Laura Tomlinson: Pregnant riders don’t deserve judgement *H&H VIP*

  • Opinion

    As I write, I am just shy of seven months pregnant. I am still going to the gym twice a week and I still ride at least one of my horses most days. Do I want a medal? No (well, yes, but not for that), but I would like not to be judged.

    I am not careless with my body and I don’t take unnecessary risks, but I will sit on my comfy older horses that I know and trust. My doctor says I should keep doing what my body is used to, as long as it’s comfortable; my body will tell me when to stop.

    This is different for everyone. In the gym, I work to keep my back strong as I have damaged discs, and to maintain suppleness and muscle tone. But why is it that as soon as they’re pregnant, women seem to become public property, with people feeling they have a right to comment on what you are eating or doing, and even how big or small your bump is. Random people even touch your tummy.

    So many new or young mothers get judged, and those of us trying to keep a career going at the same time as remaining healthy and being good parents often end up feeling distressed and guilty due to misinformed interfering.

    My advice to anyone who is pregnant is to stay fit and active in a safe and informed way, and to listen to your body. If you have ridden for long enough that you are as happy on a horse as on your own two feet, and you have a safe horse to enjoy, then enjoy it while you can.

    After the baby arrives, again listen to your body, but enjoying a gentle ride and building it up again at your own pace is not a crime and not for anyone else (other than a doctor, midwife or physio) to judge.

    The FEI has taken steps to allow women who’ve had babies to freeze their world ranking points, which is a positive step in supporting women at the top of their game, rather than making what is already tough even harder for them.

    Physical fitness

    Fitness in riding is becoming more acknowledged as essential for a sport with such longevity. Strength and conditioning are crucial in injury prevention and recovery, as well as coping with pregnancy and its aftermath. We expect our horses to eat well, to be fit and athletic; we owe it to them to ask the same of ourselves.

    The gym for us has many comparisons with what we ask from our horses — if we struggle with touching our toes, a good personal trainer would not just push us down hard until we can. So why do we so often make these mistakes when riding?

    When a horse is struggling to bend one way, just pulling that rein harder is not going to make the horse more flexible. We need to ask: “Does my horse not understand or is he physically struggling?”

    The better connected I am with my own body, the more empathetically and more efficiently I can train my horse. The more even and balanced I am, the more even and balanced I expect my horse to be.

    For me, days in the saddle are numbered for this year, and soon I will be turning from rider to coach as I watch my horses being ridden by Lara Butler and Sarah Rogers at home. This is hard for me and yet I know I will learn lots from having to think through and explain problems.

    For every door that closes, another one opens.

    Ref Horse & Hound; 15 November 2018