Buckingham Palace was delighted to announce yesterday that Her Majesty the Queen's granddaughter, Zara Phillips, is expecting her first child in the New Year. Zara was a member of Team GB's silver medal winning three day event team at last year's London Olympic Games and is a regular competitor on the national event circuit. It has further been announced that Zara, who is three months pregnant, will continue competing for the foreseeable future.
Riding whilst pregnant is a personal choice. Obstetricians are of the opinion that unless an accident occurs, there is no problem as long as the pregnancy is uncomplicated and mother and baby are both healthy. Historically, pregnant women were advised to undertake only very light stretching and exercise and were also told to have a month of "laying in" following the birth to allow for full recuperation. These days it's generally accepted that continuing to exercise during pregnancy is a good thing. Many women go running or attend aerobics classes with no ill effects although most doctors are cautious in their advice and suggest that walking, swimming or yoga are the most suitable forms of exercise during pregnancy. It would therefore appear that horse riding should not cause too much harm during pregnancy.
But what about the danger of miscarriage? Some women worry that the open pelvic position when riding astride together with the bumpy, rocking motion of trotting could predispose them to miscarriage. There is no research to suggest that horse riders are any more likely to miscarry than women who don't ride, although anyone with a history of pregnancy problems or miscarriage should seek advice from their gynaecologist or GP before deciding whether or not to continue riding.
The obvious and most important concern for anyone who is considering continuing with their riding whilst pregnant is the risk of accident and consequent injury. As the pregnancy advances it is probably wise to avoid vigorous schooling sessions, cross country riding or show jumping as a swelling bump is likely to compromise balance. Gentle hacking on a quiet, reliable horse is the best option for those who insist on riding well into their term. Always use a mounting block (if you don't already) for getting on and off and ask someone to hold your offside stirrup leather whilst you mount. Remember your horse's comfort as well as your own!
If any any time during or after riding you experience any discomfort, swelling of the hands, feet or face, seek medical advice immediately and don't be tempted to ride again until your GP gives you the all-clear.
So what about stable work? Obviously, shifting heavy barrows full of muck and lugging bales of hay and bedding around is not a good idea at any point during pregnancy and it's best to employ someone else to do this. Having said that, being pregnant is not an illness or a disability and light tasks such as grooming, brushing up the yard etc can be carried out safely. Care should be taken when turning horses out and catching them particularly later on in the pregnancy when it's not so easy to take evasive action in the event of a light-hearted buck.
Always remember that although your horse and your riding are a huge part of your life and it may be difficult to give up for a while, nine months is not forever. Once the baby has safely arrived, you can resume your hobby, assuming you still have the time, money and energy of course! Seriously though, if you have to stop riding for a while, your horse will probably enjoy a holiday and if you do want to keep him ticking over there are always plenty of folk willing and able to deputise for you. And no doubt within a couple of years you will be adding a little pony to your equine family for your horse-crazy offspring to ride!
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