The day of my final ride while pregnant has come and gone. For the last several rides I tried to deny it, but it turns out that everyone who told me I’d know when it was time to quit was right. My body informed me in pretty adamant terms that riding is no longer an option.
Until recently, riding had basically been fine. No, I wasn’t at my most effective, but my balance was OK, and my horse didn’t seem to mind the extra weight. We played with lead changes and the elusive “more supple” and “more through” that dressage judges are always requesting. There were even times when I felt smug about how much we were accomplishing.
I discovered, a little bit to my surprise, that riding can be really fun when I’m not competing and have no immediate goals. I don’t get into fights or rush or get impatient, because it just doesn’t matter if we don’t get it done today. There’s always tomorrow.
And, duh, my horse responded to my lack of timeline by being perfect. It’s amazing how much better they go when you don’t put too much pressure on them!
But alas, thanks to the dreaded pelvic girdle pain, which cropped up during Week 30 of my pregnancy, my time in the saddle is done. I tried to deny that the pain was made worse by riding. I’m hardheaded, so it took three or four rides where I would dismount and nearly crumple to the ground in agony to convince me. But I’m there. My body has drawn the line in the sand, and I’m listening.
I knew I likely wasn’t going to ride until the day I went into labor, so I did have a plan for my pony. He’s gone to one of my best friends, who is a fantastic rider and currently without an upper-level horse. I will experiment with a horse-free lifestyle for a few months while I await this child, birth him, and learn to care for him.
That’s Josh, on the left, heading off to his temporary new home.
It’s not that I’m unsure of the next step. But what I didn’t expect was how emotional this time would be. Of course, you might point out that I’m pregnant, so EVERYTHING is emotional. And that’s true, but being cut off from my horse gets at something deeper than the meltdown I recently had in a parking lot when it took me 15 minutes to locate my husband, and HE WASN’T RESPONDING TO TEXTS OR PHONE CALLS. WAHHHHHHH!
Pulling on breeches and going for a ride is something that has sustained me through all my toughest life situations. I made it about three months into my first horseless year of college before I called up the riding coach and asked if I could somehow be involved, even if it was just mucking stalls and braiding. The night after my father died I headed to the barn. I’m not saying I was very useful on a horse, but just the normalcy of swinging a leg over and going to work gave me a bit of relief.
No matter what’s going on, I’ve always been able to hit the tack and focus. Everything around me disappears, and it’s just communicating with the animal beneath me, directing my body, asking for a little more straightness, a more honest bend. The world floods back in once I dismount, but for that hour, my emotional and physical pain melts away. (It’s not actually riding that hurts now. It’s post-riding that’s the problem.)
This peace and focus is a big part of why I’ve continued to ride as long as I have while pregnant. For me, the risks were worth the reward of feeling like myself for an hour. As my body has morphed into an alien thing, and I’ve tried to prepare my mind for this monumental life change, I’ve had this sacred time to return to myself while on horseback. No longer.
It’s comforting to know that even though I’m taking a break, Josh is well cared-for and happy.
I can’t count the ways I’ve been lucky so far, whether it was easily getting pregnant in the first place, enjoying a mostly problem-free pregnancy, being able to ride as long as I did, or even having the resources to keep owning a horse once my son arrives. For all that I’ve been given, I am so grateful. I’m sure that as soon as I hold my baby in my arms, I won’t even remember how hard the last few months have been.
And I know this non-riding time is only for a little while. I plan to track my horse’s progress with my friend and use the extra hours in my day to cross off the last things on my pre-baby to-do list. If all goes to plan, I’ll end up with the best of both worlds in a few short months—a new addition to our family AND a better trained horse.
It will all be OK, and I don’t doubt it. I just need to give myself the space to mourn a little bit, to acknowledge that this is hard, that these feelings are real, and that I’m going to miss my daily rides. And once I’ve done that, it’s full speed ahead on a ride of a different sort: the crazy, amazing, wild ride that is becoming a parent.
Every so often, we feature a blog from a member of the Chronicle staff. We’re just like you—juggling riding and competing with work and family. A graduate “C-3” from Penobscot Pony Club (Maine), Sara Lieser spent a year working for Denny Emerson before attending Amherst College (Mass.) and is now learning the sport from the ground up by training her own horses. She and her husband, Eric, share their 20-acre farm with two dogs, three cats, and an ever-changing number of horses. Read all of Sara’s blogs—including her latest, about her journey to motherhood—here.