The diary of the home-made livery yard: I puffed, panted and then nose dived into the floor

  • Trying to conceal a pregnancy for six months while running a livery yard has been, er… interesting.

    Initially, it was just nausea and breathlessness that I had to cover up. Not too tricky. I mostly blamed wreckless alcohol consumption for these early pregnancy symptoms. At this early stage in the game where we were still trying to get our heads around having a third baby, I would rather that people thought I was a drunk than ‘with child’. Whether or not I should be insulted I do not know, but people seemed willing to believe it.

    It had been a condition of my previously mentioned terrorist negotiation discussions with Jerome, upon discovery of the pregnancy, that I would continue to ride the ‘lower risk’ horses, but that I would stop jumping and steer clear of anything quirky. Jerome and I were both as happy as we each could be with this arrangement.

    Riding the ‘low risk’ horses became some sort of army desert training exercise. The weather was warming up fast, but my paranoia about my (probably non-existent at the time) bump meant I would only ride in big winter jackets. In fact, I spent the entire spring sweating uncomfortably in hoodies and blousons, watching enviously as my liveries swanned around in cool comfort in their T-shirts and strappy tops.

    “Aren’t you warm, Katy?” they would ask me. “Oh, no, it’s quite chilly, isn’t it?” I would reply, red in the face and steam emitting from under my collar.

    Sweaty schooling of clients’ horses

    We ended up keeping the pregnancy secret for a lot longer than we initially intended. Mostly because at around 20 weeks I got very run down with a bad cold and sinus infection. It was clear for all to see that I wasn’t in a good way. I didn’t want to do the ‘big reveal’ when I wasn’t on top form and for people to think I wasn’t coping.

    By the time I was six months pregnant, I was back on form and it was time to come clean. Nobody knew at this point apart from my coaches, Becky Monk and Mark Cunliffe. They are always the first to know as they are in charge of what horses I ride, what fences I jump and which exercises I am subjected to at training.

    One morning, early in the new year, Becky had the group I was riding in working on transitions within the pace in canter on a 20m circle for what felt like an eternity while I was suffering terrible morning sickness nausea. The fact that I did not vomit all over the coloured cob in front of me on the circle is testament to my heroic self control. I told Mark and Becky soon after that.

    We told everybody our baby news in the space of an hour or two. The kids, parents, liveries and then ‘the world’ on Facebook. Everybody seemed delighted for us, if a little surprised and shocked at the imminent due date and how far along I already was.

    The reaction that touched me the most was my daughter’s. Ellie was so happy at the thought of another brother or sister that she very sweetly cried uncontrollable happy tears for a while after I told her that another baby was on the way. Her reaction weighed quite heavily on my shoulders, so I decided that I would take Chunky to his dressage competition he was entered for in a couple of days time and vowed I would not sit on a horse again until after the baby was born.

    Spice, Tina and Uncle Percy

    The competition was an important one for South Woolley, as Chunky and I were going mostly to accompany Ellie and her pony, Spice, on their first ever dressage test. We loan Spice from a lovely girl called Yasmin and she tells me that not only was this a first for Ellie at age seven, but also the first time between the white boards for Spice himself, at the age of 22!

    We have had Spice for nearly a year now, so I know him very well and how best to ‘manage’ him for Ellie, Spice being a bit more pony than is required for a first-ridden.

    When she got on to practice her test the morning before the show, Spice resembled more of a snorting, prancing dragon (I’d absent-mindedly put him out on a bit too much grass) than a dressage pony. When he put in a small buck, I quickly dismounted the child, put the pony on the lunge and executed twenty thousand canter/trot transitions on each rein, then promptly sent Spice off on a brisk, hilly hack with Uncle Percy and Tina (pictured above — thank you, Tina!).

    The plan worked beautifully and when I lunged Spice the next morning at Tall Trees Arena before Ellie got on, I could see there was no ‘excess’ energy left to get rid of. She rode a beautiful, calm lead-rein test for a 67% score and second place.

    Ellie, Spice and I

    My worst fears that our retired competitive jumping pony would hear the bell and gallop off, thinking, “Jump off!” were unfounded. He was an angel.

    What I had not accounted for when entering our classes was that I would have to run around the Intro A test with Ellie and Spice while six months pregnant (which at least felt a little easier in a 40m test arena than our 60m sand school at home), then immediately jump on Chunky and go and ride the Intro B and C.

    Ellie and Spice

    Surprisingly, the running and the riding were not so much the problem (although my face did turn an alarming purple colour). It was more my pregnancy bladder and memory that caused issues.

    Ellie and I with our rosettes

    Despite having visited the ladies three times before Ellie’s test, I still came out absolutely desperate for a wee (all that running, I expect). As soon as Ellie had saluted, I showered both pony and child with praise, hurriedly dragged them over to the gate and threw the lead-rein at the nearest person, who may have been one of our amazing support team (Chunky’s owner, Jo, her husband, Adam and another good friend and livery, Sarah) or could have been a complete stranger — I cannot recall.

    Continued below…

    In my haste to get to the loo, I embarrassingly fell over my own two feet and face planted in the arena surface in my competition whites!

    Poor Jo suffers with nerves at the best of times. I think watching me puffing and panting, then nose dive onto the floor before I’d even got on a horse myself, was almost too much for her to bear.

    “I’m fine!” I called over my shoulder, as I quickly waddled off to the nearest toilet. “Please grab Chunky for me!”

    South Woolley support team

    I didn’t trust myself to remember the tests I’d ridden several times before, so Sarah kindly called them for me. Chunky won both his tests with consistent marks. More importantly, Ellie and I had an amazing day, competing for the first time as mother and daughter and have made some very special memories. All thanks to the aforementioned South Woolley support team, the judges and staff at Tall Trees!

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