Amateurs Like Us: Babies And Horses And Fears, Oh My!

Jun 10, 2015 - 9:43 AM
How to balance riding goals with motherhood? It's an eternal conundrum. Photo by Brant Gamma

People decide to have or not to have children for 10 million reasons, but for every horsewoman I’ve spoken to, that decision has an extra complication. There’s no getting around the fact that you’ll have to take some time off from riding in order to birth a child.

Also, like many horsewomen I know, I’m not someone who always wanted a baby. I know exactly what to do with a poop-stained tail or a colicky horse. Try handing me a toddler with a tummy ache and a dirty diaper, and I’ll probably just laugh at you.

Nonetheless, I assumed I’d get around to having children eventually. But first we were poor, and then I had an exciting work trip on the horizon like the Olympics, or I had big competition goals, and none of that was compatible with a baby.

And then my husband and I had been married 10 years, and I was about to turn 35, and we turned to each other and said, “Are we going to try to do this or not?”

Yet I’m still not someone for whom becoming pregnant has magically made me super-duper excited about babies. Yes, I’m thrilled that we conceived easily, and we are going to be expanding our family. Thrilled! Really! (And my heart goes out to anyone who has struggled to get pregnant. It’s OK if you want to stop reading now and tell me to stop being a whiney baby.)

There’s no way around the fact that getting pregnant has really put a cramp in my riding. My event horse Joshua has been fantastic this spring. I felt great about the progress I’ve made with him. I took him to Aiken for a week and did two events with him, and it seemed like we were really on track. We had an amazing cross-country school where additional pieces fell into place. We struggled last year to move up to intermediate, but now it feels like it could be within our grasp to try again, and soon, except…I’m pregnant.

There will be people who think I’m stupid and reckless to be riding at all, let alone competing while pregnant. That’s OK. It’s my choice, and I’m comfortable with it. Because riding is who I am and what gets me out of bed some days or, honestly, the only kind of exercise I could manage during the first trimester. Quitting riding while I can still see my toes and feel basically normal seems unnecessary. It would just give me a lot more time to mull over, “What have I done??”

But I’m not trying for intermediate this year. And when I angst about the day that will come when I have to stop competing, stop jumping, heck, stop riding, I’ve gotten lots of great advice.

“Your horse will be there. He’s young. A vacation won’t hurt him. It’s only a short time. You’ll be back in the saddle soon!”

Joshua and I in action this spring. Photo by GRC

All that makes sense, but that doesn’t mean I’m completely comforted by those words. I know my life will be completely different once this baby is born. It already is different. I’m gaining weight. I’m tired. I cry easily. And while some of those things will get better, other things will change, and that’s all before the baby even shows up!

Maybe I will pop back in the tack two weeks after he arrives, and I’ll take up just where I left off. Or maybe riding will be something that takes a back seat in my life for the next several years while being a mom comes first. Or probably there’s some place in between where I will end up. And I’m open to whatever happens.

But in the meantime, I’ve struggled day-to-day. I’m super goal-oriented, and those goals are mostly competition related. I keep telling myself: “Work on the skills you need to move up. Work on your position. None of this will go to waste if you don’t move up this year. Those skills and lessons will be just as useful next year or whenever.” 

I also tell myself that I have horses because they’re fun and make me happy, and there’s no reason I can’t enjoy them right now regardless of what comes next.

Most days that’s enough. Except for when it’s not.

Don’t worry about me. I’m OK. Excited even. Having a child is going to be a big, new adventure, and just like moving up a level, it’s probably not going to go perfectly, but we’ll get there. In the meantime, I’ve enjoyed incredible support from my friends and family. Even my most die-hard anti-kid horse friends have had the good grace to tell me they’re excited and offer their love and support (and to ride my horse if I want them to…). The best thing about being pregnant so far just might be the outpouring of support I’ve felt.

But I want to do this in an honest way. And so this is me right now. Excited. Impatient. And freaked out by not being able to plan my future.

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.  


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