Disclosure: None of this information replaces medical advice. It is only to share other people’s experience. Always be open and honest with your Dr. and listen to their advice while pregnant.
There’s a lot of debate about whether a pregnant woman should ride a horse. Plus, there simply isn’t a lot of information out there for women about working with horses while pregnant. Well, in this article you can hear from myself and two other women and how they handled horses and riding throughout their pregnancy.
Sometimes it’s not always a choice of if you want to continue riding. If riding and training horses is how you make your living, then you can’t exactly take 9 months off from work. So, there are a lot of aspects to consider and every pregnancy and person is different. I hope this article answers some questions you might have and helps you decide on whether riding and working with horses is safe for you while pregnant. It is a personal choice and is also a choice that isn’t taken lightly.
Meet the Women
Rachel Brown: Currently pregnant with a girl and this is her second pregnancy. She is 38 years old. Her pregnancy is high risk and her baby has been diagnosed with chromosome abnormalities that are incompatible with life and is not expected to survive. *Note: she did not find out until halfway through her pregnancy that the baby had problems.
Sarah Burgner: Currently pregnant with her first baby. She is 27 years old. Her pregnancy is low risk, and she is using a mid-wife and doula instead of an obgyn.
Camille McCutchon: Delivered a healthy baby boy in June. She is 23 years old. This was her first pregnancy, and it was low risk, with no complications.
Common questions answered by Rachel, Camille, and Sarah.
Is it safe to ride while pregnant?
Rachel: There’s always a certain amount of risk while riding at any time, so it’s a very personal choice and depends on your situation, skill level, and how well behaved the horse is that you’re riding.
Sarah: This answer will differ from person to person. My answer, for me, is yes, it is safe overall. Riding horses is something I have done regularly for nearly 20 years. For me, it’s a question of common sense and natural physiological design of the human body. If you are someone who rides for pleasure once in a blue moon and doesn’t have an in-depth understanding of equine psychology (understand why horses react and horses do what they do) then I do not recommend riding while pregnant. No more than you should attempt to fly a plane while pregnant unless you were well educated and versed in the art of aero science prior to the pregnancy.
Camille: I don’t think safety is black and white, rather it exists on a spectrum. Is riding horses while pregnant safe? I don’t believe any activity is ever without risk. Even the quietest horse can stumble at the walk and cause their rider to fall. This is a possibility that should be acknowledged by all riders, pregnant or not. That said, there are measures that can be taken to reduce the chance of accidents happening. It is up to each individual to responsibly assess their own situation and determine for themselves the level of risk they are comfortable with. Personally, I have a high risk tolerance compared to other equestrians. This is partially due to my experience as a professional rider with a background in starting green horses.
Does it affect your balance?
Rachel: My short answer is no, but I didn’t ride in my 3rd trimester. Therefore, my weight gain had been minimal and my belly was still quite small.
Sarah: Personally, I noticed a huge difference in my balance while riding! I have been riding bareback for over 15 years and have even jumped horses bareback with no problem. However, one of the first times I hopped on bareback while in my second trimester, I struggled to stay balanced at a trot (this could be a mental thing for me.) However, I haven’t noticed a dramatic difference while in a saddle. I have been working to maintain my balance in others while pregnant, primarily through my personal yoga practice.
Camille: I feel I have a very secure seat and the foresight to stay out of most sticky situations. In addition, I did not feel my balance or physical abilities were limited during the majority of my pregnancy.
Did you change the way you ride or work with horses through trimesters?
Rachel: Yes. I didn’t notice any difference really in my 1st trimester and rode some, but I still didn’t ride a lot. In my second trimester, I went on one trail ride (a small group), but at the end of the trail ride, I had some pain when we got back to the trailer. I had also found out around that time that the baby had problems which put me in a high-risk category, so I hadn’t ridden since. Now that I’m in my 3rd trimester if I wanted to, I feel like I could comfortably ride my horse around our house at a walk and be fine, but I’d probably need a mounting block to get on. For me, it’s currently too hot and I’ve been advised to stay out of the heat.
Sarah: Yes. In my first trimester, I really didn’t change a thing. In my second, I cut out riding green or hot client horses. I did still work them from the ground just the same as prior to my pregnancy. I continued to ride my personal horse as I would “normally” during all three trimesters. In the third trimester, I started mounting my personal horse from a mounting block versus ground mounting. This change was more for my personal comfort more so than for a lack of ability. I have also not accepted any new client horses during my third trimester. Again, this is more of a personal choice, resulting in my schedule, the weather, and starting to experience some fatigue quicker than normal. I still play with my personal horse at least once a week, and we ride around the farm when we have the desire either in the early morning or right before sunset for cooler temps.
Camille: During my first trimester, not much changed. I was just more conscious and careful than usual. I had two colts in for starting under saddle and I relied on friends to put the first few rides on under my instruction. Both horses were saints, and I was able to take over their under saddle education very smoothly. In the second trimester, I stopped colt starting and only put a leg over horses that I was very familiar with. In the third trimester, I stuck to riding only my safest personal horses, and only did “boring” flatwork. It was actually a refreshing change of pace to get back to the basics. As my due date drew closer, I did have to slow down some. Riding too much caused my back to ache, and I had to take frequent breaks.
What limitations do you feel riding while pregnant?
Rachel: I feel a lot of limitations while pregnant. I don’t feel comfortable doing any fancy maneuvers or putting myself in situations where I know my horse would be spooky or jumpy. I wouldn’t want to take that risk. Nice, easy short rides are usually all I’m comfortable with. That being said, I continued to do liberty and things on the ground just fine until the heat of summer, then it became too difficult for me. Therefore, my time with my horse has been cut way back.
