Horse riding has got so many benefits and advantages that it can be hard to think why anybody would stop riding yet whether you should or shouldn’t ride while you’re pregnant is an issue that has divided people with strong arguments on either side of the fence. But with strong opinions for and against it can be very difficult to know which is right which is why I thought it would be helpful to give the facts and hopefully try and dispel some of those myths.
Is it safe to ride a horse while I’m pregnant?
Any google search will bring up conflicting answers to the question of whether or not you’re able to ride while pregnant which is what makes this a contentious issue. Some people will say of course while others will say certainly not. The truth, however, lies somewhere between the two. Certainly when you’re in the early stages of pregnancy there’s absolutely no reason at all while you can’t continue to ride. In fact a lot of horse riding mothers-to-be (as well as non-horse riding mothers-to-be) won’t know they’re pregnant immediately so will naturally continue riding.
Horseback riding during the 1st trimester of pregnancy
During the first three months of pregnancy the fetus and the uterus are protected by the pelvis which will greatly reduce the risk of direct trauma to either the fetus or the uterus. That said though there is always a risk of falling off regardless of how experienced a rider you are and while the fetus would have some level of protection from a fall, your injuries may have an impact on the health of the fetus. If any injuries you sustained during a fall require you to have a general anaesthetic then that would sadly increase the chances of a miscarriage.
Horseback riding during the 2nd trimester of pregnancy
After your first trimester the fetus will move further up in your abdomen where the level of protection is less than it is during the first trimester. This makes the act of horse riding much risky than it was in the early stages of your pregnancy.
As you progress through your second trimester the fetus will grow considerably (weighing around 2lbs by the end of the six months), this will not only effect your center of gravity and therefore your balance but it can also effect also how comfortable you feel in the saddle as the horn or pommel will start to encroach on your baby bump.
One thing that you may not have considered is how your balance will impact on your horse. As you move towards your third trimester your muscles and joints will start to loosen up as they ready themselves for the birth. You might think that that won’t make any difference to your balance but the relaxin (the hormone that your body releases to help loosen up your muscles and joints) will relax the muscles you use to keep yourself upright in the saddle. I’m not saying that you won’t be able to sit up straight but what I am saying is that your balance will be offset and your horse will have to work harder to carry you while also constantly having to re-stabilize himself to compensate for the change in balance.
Horseback riding during the 3rd trimester of pregnancy
Most expectant moms that continued to ride during the first six months of the pregnancy find that by time they reach their third trimester they no longer want to continue riding and when you consider the risks of injuring the baby are higher this is a sensible decision. Even if you do want to continue riding you may find that you’re not able to physically get into the saddle.
Fear not though, just because you’re not riding it doesn’t mean that you have to give up horses completely until after the birth. In fact being around horses can have a very positive effect on your fetus, if nothing else because things like grooming will help to relax and destress you. You could also use this time to reinforce the bond you and your horse have by trying some of these tips in this article I wrote on bonding with your horse.
Does horse riding increase the risk of miscarriage?
There is no evidence that horse riding during your first trimester will increase your risk of a miscarriage but that risk does change depending on the type of riding you’re doing as well as whether or not you fall off. Now I know that nobody wants to fall off and that it’s human nature to think that it won’t happen to you but a fall can happen to even the most experienced riders.
For arguments sake let’s say that you’re only going to be doing light work with no jumping, racing or anything too bouncy and that you’re not going to fall off. In this case, and if you have a healthy pregnancy then there’s no extra risk at all from horse riding.
As you progress through your pregnancy and the fetus moves up your abdomen and further away from the protection of your pelvis this risk is increased. Along with the risk of miscarriage you also need to be careful to avoid placental abruption which can be brought about by bouncing around in the saddle.
When should I stop riding when pregnant?
Most people will agree that while it’s down to personal choice whether or not you continue riding, for those that do continue the question then becomes when should I stop riding, after all I’m sure nobody would suggest you should continue to ride at 8 or 9 months!
Everybody is different and therefore it’s not realistic to say you should stop riding at x number of months. Instead it’s far better to listen to the signs your body is giving you and use those to gauge when you should stop. If you don’t experience any unpleasant effects from riding then that’s great but if you do then you should stop straightaway and speak to an obstetrician before continuing.
Any unusual symptoms should be investigated when you’re pregnant but if you experience any of the following then you should stop riding (as well as other exercise) immediately, regardless of how far gone you are.
- Increased shortness of breath
- Chest pain or palpitations
- Fainting or feeling dizzy
- Preterm labor
- Leaking of amniotic fluid
- Vaginal bleeding
- Excessive fatigue
- Abdominal pain
- Pelvic girdle pain
- Reduction of fetal movement
- Difficultly breathing before exercise
- Muscle weakness
- Calf pain or swelling
Benefits of horse riding while pregnant
As with all other exercise there are a great number of benefits to horse riding, especially during pregnancy. A number of studies carried out by various organisation have been carried out over the years as to the benefits of exercising while pregnant.
Some of those benefits include a reduction in varicose veins, retention of fluid and even a reduction in tiredness. Exercise was also found to improve sleep as well as decreasing the woman’s stress and anxiety levels. Horse riding also has the added benefit of being around animals.
Can horse riding effect my chances of conceiving?
Years ago a friend asked me if horse riding would prevent her from conceiving and while I was surprised to be asked (I normally get asked if people can ride during pregnancy) I was happy to tell her that there’s absolutely no chance of horse riding reducing your chances of conceiving. When you’re trying to conceive there is no difference between horse riding, walking, running or cycling or most other activities for that matter.
When should I start riding again after giving birth?
It can be tempting to think that as soon as you’ve given birth you’ll start riding again but it’s important that you don’t rush into it too quickly. Your body will have gone through a lot of changes that it will take time to recover from.
I know I’ve said it before but it’s important to listen to your body, it knows when you’re ready to do things and when you’re not ready. Even if you rode during most of your pregnancy it will still have been a while since you last rode so don’t expect to be able to jump back in the saddle and begin where you left off.
The decision on whether to ride or not during pregnancy shouldn’t be taken lightly and should be discussed with an obstetrician. While there is always the risk of falling it’s worth noting that Professor Michael Rogers wrote in a report for the Hong Kong Jockey Club that “In a healthy, uncomplicated pregnancy, horse riding per se doesn’t cause any obstetric problems unless an accident occurs”. Indeed the FEI (The Fédération Équestre Internationale is the international governing body for all equestrian sports) even have a section in their general regulations pertaining to women competing during pregnancy.
This article is solely for information purposes and is not meant to be a full medical consultation, nor should it be a substitute for one. If you’re in any doubt as to whether you should ride or not your obstetrician will be able to advise you medically. This article is just a guide but I hope it helps.
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