Hayley Watson-Greaves on returning to competition after giving birth: ‘I was shocked how unfit I was’

  • Former British national dressage champion Hayley Watson-Greaves had her first baby in April this year, when she and husband Paul Logan welcomed their daughter Elana to the world.

    Hayley has recently returned to top-level competition, winning the grand prix freestyle at Keysoe International CDI last month with her long-term partner Rubins Nite. She talks about getting back to fitness and juggling motherhood with sport in an interview with H&H dressage editor Polly Bryan on this week’s Horse & Hound Podcast.

    “After having a child, I’d definitely say take your time and let yourself heal,” says Hayley. “I was so desperate to get back on board. My groom actually banned me from the yard for a week because I was overdoing it, walking around going, ‘Right, I want to get back on’ and trying to get too involved when I wasn’t quite ready.”

    Hayley says she was “shocked” how unfit she was when she returned to riding.

    “I did keep up my Pilates when I was pregnant, just online doing it through Zoom, so that really helped me keep some of my core muscles. When I started getting back into it, I did some more Pilates myself at home, but I had to take it easy, and then for me, it was just riding. I think it helps I do quite a few stable chores as well.”

    Although in general after a break Hayley Watson-Greaves recommends setting a particular competition as a goal and working back from it, she acknowledges that after having a baby, you do have to take your time.

    She says: “I think it was about eight weeks after I had Elana that I went out to my first competition and I kind of wish I hadn’t because afterwards I felt I’d overdone it, I was out of breath.

    “I was adamant that I wanted to get back in the saddle, but although I was getting frustrated and wanting to rush back to riding, it wasn’t a competition. I didn’t think to myself, ‘I need to be back in the saddle by then because I need to be out competing’, because you just never know what’s going to happen to your body. So I just had to rein that bit in and think, ‘I’ve just got to take my time with this and keep up with fitness as much as I possibly can’.”

    Hayley explains that she and her husband Paul decided this was the right time to have a baby because of the enforced break from competition due to Covid-19. They planned in advance that Hayley’s parents would help with childcare.

    “I’m really lucky,” she acknowledges. “I rent the yard from my parents so they live on the yard and they are very, very keen grandparents.

    “I didn’t want to give up my career and they’ve been extraordinary helping. That has enabled me to go back to work because being self-employed, the horses don’t pay for themselves, so you have to go to work, and my clients are aiming for championships so they obviously wanted help.

    “Because I’m very routine orientated – I think that’s horsey people in general – I was thinking, ‘Right, this is the time I get up and then I’ll feed the baby and she can sit at the side of the arena while I ride’. That worked for a time because she’d sleep in the morning and then she’d go to my mother for a couple of hours so I could go off and teach a couple of lessons to build myself back into it.

    “But since Elana has got a bit older, that’s all fallen apart a little bit so I’m having to lean on my Mum a little bit more. Elana loves watching Hector, my small tour horse, so if you park her outside his stable she finds him hilarious, but obviously I can’t look after her and be riding while she’s awake, so I have to ask my Mum and Dad to help out.”

    Hear more on Hayley Watson-Greaves’ return after having her baby Alana on episode 75 of the Horse & Hound Podcast – listen here or search “The Horse & Hound Podcast” in your favourite podcast app.

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