Sarah; So far, none. I am currently 35 weeks pregnant.
Camille: When weighing the decision to continue riding during my pregnancy, I looked back at any time in the most recent years that I had a riding accident. Although my falls were all few and far in-between, with nothing but minor bumps and bruises, there were two major themes. I was either pushing a green horse too far, or doing something reckless (but fun) on one of my broke horses. So I decided to put those particular activities to rest for the time being.
Do horses act differently with you while pregnant?
Rachel: Not really. My horse tends to check out my belly a little bit, but that’s it. I think he’s looking for treats. Ha Ha.
Sarah: My personal horse does! I tell everyone he knew I was pregnant before I did. He is still respectful and playful, but every time we play together on the ground and he draws in, he will put his nose on my belly. Concerning other horses, I have not noticed a difference in behavior.
Camille: I haven’t really noticed a difference. Many people say that they did, but I haven’t.
What does your Dr. say about riding?
Rachel: My Dr. said they don’t advise it because of the risk of falling. For me, personally, I haven’t had many falls in all the years I’ve been riding, so that is one reason I continued to ride in the beginning.
Sarah: I personally do not see an OBGYN. My husband and I pursue natural wellness concerning every avenue of health. I do see a chiropractor, midwife, and holistic nutritional consultant on a regular basis. All three have encouraged me to continue with my riding and equine exercise in safe manner for as long as I feel able and have the desire. The only recommendations my holistic consultant has made has been these tips: don’t attempt to colt start any new/fresh horses, don’t focus on jumping (show jumping) right now, and don’t try anything “new.” Such as any new equine activities or disciplines that I wasn’t already fluent in. Example: I am not a cattle cutting expert, therefore I have not attempted to ride in that disciple while pregnant. *My holistic nutritional consultant also has many decades of experience with owning, being around, and riding horses as well as aided many women in healthy pregnancies.
Camille: I think perhaps my nurse midwife thought I was a little bit crazy anytime I mentioned my riding activities. However, if she did, she never said a word. Instead, she encouraged me to stay active and take care of my mental and emotional health. Working with horses checked both of those boxes for me.
What wardrobe changes did you make to keep riding?
Rachel: I like maternity jeans. They have a stretchy band that is comfortable and doesn’t cut into my belly. I bought a very inexpensive pair of Levi’s on Amazon.
Sarah: I didn’t have to change my wardrobe until around week 28 of my pregnancy, I simply started riding and working in long flowy dresses and my same boots, which has been lovely for summer! So far, I haven’t experienced any swelling in my feet and I’m still able to wear my boots even now at 35 weeks pregnant.
Camille: My poor sausage feet no longer squeezed into my boots and I had to invest in a pair of high quality tennis shoes to alleviate foot pain. They looked pretty good when I strapped a pair of spurs on to enter a reining class, though. Thankfully, my stretchy Buckle jeans kept up with me for the majority of my pregnancy. Those jeans deserve some sort of Medal of Honor.
What kind of riding is safest?
Rachel: Obviously, some types of riding have higher risks, such as jumping or riding green horses, but that didn’t really apply to me and my situation. I rode horses I knew and was familiar with and kept things laid back.
Sarah: My husband, I prayed a lot about this concept. For our family, we decided that riding at home was the best option. I have opted not to go trail riding while pregnant and I’m not much of a horse show person any way. I have not entered any competitions while pregnant, because there are simply more variables involved when you surround yourself with other horses and riders. My husband and I still ride around the farm and I will even ride (WTC, reining maneuvers, and work through some obstacles) in our front pasture that is flat like an arena with no other horses in it. This is all depends on your personal comfort level and the horse you are riding. This is what we felt was best for our family during this season.
Camille: There were many challenges and sacrifices made to continue riding during my pregnancy but in the end I am very content with my decisions and I truly believe it led to a healthier pregnancy and easier delivery.
Best advice for riding or working with horses while pregnant?
Rachel: I wouldn’t take any major risks. But I would probably say if you’re an intermediate to advanced rider and have a reliable horse, then I wouldn’t let pregnancy stop you from riding and enjoying time with your horse. You can also use this time to bond more on the ground.
Sarah: Simply listen to your body and your baby. If anything ever feels off or uncomfortable, just take a step back, get a drink of water, take a breath, and have a sit. If you feel good, then go for it! Just like anything, use common sense and set yourself and the horse you’re working with up for success. You can accomplish SO MUCH with horses by just simply being emotionally present with them. You do not always have to “work” on something or ride to better the relationship with horses. Pregnant or not, I love to take my horse on a walk on our usually hiking path, or even grab a book and read in his paddock. These are just some of the many examples of non-riding sessions you can have with your equine partner.
Camille: I’d encourage any equestrian who finds themself facing the same question to carefully evaluate their own situation, and the risks involved with continuing to interact with horses. There is never a guarantee of safety, and each person must come to their own acceptable level of risk and be at peace with the possible consequences of those decisions. Working with horses is more than just a hobby for me. It is my lifestyle and my career and there wasn’t a chance I’d be giving that up completely for nine months.
Every pregnancy is unique, as well as each individual. It is important you talk with your Doctor about what you are doing with your body while you are pregnant. Having open and honest communication with your physician and care providers will you give the best possible chance at making informed decisions.
Also, pregnancy isn’t forever and if you have to take some time off from riding, try to embrace this season of your life. I encourage anyone to continue to spend time with your horses as much as you can if it helps.
A huge thank you to Sarah and Camille for collaborating on this article with me. If you’d like to learn more about these ladies or follow along with them, please use the links listed below.
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