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The Comeback

Essie has finally gone off to the trainer and it is time for me to start the process of getting myself ready to ride again.

I have a tendency to worry about things, and in the past worry significantly affected my riding. Before pregnancy I had made great strides in overcoming the anxiety that had been holding me back. After having such a big break I have been worrying (how ironic) that I’ll be set back again.

However, now I have the tools to prevent this, and part of that is engaging in The Comeback Pathway – a new pathway created by Jane Pike for her membership group, JoyRide. The Comeback Pathway directs you through a journey to bring you back from “trauma” to be able to ride again with confidence. This trauma could be physical – a fall or injury, or emotional – like having a new human-being relying on you, you definitely can’t get hurt now!

As part of the process she asks us to journal the process, and that is what I’ll be doing here. Welcome to my comeback.

Journal 1: Transformation

Thoughts that have plagued me – will I be the same again after my baby is born? Will my riding be at the same place, will I be able to tackle the same things?

But I won’t be the same again. An enormous, momentous thing has happened to me. I have become a mother. I have been entrusted with the precious life of a little boy that was formed inside of me. I went through pregnancy and labor. My eyes were opened to just how strong I can be, and how much physical pain I am able to endure. My body has changed forever. No, I will not be the same again.

What do I do with that dividing line of before and after? How do I deal with the changes, emotionally and physically?

I am being invited through this experience to embrace the change, to allow it to transform me, and to become better than I was before. This is not a backwards step, it is an opportunity.

The pregnancy and newborn phases allowed me to spend more time than I would have on ground work and theory, improving my relationship with Essie by doing lots of hanging out. We would spend some lovely sleepy time just standing together, Essie with her head hung low at my legs, me gently stroking her forelock and ears. I would not have done that without this experience, and I believe that our relationship is stronger than it was before.

I have started a clicker training course, reading through the information while I sit breastfeeding. When would I have had the time to learn all of this before? I am learning so much about my horse and about the type of horsewoman I want to be. One that is patient, consistent and kind always.

I am thankful for the experience of becoming a mum. I am thankful for the changes in my body and the shift in my priorities. I am thankful for this little person who is my own, despite the interruptions he will make to my plans. I think the interruptions will benefit Essie and give her more time to process what we do and find her way forwards into a confident horse.

I am thankful for the possibilities that are open to me, the opportunities to transform my riding and become better than I was before.

And as I navigate this process I need to be kind to myself. I have never done this before, returned to riding after having a baby or been a parent. The unknown is bound to be uncomfortable, and that’s OK. I need to learn to sit with the uncomfortable and know that a break through is just around the corner. And if it isn’t, that’s OK too, it will take the time it takes.

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Spirit


This post is all about my beautiful mare Esprit (meaning spirit in French) – or Essie as I call her.

She is a very sassy, gorgeous (and she knows it) chestnut Quarab mare that I adopted in 2016 from Save A Horse Australia as an unbroken 3-year-old. I hadn’t meant to get a 14hh unbroken rescue horse. In fact when I went to see her I thought she was broken in.

I had been searching for a Gypsy Cob or similar heavy horse breed that I could just get on and ride given my job kept me quite busy and I had to agist 20 minutes from my place. However, I can remember meeting Essie. The visit didn’t take very long as you can’t really “try out” an unbroken horse, but I left with an overwhelming feeling that she was the right one, despite being the very wrong one on paper.

I am so glad I listened to that intuition. She is honestly one in a million and has taught me so much more, and made me grow so much more, than I could have ever dreamed.

We did a lot of groundwork for about 6 months, and then I sent her away to be started.

Once she was back I was riding regularly, however I noticed that she was progressively becoming more and more spooky. This in turn increased my anxiety about riding, and things started to go downhill.

About 8 months later I started looking for some help and came across the Confident Rider program on facebook. I did a 5 day free starter program and found just what I learnt in that to be valuable so I signed up. My anxiety had really started to impact my riding.

About 8 months later I started looking for some help and came across the Confident Rider program on facebook. I did a 5 day free starter program and found just what I learnt in that to be valuable so I signed up. My anxiety had really started to impact my riding and I wasn’t enjoying it like I used to.

