If the prospect of not riding for six months seems bleak – that’s because it is! Following the rush of trying to cram every competition in that I could, reality that I now faced 24 horseless weeks seemed endless. I didn’t share the news with Minty at this stage, as no doubt she would have cantered off into the horizon like the Lloyds black stallion, kicking her heels at the prospect of an extended break (and I didn’t want to give her false hope). Instead I spent a few sleepless nights fretting about what exactly it was that I would do with her.
What to do with your horse when pregnant
It’s a question that every pregnant horse owner is going to come across at some point. In those 3am wide-eyed moments, these are the ones that I could think of:
- Keep riding: This is definitely an option for some, but its down to personal choice and circumstances. However, I’d already decided against it, and seeing as I couldn’t even walk round the block without looking like John Wayne at this point, this one was definitely out for me.
- Give them six months off: Snort…she wasn’t getting away with it that easily! But, depending on what you do with your horse, I think this is definitely an option – especially if they’re a hardy type that will live out too.
- Have a foal!: Obviously only an option if you have a mare, but those hormones must have been flooding at this point because I did mull this option over considerably and was sometimes overcome with the vision of Minty and me with our babies together running through the cornfields. Then I woke up, and realised that having a baby and a foal to look after at the same time probably wouldn’t be the smartest move.
- Put them out on loan: I guess this is probably the most popular and logical move. The problem with loaning however, is that it’s a bit like getting your eyebrows waxed – it’s rare that you get someone who does exactly what you want. You get the assuring nods that Cara Delevingne is a totally achievable look, and you walk out of that salon looking like Lil’ Kim. This can be the same with loaners. Despite best assurances and guarantees, I’ve seen horses that aren’t supposed to be jumped 'just popping the odd cross pole', ponies that aren’t to be fed treats stuffed to the point of Cushings and laminitis and some allowed to develop such bad habits that they have to be taken back to square one on return. Once word was out, I certainly wasn’t short of offers for this lovely grey superstar, and from some really nice people. But, at the end of the day, this little lady is a one-person horse, and we’d spent a lot of time building up an incredible bond and trust between each other. (And, if I’m totally honest, I think I would have been a bit jealous of someone taking my place.) So, that meant loaning was out for me too.
Hmmmmnnnn….so I’d sort of left myself without options on this one. I couldn’t ride, I didn’t want her ridden and I didn’t want her doing nothing. I discussed it with the lady herself but, to be truthful, she wasn’t that much help. What I really wanted was for her not to forget that she was a ridden horse, but also not to do so much with someone else that she would forget everything we’d learnt together and become a different horse for me to get on.
Step forward my guardian angel number one in chaps and a skull cap. Meet Sarah-Jane (also known as SJ).
Sarah-Jane is one of my best horsey friends and, because we are at similar levels with our horses and both competitive as you like, we spend a lot of horsey time together at clinics and competitions. She is one of the calmest, most sensitive riders I know – phased by very little and one of those rare gems who can bring out the best in every horse she rides by passing on her self-assurance and confidence through the saddle. So therefore I knew Minty would love her.
But riding someone else’s horse is a big commitment, especially with a full-time, high-powered job and two horses of your own to concentrate on. I didn’t really want to ask as I felt it would be too much so, instead, I did what any self-respecting four month desperate pregnant person would do, I kept subtly mentioning the subject instead! Sarah-Jane, as quick as she is calm, sharp cottoned on and immediately offered to keep Minty ticking over for me. Honestly, I could have picked her up and jumped for joy if I’d still had it in me!
Where to keep your horse while pregnant
Next came the second question….where was Minty going to live? Where she was kept just now suited my needs, but wasn’t really close enough to Sarah-Jane. Having been pregnant before, I knew just how big, cumbersome and unable I was going to get. Even small things like picking hooves or stopping off to put another net up wouldn’t be within my reach for much longer. There is the safety aspect to consider as well, as your bump starts getting bigger, you need to think about what you are/aren’t comfortable doing with your horse. For example, turning out in a field takes on a whole new safety dimension when you're unbalanced and have a bump to cover.
Step up my next equine guardian angel, Lucy.
Lucy is another of my best horsey friends – and an absolute inspiration. After a horrendous car accident four years ago, she has taught herself to breathe, walk, talk and, most importantly, ride again. I am always in awe of her, especially how brave she is – and she is always chastising me for how non-brave I am and telling me to move up a class!
Lucy now owns and runs a fabulous livery yard in the North East and I knew that Minty would be in absolute safe hands in her care. The only problem was, she runs a really good yard and it’s always full! There then followed a tense few weeks of finding out if there would be space for the grey one, but Lucy pulled out all the stops and found a stable for Minty – and I was so grateful.
So, notices were handed in, rugs gathered together and on a late September afternoon, off Minty and I headed for her new home. Minty was, of course, completely oblivious and had been to Lucy’s lots of times for clinics, schooling and the odd horsey sleepover, while mum consumed a few post-riding swift ones…..I, on the other hand, was feeling very melancholic as it really felt like the next stage of moving one step further away from my best friend.
I planned for a quiet, but emotion-filled moment between the two of us, where we would start to say our gradual farewell, marked by a poignant selfie. Minty soon put paid to this by refusing to come anywhere near me and furiously ate her hay net instead. There’s nothing like a horse to put you back in your place.
If, like me, you do need to move your horse when you become pregnant, there will be all of the usual worries as to whether they will settle in. My best advice is just to leave it in the hands of whoever you have trusted them with. They are a horse and they will mainly be interested in the other horses. So, just let them be a horse and get to know their new friends.
In the end, turns out I needn’t have had any concerns at all. Minty soon settled herself straight in and, going into a mixed herd at the end of her season, sharp made herself known to the rest of the gang! The tales I heard of my butter-wouldn’t-melt mare were enough to make her blush more of the roan than the grey!
Getting used to not being a horse rider
Driving away that day it really hit home that I was relinquishing my role as a horse rider, and turning into an expectant mum instead. If you've been, or ever get, pregnant, and are anything like me, this will instantly cause a surge of panic and immediate wracking of your brain to try and think of other ways that you can stay “horsey” during this already tense time! You see, being a horse rider is part of my individuality – it is ingrained in me and a part of me that I love and am proud of. I love nothing better than smelling of horse manure, with straw in my hair, nails worn to the quick and a strange pair of long socks wandering round the local Tesco. It sets me apart from the norm and gives me a strong sense of identity.
Gulp... Now I was just going to be one of those non-horsey people.
There quickly followed a list of possible things that I could do with Minty:
· Train her to be a trick pony
· Long reining and lungeing
· Improve my horse riding knowledge with more non-ridden clinics and demonstrations
· Equine massage
· Emotionally connecting with Minty through more groundwork-led exercises
· In-hand hacking
· Being a groom
In the end we had a go at most of these – some with more success than others! To find out how we got on and whether I managed to keep my horsey edge, follow our next blog in January.