The last two years Badminton has been won by women on mares. While this alone is worthy of mention and a clear indication of gender equality at the very peak of the sport, an additional fact piqued my interest. Both winners are mothers of young children. Which means that alongside the challenges of new parenthood and an enforced layoff, both managed to retain or regain their competitive edge. This is altogether remarkable considering the especial physicality of eventing at 5* level and the fact that the rest of the field certainly wasn’t cutting them any slack for the their ‘delicate’ state. Not to mention the psychological effects of having a little human dependant on you.
The truth is, people respond to parenthood in ways that are as unique as they are. Some are overwhelmed by the gravity of nurturing a child, while others are driven to achieve as much as they can. Some find the changes in their bodies and responses all-encompassing while others are empowered by the process. It can only be assumed that Piggy & Jonelle are of the latter categories, although credit must also be given to them for choosing (or training!) supportive partners and teams.
While the psychological and physical response to squeezing a baby out are not to be sniffed at, it also pays to remember that this comes on the back of time out of the saddle, or at least time performing at a lower level than that which you’d normally be. Just how much time once again depends on the individual. Some people hang up their boots as soon as the second line appears on the testing stick while I know of at least one racehorse trainer who did pacework on the morning she went to hospital in the vain hope that she’d avoid chemical induction. As horse riders we often walk a tightrope between doing what we feel we are capable of and doing what we think we should be doing, and those that are in the public eye have to deal with pressure from outsiders as well. The thing is, statistically, the risk of horse riding to your baby is extremely low – even if you do fall (and most of us won’t put ourselves at increased risk of that!) our bodies are designed to protect our babies. When you look at the increased benefits of staying fit & sane, I know which side of the ‘should I ride’ equation I personally sit on. For those that love science it is hard to get specific stats, but I can tell you that in 10 years of A&E nursing I only saw one pregnant patient where we were concerned about her baby, and she’d had a car crash on her way back from skiing! The baby was fine – born normally some six weeks later.
Personally, I stayed active and riding until I was 8 months pregnant with my first – I evented at the equivalent of BE90 while 7 months gestation. With the second I wasn’t quite so gung-ho – relaxed ligaments meant things were much less comfortable. I compete at Regional Champs (Elementary level dressage) at 5 months then took the shoes off my pony the next day and turned him out to be feral for the next 4 months. But no matter if you take the middle road like me or are like my trainer friend, you will need to step back at some stage and that does have further impact. For those professionals who become pregnant the impact is heightened by their inability to earn an income while they are doing this, and the fact that the gap in formline will affect their standings and ergo, any chance they have to be selected for teams and nominated events. Both Piggy & Jonelle commented separately about this. Piggy stated she had very supportive owners that were standing by her, although these horses were given to other riders during her stint away from the ‘office’. Jonelle mentioned that she didn’t think it was OK that a maternity leave protocol wasn’t applied to eventers, a belief that is somewhat backed up by the fact that in March 2017 when she announced she was pregnant she was ranked number 7 and a year later she was at 212 – hardly a reflection of her ability!
But beyond pregnancy & childbirth, does this have a lesson for us all? I really think it does. So often we become with pressing on, always moving forward, always hitting goals. Yet sometimes our forward progression is interrupted through illness, injury, finances, life. If those at the top of the top can afford to take 9 months or more away from sport and still be the best of the best, shouldn’t we just all chill out?
This week, the photo below popped up on my timeline. It is Des, competing at Hartpury in 2014. I’m on enforced hiatus at the moment, but I can tell you, I’m not done yet – I’m not done.
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