Riding after Baby – Part 2

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Your bundle of joy shouldn’t be causing grief

In a recent feature we looked at the exciting and challenging physical time riding mothers experience after having a baby. We addressed the changes brought about by motherhood and how to rebuild strength and fitness. In this feature, HQ speaks to psychologist Dot Robertson about the emotional aspects of motherhood and how these might affect your return to riding.

New arrivals

The arrival of a baby can be a very exciting time in your life and you can now look with anticipation at all the possibilities that will develop and grow in your relationship with your child. Some may have looked at this event with even greater anticipation – finally getting back into the saddle! However, this can be quite a daunting and overwhelming thought after having had such a long break. There may be a number of hurdles to overcome and you may have some questions that need answers. Let’s take a moment firstly to highlight some of those difficulties and then to offer you a number of guidelines and suggestions to help get you started.

Hormonal changes

On a physical level there are the hormonal changes that your body has gone through during your pregnancy. There have been fluctuations in the chemical levels of oestrogen and progesterone which affect your general mood and your ability to feel that you are coping successfully. In particular, these fluctuations can create mood swings where you may find yourself ecstatic one moment, while the next you may find yourself in a deep pit of despair because you cannot get anything right.

At these times, women are at their most vulnerable to postpartum depression.

Secondly, other challenges that you have faced physically are the changes in your body shape. This can lead to struggles with your sense of self image and self esteem – for many there is a great sense of anxiety that your body will never be the same again.

Thirdly, you may have had to face months of poor sleep and baby arriving has not helped to get that back on track. Many may have to face physical complications after the birth such as wound care or an unexpected extended stay in hospital, all of which lead to times of forced rest and recovery. However, the greatest challenge physically is finding the energy to cope with the changing routine and keeping tabs on all the demands that surround you.

Finding balance

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Finding balance can be a challenge

Emotionally maintaining a sense of balance is very difficult. To give yourself the luxury of time for yourself does not always enter into the timetable that you are facing. This becomes even more visible when you are facing the daunting prospect of having to return to work and realising the need to juggle so many balls in the air, such as baby’s feeding schedule, continuing with the practical homemaking tasks, focusing on the needs of your job, and at the same time trying to maintain relationships.

There is also the often overwhelming sense of uncertainty and confusion as to whether you are doing the ‘right thing’ in the circumstances.

No doubt you’ve heard countless new moms ask why nobody ever produced a manual to help deal with it all! These questions are so pertinent to us, particularly when baby is struggling with his own sleeping, eating or physical difficulties.

There may be a fear of responsibility which develops once baby has arrived. You will find yourself constantly being aware of the enormity of the care of another life, and that your baby is completely helpless and his need for constant care and nurturing can only be met by your awareness and presence.

These aspects all create a great sense of guilt that keeps us from being able to enjoy time in the saddle with our horses.

Time and money

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Will baby be raised in the stables? Interaction with horses is healthy for young minds!

From a practical point, getting into the saddle means facing issues of time – finding time for a quick hack, a riding lesson or even to just spend time with your horse can catch you from left field. You also need to be aware that your horse may have had a long holiday from the structure of his regular routine and may well need extra time to work on his schooling.

Another consideration is that of the increased pressure financially – the cost of getting your horse in show condition, lessons, and extra help with schooling may take a back seat to the increased financial pressure of having a baby.

These issues, and others, often lead us to the point of becoming fearful of being in the saddle. We find ourselves making excuses to not get out to the stables and ultimately may give up on our dream of being able to ride again.

You can do it

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You’re not alone – turn to family and friends to help you make time for yourself

If you’ve found yourself in this position, take heart – here are a few tips to support you:

  • Remember that to be effective – whether as a parent, a partner or a friend or colleague – you have to acknowledge that you have your own particular set of needs and you have to take steps to claim and meet these needs – needs such as stimulation, exercise and personal growth. Taking time to be with your horse can be of incredible value in being able to reach these needs without the fear of being selfish or wallowing in guilt.
  • Remember that you need to be kind to yourself. Don’t be harsh on yourself for not immediately returning to your original level of riding; you need time to rekindle and strengthen your set of skills.
  • Remember that you have support – you are not alone. When you are feeling the ‘blues’ or feeling that the road ahead back into the saddle is overwhelming and daunting, or that you carry your own fears of inadequacy or failure, there is help available. Reach out to an instructor or to a counsellor who will always be there to walk this road with you as you gain your confidence again.
  • Remember that this journey back into the saddle is about taking one step at a time. Rebuilding your trust in yourself, your ability and in your horse takes time. And you have with you the best friend possible. Horses have long been seen as extremely effective ‘therapists’ who can touch our core.
  • Remember that time management is an effective tool to support you in being able to build up towards giving you the time to get to the stables. Being able to start just spending time on groundwork, or taking time to walk or sit in the paddock with your horse is already giving you the space to build riding into your timetable, even if you simply start with 10 to 20 minutes.
  • And finally, remember that your horse is there to help you understand how important relationships are in our lives. As you rebuild your relationship with your horse, remember that other relationships such as friendships and family are just as important to rekindle and give time to, as they are also our support.

Look out for our rider profiles with stories and advice from other riding moms.

Text: Brigitte Billings and Dot Robertson. Photography: Shutterstock

This article first appeared in the February 2015 issue of HQ Magazine.