It's a fact of life, horse crazy girls become horse crazy women and many of those women will also become mothers. Given the time consuming and demanding nature of horses and kids, the thought of juggling both in addition to everyday life can be beyond intimidating. But I am here to let you know that it is possible to do it all and enjoy it too.
There are many things you can do before, during, and after your pregnancy to help you make a smooth transition from Equestrian to Equestrian Momma.
Before Your Pregnancy
Plan Ahead- It takes years to raise and train horses, and kids are like horses it is really hard to have just one. So once you start your family you may find yourself out of the saddle on and off for more than a few years making consistent miles horseback few and far between. If you plan on becoming pregnant take stock in your herd and decide the best plan of action for you, your horses, and your future child. This may mean putting horses in to training to keep them going while you are out of the saddle, leasing, or even selling or re homing depending on your personal situation.
Ground Manners and Respect- The most important thing you can do before or during your pregnancy is to teach all of your horses excellent ground manners. Ideally all your horses should be easy to; feed, catch, handle, and load. Speaking from experience the last trimester you tend to lose all sense of balance in addition to not being able see your feet. Depending on your delivery method and circumstances doctors often restrict strenuous activities for 6 weeks to even a few months after delivery. Either way you will not be 100% for several months and having horses that are respectful and responsive will make things so much easier for you and your possibly less than horsey family and friends. Well mannered horses will also allow you to get your independence back sooner, by allowing you to do basic care activities with your baby.
Hidden Costs- If you do a lot of your own horse care you may find hidden expenses associated with your pregnancy. If you trim or shoe your horses, you may find it too awkward, painful, or dangerous as your pregnancy progresses. You may have complications and be forced to be on bed rest or even in the hospital. Either of which may require you to enlist the help of family and friends for your horse's everyday care needs and in some extreme cases may require you to move,from self care to full care if you board or from home care to a boarding stable.
During Your Pregnancy
Riding While Pregnant- Ultimately whether or not you ride during your pregnancy (or when you choose to stop) is up to you, your doctor, and your spouse. Everyone you know will have a opinion on the matter but in the end it is your choice and your risk. I personally rode lightly the first few months of my pregnancy, only on my most reliable horse, and only in a controlled setting (no public events). If you choose to ride during your pregnancy, consider that the only horse you have reasonable control over is the one your riding so where and when you ride matters. If you choose not ride during your pregnancy use this time to work on your groundwork and in hand training. Maybe school for a future lead line class.
Desensitize- The best way to juggle horses and kids (and create future equestrians) is to combine the two together. Kids are loud, noisy, and unpredictable so it is important that we teach our horses how to handle this stimuli. Groom your horse in a kid like fashion with sporadic and tentative touches everywhere... Screech and randomly jump. Dogs, cats, and chickens add a whole new element to teaching the horse to deal with unexpected commotion. Also consider attending a desensitization clinic hosted by a local professional or hiring a trainer to help your learn the desensitization process. Be sure to expose your horses to; strollers, rolling balls, and toys before you bring the baby down to the barn. Think ahead to how you plan on handling your baby around horses and start finding places were you can safely groom, feed etc, and still keep an eye on them. Of course desensitization is never a substitute for safety and common sense when it comes to kids and horses. But a less reactive horse is a joy for everyone no matter the age.
Get Help- As a whole equestrian women are a strong willed and self reliant bunch, but OBGYN's generally frown upon pregnant women unloading feed and stacking hay. So it is important you have someone close to you to help manage these occasional but necessary tasks. If you don't have someone willing to help consider hiring someone to be there on a as needed basis.
After the Baby
The Right Horse(s) Make It Easier- Kids are hands on creatures who want to do everything they can to be just like Mommy or Daddy. Having a horse or pony that your child can safely interact with from a early age can help foster a love of horses. A good kid's horse is quiet, not reactive/ spooky, all while still being responsive. A horse who won't move and do can kill a child's want ride just as quickly as one who behaves badly.
Don't Feel Guilty About Heading to The Barn-Let's just say your life is going to be turned upside down and will never truly be the same again. Don't let the new title of Mom take over your identity. Remember that you were originally a horsewoman (and probably have been one for years). You deserve to spend time with horses and you should not feel guilty about doing so. In my experience sunshine and horse hair are highly effective in preventing and treating postpartum depression and the grumpy baby blues. Talk with your spouse, family, or friends about babysitting a few hours a week and schedule yourself regular horse time. Taking a little time for yourself will benefit you and your baby big time.
Plan to Start Back Slowly- While pregnant I imagined getting right back to my normal horse life just a few weeks after delivery. Nearly 10 months after having my daughter I now realize that I will never have the same horse life again (thou I do look forward to an even more rewarding time in the future with my baby girl). While it is possible to still go and do great things; long hauls and overnight trips may be out of the question for several years. Schedule your events wisely, and cut yourself some slack (you just had a baby remember) when getting back in the saddle. If you use to compete or trail ride start small and stay local your first few events post baby so you can easily get back for baby's sake or your own.
While the trail through pregnancy and early childhood while having horses may seem daunting in the very beginning the good news is that kids only grow up and things only get easier. While you may be sacrificing parts of your horse life now, you hopefully will be rewarded with a life long riding partner for many years to come.....