Around a similar time I also started following Warwick Schiller’s ‘Stick to the Damn Plan’. What I learnt there had me making some improvements with Essie, starting with getting our ground work solid, something I had been neglecting since she was broken in.


Essie and I also faced a challenge with the float. She decided that the float was not a safe place and refused to go in. It took me probably 18 months total, but 6 months of really persistent, regular work with her to get her to confidently self load. It was on this journey that we started using clicker training and I have never looked back.

Combining all of these things together we both made steady progress and started having regular dressage lessons with a wonderful coach. The improvement we made from our first lesson – where I was nothing but a massive bundle of anxiety and nerves – to the last at 20 weeks pregnant is phenomenal.

My dreams with Essie are to compete in dressage and to confidently go out on the trail any time, any where.

About 8 months later I started looking for some help and came across the Confident Rider program on facebook. I did a 5 day free starter program and found just what I learnt in that to be valuable so I signed up. My anxiety had really started to impact my riding.

Around a similar time I also started following Warwick Schiller’s ‘Stick to the Damn Plan’, and what I learnt there had me making some improvements with Essie, starting with getting our ground work solid. Something I had been neglecting since she was broken in.

Essie and I also faced a challenge with the float. She decided that the float was not a safe place and refused to go in. It took me probably 18 months total, but 6 months of really persistent, regular work with her to get her to confidently self load. It was on this journey that we started using Clicker training and I have never looked back.

Combining all of these things together we both made steady progress and started having regular dressage lessons with a wonderful coach. The improvement we made from our first lesson – where I was nothing but a massive bundle of anxiety and nerves – to the last at 20 weeks pregnant is phenomenal.

My dreams with Essie are to compete in dressage and to confidently trail ride any time, any where. When I fell pregnant we were at the stage where we could start going out and competing in our first prep classes. I had also progressively been working on trail riding.

These things stopped with the pregnancy, and so, part of my getting back into riding with Essie is to send her off to a brilliant local trainer to come back into work and practice going out and about.

Hayley, from Outback Equines, is an experienced horsewoman who uses positive reinforcement and has the horse’s wellbeing first in her mind. She trains 100% in alignment with how I want my horse treated. I can’t wait to work with her. Essie is heading off next week.

And so the journey begins once again to navigate my way back to being a confident rider. As Warwick Schiller says, Journey On.

Early Days

I have been a bit quiet on the blog front the past few weeks as 2 weeks ago my son arrived. We named him Jack, weighing in at a sensible 2915g.

He came on a glorious Sunday afternoon after a short but intense labor that started with the medical staff breaking my waters. We were induced as I had noticed fewer movements overnight, but I was blessed that all our induction consisted of was the rupture of membranes and nothing else. My body was ready.

Jack was born assisted by the vacuum cup as my second stage was prolonged (two and a half hours of pushing) and his heart rate was starting to drop during contractions.

And my worry about tearing was thankfully for naught, I had a very small episiotomy with no extra tearing. Interestingly, when the head was pushing against my perineum it didn’t feel painful, but rather the pressure felt familiar as it was the same sensation I experienced with the perineal massage. I really think that process helped the final result!

Leading up to the birth I had been practicing Calm Birthing techniques learnt through The Calm Birth School book and audios. I really think this helped the whole process stay calm and joy filled despite having some hiccups that led to an induction, and enabled me to be really happy with how my birth turned out, even with the complications. If you are pregnant I really recommend checking out calm birthing.

Jack’s early days have been really kind to us. we have been fortunate to have a baby who is sleeping pretty well so far and keeping his troubles with wind to the early evening hours.

A week ago we went down to the horse paddock to roll out a new round bale for Essie. She had run out of hay and we are in quite a bad drought. I took Jack down in the Baby Bjorn front pack but I didn’t get to spend any time cuddling my pony as she was ravenous for the hay and it wasn’t safe.

I can tell you that this did not make me feel very good. Little thoughts that ‘I’m not going to be able to do this’ started to appear and began to slither their dark tendrils across my mind. I was tearful on the car ride home.

