I'm a week away from my due date today. It has been about 2 1/2 months since I last rode. The struggle is real, as the kids say. I miss it, big time. Not just the riding part–I miss seeing my pony every day, I miss teaching lessons, I miss being outside/at the barn daily and coming home sore and tired with the smells of leather, hay and horses on my hands and clothes. That's the stuff I live for.
However, it's pretty amazing to me that I was able to keep up with riding and teaching (and even competing!) through the majority of my pregnancy. I am super grateful for that (thank you body for cooperating, and thank you Clay for being so trustworthy!) Even though it was challenging at times, with the discomforts and changes your body goes through in each stage of pregnancy, riding helped to keep me sane and keep me active.
Pregnancy is beautiful and amazing. It is also a huge lesson in Letting Go of Control. Your body (and your mind!) change at an alarming rate. Every week you feel and look different than the week prior. And whether you're ready for those changes or not, they're happening. Everything from your weight to your priorities morph, thanks to hormones, and it can make you feel like a stranger in your own skin. Having some constants in my life–the barn, my horse, our rides; a place I feel at home, stuff I'm good at, an activity that makes me feel like myself, calm and happy–was hugely important to my overall well-being as I bumbled my way through the adjustments and changes of pregnancy. And, it was a great way to get exercise!
Everyone should speak with their doctor or midwife about what kind of exercise is appropriate and safe for them to do while pregnant. In my case, I was given the go-ahead to continue riding and teaching lessons until the baby started to "drop" into birthing position (usually happens about two months before due date), at which point you can trigger labor prematurely if you continue to do certain activities/exercises. Honestly, by then, you really don't feel like doing much anyway (besides napping, and then eating, and then napping again).
As you know if you're a student of mine, I pace around that big sand arena when I teach, and walking just so happens to be a pretty perfect prenatal exercise because it is low-impact, keeps your legs strong and all your joints loose and ligaments supported. I tried to keep my schedule fairly light–four or fewer lessons a day–because I would get sore after more than that. It's extremely important to listen to your body's signals and to honor what it's telling you. It's just not worth it to push too hard.
On top of all that walking, I rode once or twice a week. The rides were shorter than normal (especially towards the end when the baby was pushing on my diaphragm/lungs and I was getting winded very easily) but it just felt great to be on my horse, and it was special to have my baby riding along with me. I liked to imagine her in there feeling the rhythm of the canter...
Riding while pregnant really wouldn't have been an option, in my mind, if I did not have a solid horse. I just wouldn't have been willing to take the risk. So I'm just going to brag about Clay for a minute here. ;) He is a pony, as we know. Ponies are typically full of personality, opinions, and can be hot to trot from time to time (especially if not worked regularly/enough). Clay is all of those things, but not one time while I was pregnant did he spook, take a misstep or do anything whatsoever to cause me to feel like I was taking too much risk by riding him. It's like he knew he had extra-special cargo on board and that he better behave his best.
We even competed at several shows over the summer, when I was about 3 months along, and he was perfectly behaved. I'd like to give myself a pat on the back for picking such a good one, but really all the credit just goes to him for being him. Even with cutting back from 5-6 rides a week to 1-2 rides a week, I never needed to lunge him before riding him. Every time I got on him he went right to work, no funny business, no drama. Love that guy so much.
We earned ourselves three year-end awards (Premium Achievement Awards for Training and First Level, and a Mastery Award for Training Level) at those shows last summer, and last week I attended the banquet to accept them. It makes me so happy that my little girl was a part of all that! We made a good team.
Yes, I miss it badly. I'm looking forward to getting my butt back in the saddle and resuming a routine once baby is born. But I'm also really aware of how lucky I was to be able to continue riding for so long, with no complications, and grateful for the health benefits, joy and sanity it brought to my pregnancy. Horseback riding is on the list of Things You Should Never Do While Pregnant (along with downhill skiing and sky-diving), but I beg to differ. ;)