industry have kept me physically fit, given me the routine my mind and body crave, and the smell of leather and horse sweat have the magical power to release endorphins that only a horse person knows about.
So it goes without saying that when my husband and I decided to add another human member to our family, I was at a bit of a loss. I was about to go from being fully submerged in the industry as a full-time equine science student, farm hand, trainer, and instructor to sitting at home in unfamiliar territory as a new mother—and the prospect was terrifying!
The excitement for the impending arrival of our son trumps taking leave from my normal life, however, there have been many days of late that I have felt that itch to saddle up and ride a course of jumps or enjoy the beautiful scenery of the back pasture from the bare back of my horse on an early summer day.
The first several months of pregnancy, I had no motivation to ride. I was beyond exhausted, felt I had no energy to expend beyond cleaning stalls, and the anxiety of a huge life change occupied the brain space that normally would have been extended to the demands of riding and training.
Looking back now, at seven months pregnant and fully incapable of even getting on and off my horses, let alone bearing the complaints of an easily aggravated bladder once up there, I do occasionally regret not pushing myself to keep riding when I still physically could! Every woman is different, and every pregnancy is different and, of course, you should never ride if you feel uncomfortable, unsafe or do not have medical permission to continue doing so. I, however, could have easily continued riding far longer than I did.
There is certainly a stigma around riding during pregnancy; especially within the non-horsey crowd. Many people asked me if I was still “doing the horse thing” when we announced that we were expecting a baby. I found myself routinely reciting that “while it’s not a good idea to take up riding while pregnant if you haven’t done so before, it is perfectly acceptable to continue riding for the first several months if your body is used to it and you have your doctor’s okay.” And so on and so forth.
However, I wasn’t following my own proclamation and defense. Many days after chores I would walk out to the field to catch my horse with the intention to saddle up, but would lose my motivation and enthusiasm along the way.
While I am now temporarily mourning the loss of something that has been a staple in my life, I have also recently felt a renewing surge of passion. I wonder now if my reluctance to ride during early pregnancy was actually the result of a burnout. Perhaps pregnancy had just become a scapegoat to justify some time off in my mind—nothing is as worthy of an excuse to back off from the demanding and sometimes dangerous world of horses as the delicate art of growing a human being.
I wonder if I had not become pregnant when I did, if that temporary burnout would have showed up in other ways.
Recently, my first horse has come back to me after a couple of years apart, and the prospect of starting him back in work when I have recovered from childbirth is great fuel to make it through these last few months of being grounded.
After cleaning stalls, even on these hot and humid Minnesota summer days, I have still somehow had the energy and enthusiasm to waddle my way out to begin a regimen of ground work to prepare for his new career under saddle as a western dressage horse. His lack of fitness and my current state have meshed perfectly, and our frequent breath-catching breaks are only gentle reminders to slow down and enjoy our time together.
My life will never be the same when my son is born, but I know that my old constant will still be there for me when I am ready. I miss riding, but I am grateful for the fanning of the flame that forced time off has offered.
For now, I’m going to put my feet up, grab a glass of lemonade, and turn on Heartland.
About the Author
Ashley Haglund is a horse professional living in Minnesota. She is proudly owned by a sassy sport pony mare, and together they enjoy competing in the hunter/jumper rings. Ashley enjoys instructing, training, and is currently completing her equine science degree through RCTC in Rochester, MN.