To ride, or not to ride, is the question faced by many equestrians after they discover they are pregnant.
In this Reader’s Clubhouse Q&A, Kimberly “KC” Compton DiCostanzo, a New York-based eventer, Thoroughbred trainer for CANTER New England, and riding coach, discusses how she decided to continue riding after learning she was pregnant.
Q: When you first became pregnant, did you have any qualms about continuing with your riding activities?
At first, it seemed as though nothing had changed. I learned I was pregnant at the end of October, and our season was winding down anyway – I only had one more hunter pace at the end of November. I knew I had to be careful, but I’m also very fortunate to have great horses. I was 8 weeks along when I competed in the hunter pace, and not only did my 6 year old OTTB lead our team fearlessly, we ended up being the fastest team of the day! Whenever I was schooling, jumping or competing, I would wear my safety vest as an added precaution.
My doctors have all been very supportive of my riding, one even adding, “I can tell you to stop riding, but then I’d also have to tell you to stop getting in your car.” Her point was I could also get into a car accident or fall down the stairs just as easily as fall off a horse. I knew I didn’t want to live in a bubble because I was pregnant, but I also heeded her advice: “Don’t do anything stupid!”
If my doctors had expressly forbidden my riding, or if I had a high-risk pregnancy, I would have stopped immediately. This pregnancy (so far!) has been about as low-risk and textbook as it can get. I continued because I had the blessing of my doctors, and my husband fully supported and encouraged my decision.
Q: Some women choose to forego riding altogether when they’re pregnant, but others ride, even competitively, until their later months. What argued for staying in the saddle?
First of all, I love it. No matter what is going on around me, I’m able to head out to the barn, tack up, and go for a pleasant hack. It was also the one sure-fire cure for my morning sickness! When I was on a horse or working with a horse during my first trimester, the nausea would vanish. It was a much better alternative than Saltines and ginger ale!
Secondly, it’s my job. Riding horses for clients and CANTER New England is my passion and my livelihood. While I chose to finish out my season, I made the decision to not enter any more events or paces until the baby is born and I feel that my husband and I have a handle on this parenting thing. She’s due in mid-July so I’m hoping to compete again in mid-September and enjoy the rest of the season with a little mascot in tow.
Q: I’m sure you’ve gotten some advice, from both sides. What have people said to you?
People who own and ride horses have been wildly supportive, even if they themselves chose to stop riding early on. I’ve also had lots of questions from friends who ride who have yet to get pregnant, since they have the same questions I did. I was determined to keep riding for my own goals as well as the training of client and personal horses, and having people support my decision was immensely helpful. Other riders who have had children have been wonderful telling me how they’ve managed a family and their passion. We also have a wonderful support system here at Thunder Moon with family, friends, students and clients offering to lend a hand around the farm before and after the baby arrives, which we are so grateful for.
I did have one negative comment from a non-horseperson who chose to tell me I was selfish for knowingly putting my baby in harm’s way every time I got on a horse. While it upset me at the time, I later realized that there are all types of opinions in the world, and my husband and I needed to decide what was best for our family. I also learned very quickly that all sorts of people will give you unsolicited parenting advice – whether you want it or not!
Q: You’ve blogged in Thunder Moon Farm that your horses seem to be treating you differently. Can you describe that?
This has been perhaps the coolest phenomenon we’ve experienced!
My older mare, Topaz, is 25 and the matriarch of our herd. A week or two before I found out I was expecting, she took to sniffing at my stomach and blowing on it as if to say, “What’s in there?” Clearly she knew well before any of us that I was pregnant. She was also uncharacteristically meek and easy to handle. Topaz is naturally very ornery and is known for nipping when you least expect it, but she chooses to just snap her teeth in the air instead of aiming them anywhere near me.
Zeus, my 6-year-old OTTB, has also been very careful when I’m working with him on the ground or in the saddle. Even on days when he has pent-up energy and I feel like I’m riding a hothead, he will wait until I’ve untacked him and turned him out before he launches into his airs above the ground. One of his favorite things to do is nudge me lightly in the stomach or side when I’m grooming him, and he now nudges my arm instead. Our other horses in residence, while they may not be as perceptive, are certainly respectful and have been on their best behavior for the past few months.
Q: From a technical standpoint, how have you altered your riding routine to accommodate your new “bump”?
I stopped jumping in December, about when I hit the 10-week mark. It was conveniently winter, so it coincided nicely with my own horse’s “vacation” time after a busy season. I would occasionally take a seasoned horse over small jumps or basic gymnastics, but it was usually to demonstrate a position or riding technique to a student. My actual position hasn’t changed drastically – instead, it feels as though I’m riding with a beach ball in front of me! Dismounting has become a bit more of an athletic event, but all in all I’m very comfortable and don’t feel that my instincts or reflexes have changed.
However, in the next few weeks I have a feeling my balance will shift enough that it will be uncomfortable to be in the saddle. I’m letting my body tell me when it’s time to hang up my tack. I do feel very lucky that I’ve been able to ride well into my 6th month of pregnancy and still be an effective, balanced rider. And my pregnancy has been more fun because I’ve been able to enjoy it in the company of my horses.