You love him more than anything...but what about your horse?
You love him more than anything…but what about your horse?

If you’re a female rider, it’s likely that you either have or will face motherhood at some point. Yet for some reason it’s a topic that’s seldom covered in the equestrian sphere. Women are expected to give birth, lose weight and get back in the ring as fast as possible.

For those who struggle with the transition, it’s important to remember that others feel the same way. Pregnancy can have a profound effect on your riding, which is a cause for concern if you’ve been a competitive rider for years.

Your body

shutterstock_14311546 Copyright Nadezhda V KulaginaWe spoke to Ansi van der Walt of Equibalance for some advice on how to handle the physical transitions you will experience.

How pregnancy changes affect your riding (and your horse)

The combination of increased joint laxity in your lower back and weakness of the supporting muscles will make you a lot less stable in the saddle. You will be likely to feel less effective as a rider than before you had your baby. You may feel more bouncy in the sitting trot or less secure when jumping.

You are also more likely to develop pain in your lower back, pelvis or hips after riding because of weak core muscles. This is because joints that are not well supported are vulnerable to overstretching, concussion and friction.

Changes in your body weight, its distribution and your core stability will change the pressures on your horse’s back. This may result in your horse developing some discomfort in his back.

Warnings, tips, considerations
You will not ride as effectively for a while after your baby is born as you did before your pregnancy

Ansi’s advice for new mothers:

  • Always start any new exercise programme slowly and carefully.
  • Be kind to yourself – you will need time to adjust.
  • Get a professional assessment done – ask a physiotherapist or chiropractor to do a check.
  • Don’t take unnecessary risks – get help if you have a tricky horse.
  • Make your body a priority – set time for your daily exercises and stick to it.

Riders’ stories and advice

Abby and her Danica
Abby and her Danica
Abby Long

I am 36 years old, and had my daughter at 33. I am a full-time dressage rider and coach, and am one of the team leaders with the South African Lipizzaners. I typically ride between 5 and 9 horses a day, 6 days a week, with horses ranging from just backed to Grand Prix level.

Danica was born in June of 2011, and I had my last ride just 2 weeks before she was born. I had a caesarean and waited for my 6-week check-up before I rode again.

Abby during a Lipizzaner performance
Abby during a Lipizzaner performance

My riding has not changed since the birth of my daughter, other than that I am more aware of the consequences of my actions, and therefore am stricter on my own safety.

My advice to new riding mothers would be to go easy on yourself. Don’t push yourself too fast too soon. Know that you will get to where you were before, and then continue to progress. And the body can go back to being even better than before if you want it to.

Lauren and Liam
Lauren and Liam
Lauren Pretorius

I am 31 years old and I compete mainly as a showjumper, but I also compete in the odd eventing and showing show. Liam was born a month premature and he is now 14 months old. After Liam was born I was desperate to ride.

My biggest challenge was realising that my body was not the way it used to be. I was weak and unbalanced. Having a child has changed my riding. I am far more aware of my responsibilities as a parent, and that means riding with a bit more caution.


Lauren in action in the jumping arena
Lauren in action in the jumping arena

If I can give other mothers any advice it is to talk to moms who have been through it before. When you hear from fellow riders that they have all had those same doubts, those same life changes and have come out on top it is a huge motivation.



Magda with husband Jaco and their daughters
Magda with husband Jaco and their daughters
Magda Fourie

I started ‘educated riding’ in my late twenties. My partner and teacher is the Nooitgedacht x Thoroughbred gelding, Areion Peppadew. Together we have had many successes and have now progressed to Advanced dressage level and I hope to compete in the Prix St Georges classes in 2015.

Even though I am a medical doctor and occupational health practitioner by profession, I try not to let my daily non-horsey schedule interfere with my riding.

I had two children in quick succession: Hanneke, was born in 2013, and our youngest addition, Adelinde, was born in October 2014. During both pregnancies I kept on riding and competing until my second trimester.

Both my babies were delivered by C-section, so I was back in the saddle after 6 weeks. After the birth of my babies, equestrian life has quickly returned to ‘normal.’

Magda in the dressage ring
Magda in the dressage ring

My advice to other mothers-to-be is not to get desperate during pregnancy when you can’t ride – time flies and before you know it you’ll be back in the saddle!

I found solace in equestrian books and videos during my time off to ‘catch up’ on theory. I paid more attention watching other riders ride and now that I’m back riding again, I find that my understanding of the sport and of the horses has increased.

Text: Brigitte Billings. Photography: Courtesy of riders and Shutterstock

This article first appeared in the January 2015 issue of HQ Magazine. In February we cover the psychological aspect of riding after pregnancy.