Have you ever looked at riders competing at the top of their game and wondered how on earth they got back in the saddle so quickly after having a baby? H&H caught up with riders, an equestrian mindset coach and a sports therapist to talk about experiences, physical and mental changes, and share a few top tips too
Event rider Lucy Jackson was back on board just 10 days after giving birth to her little girl Evie in 2017.
“Actually, when the midwife came to see us for our 10-day check, I had to be got out of the school!” says Lucy, who was riding 10 days before Evie was born but had used her knowledge as a physiotherapist to help her body prepare for and recover from the birth. She had a good support team in place too.
“I treated the birth like getting ready for a three-day event and changed my exercises to suit,” explains Lucy. “For me the recovery process wasn’t that bad — rehab from breaking my collarbone was a lot worse. But when you’re pregnant, people like to fill you with all these horror stories about how long it’ll take you to get back in the saddle.”
International dressage rider Lara Butler rode for the first time five weeks after having her little boy Jack.
“I was very excited to get back in the saddle as I missed it a lot, but I was nervous of how I was going to feel; whether I would feel weaker,” said Lara. “But I also realised that the only way I was going to know was by getting on and starting slowly.”
Badminton winner Piggy French didn’t compete until the March following her son, Max’s July 2016 birth (pictured top competing one year after Max’s birth at the European Eventing Championships).
“I had an emergency C-section in the end so it took me little while longer to get back in the saddle than it might have done,” says Piggy. “To be honest, I was just quite happy being a mummy for a short while. It’s a once in a lifetime thing to have a child for the first time so I wanted to enjoy the moment as much as possible rather than be in a hurry to get back to the horses.”
There’s no denying that some riders can feel a mental shift after having a baby. With a new list of priorities, a new life needing attention, physical changes and so much else, it’s hardly surprising that this can happen. But the changes aren’t always what you expect.
“I used to over-analyse four faults I picked up showjumping and, you know what? Sometimes four faults just happen,” says Lucy. “Having Evie and being with Harry (Lucy’s boyfriend who is in the King’s Troop and has been on two front line tours) makes me realise that as long as my family is OK, it’s fine. I think it’s made me a better rider as I’m able to focus clearly and then move on.”
Jane Pike is an equestrian mindset coach and says that many new mums worry about letting their horse down. But it’s not just this that Jane sees in new mums.
“One of the most common fears that intensifies after having children is the fear of getting hurt — and for understandable reasons,” says Jane. “Not only do we need to consider the personal implications of being injured, but also the implications that it would have on our children and our ability to provide for them.
“The fear of getting hurt is a valid one, but it has to be contextualised and evaluated. On the one hand, no longer riding will certainly prevent riding-related injuries (you can’t get hurt riding if you don’t ride, after-all!), but if it’s a decision that’s upsetting on every other level, you need to consider the implications of this on your well-being also.”
As for the physical side of things, moving on from any issues connected directly with giving birth, there are other areas to consider too. Dee Holdsworth and Ben So’oialo-Chan provide elite rider and equine soft tissue therapy, strength and conditioning. They also work with Lara Butler.
“It’s important to remember that everyone’s different,” says Dee. “Lara, and many top riders, have a team of people supporting them and their horses. Also, some mums might not have been as riding fit as others before birth, so it’s important not to compare yourself with others.
“When we work with new mums, we concentrate on balance, abdominal and pelvic floor exercises, coordination, strength and flexibility. And the great thing is that many of these exercises are simple to do at home with a Swiss ball — you can change your chair for one and it will help you become more aware of your seated posture as well as helping with balance and hip mobility.
“You may feel different or weaker after having a baby, and that’s perfectly normal, but there are lots of ways you can address this through the correct exercises.”
Piggy agrees with this: “I found I’d lost a lot of fitness and was conscious of trying to get that back. I have a personal trainer called Ali Cooper who comes once a week for an hour and I’ve found that has made a real difference to how I feel. I think I’m now probably fitter than I ever have been.”
Advice for new mums wanting to get back into the saddle
“I’d say do it — I’m always very aware of the impact what I do has on my family and support team, but I also know that if I get some time away from being a mummy I’m a much better mummy for it,” admits Lucy. “The support team is so important — we really do operate like a family.”
Piggy’s advice is to take your time and not be in a mad rush to get back riding again.
“Having a child is a huge thing so I think it’s important to enjoy that experience and come back to riding when you feel ready,” says Piggy. “Just because someone else was riding within a week doesn’t mean you have to be as well.”
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Lara suggests that patience is key, as is riding when you feel ready.
“I didn’t have the easiest of births so it was hard for me waiting for my body to heal enough for me to get back on, but it was important that I did wait. Also plan your time as much as you can and have someone that you trust looking after your baby so you can fully concentrate on you and your horse as that’s your time to relax!”
Jane also offers some great advice on this: “Taking time to do things that fill you up, that allow you to recharge and that inspire you is an important part of self-care, and that in turn affects how you are in front of others.”
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