When thoughts like this start to overrun my mind, I employ a technique I learnt from Jane Pike at Confident Rider and hit the DELETE button. These thoughts are erased and I hop my way back to better feeling thoughts. After all, it’s only been a week!! <this technique requires some practice but it does help to get your thoughts back on the right track>

Next time I’ll share more of my journey with Essie, where we were at before her holiday, and the plan moving forwards. And then we’ll see how that goes! I’m sure there’s going to be more days when I’ll feel like it’s all too hard but I’m looking forward to this new adventure of making my horsey dream work whenever and however I can.

Pelvic Floor Pointers

Photo by Steve Halama on Unsplash

Ah, the old pelvic floor. We’ve heard a lot about this part of the body in recent times. I’m sure there wouldn’t be many women who aren’t aware they should be doing their “pelvic floor exercises”. How many of us actually do them is a question for another day.

A quick reminder – what is the pelvic floor? Its the part that stops you wetting yourself and stops all your organs (think bladder, bowel, uterus) from falling inside out. Ick.

The importance of the pelvic floor starts to rise when we begin thinking about pregnancy and childbirth. I know I get a bit panicky when I think about tearing in labor and incontinence soon after! I had always thought – ‘do your exercises, you want a strong pelvic floor, then you’ll be right for childbearing’. For a lot of people that might be true, but for some it just isn’t.

I had an equestrian friend share with me her birth experience a year or so ago. It wasn’t pleasant. She ended up having a difficult delivery and needed help to get baby out. After the birth she saw a physiotherapist who told her that horse riding can actually make our pelvic floors too strong, which can make birth difficult.

Oh the joys. This is not something I had considered.

When I had my first midwife appointment I asked the question about horse riding and birthing. I got an immediate reply that yes equestrians and ballerinas can have a difficult time of it due to a pelvic floor that is too strong! I immediately stopped the adult ballet classes I had been taking to build my core and muscles for riding. I thought doing 2/2 of the aforementioned activities was pushing things a bit far.

Once I stopped riding at 20 weeks – you can read about that decision here – I booked in to see a women’s health physiotherapist. These lovely people are experts in all things down below that are related to our muscles and the functioning of those parts to keep our pants dry and our organs inside.

Seeing a women’s health physio is important because they can assess your pelvic floor (cue uncomfortable examination) and give you a personalised training program to improve things before you give birth. You might have a weak pelvic floor and need to do strengthening exercises – the physio can also make sure you are doing them properly and effectively – or you might have a tight pelvic floor that needs a different approach.

In my case, some of the muscles were quite tight and if we didn’t do something about it they risked not being able to stretch properly during labor and increase my risk of tearing. Instead of Kegel’s exercises my program involved ‘Perineal Massage’ (which all pregnant ladies should be doing from around 35 weeks), as well as some other stretches for my hips. This is where you stretch the pelvic floor muscles so that they have a better chance of stretching and not tearing as the baby is born. If you want to know more about perineal massage, have a read here.

So I will apologise for the medical post, but it’s an important thing to consider as a rider, and not something I had been aware of until I’d listened to my friend’s story. I’m really glad someone told me so I’ve been able to prepare. Will let you know how the birth goes!

I’m pregnant…do I ride?

I used to think the answer was no. In fact, I can recall a time a couple of years ago where I had a patient who was a rider and had just found out she was pregnant. She asked for advice and I remember recommending that she not ride during pregnancy. Looking back, I do feel somewhat of a hypocrite, as I continued to ride in the first half of my pregnancy, and I now see that the answer is not so black and white.

So that’s a maybe?

As much as we may like to pretend otherwise, horses and horse riding can be dangerous. There’s no sugar coating it, it is a dangerous sport. However, there are many ways we can approach riding and horse care to minimise that risk and so that we can feel confident we are doing it in the safest possible way.

If you are considering riding in pregnancy, or hadn’t really thought about it before, here are some factors to think about : 

  • The experience level of rider – have you just started riding three weeks ago, or have you been riding for years? What is your confidence level? If you haven’t been riding long and don’t feel you have the experience to deal with any unforeseen hiccups when riding then I probably wouldn’t recommend riding while pregnant.
  • How well you know the horse – a horse you’ve been riding for years and know well is going to be much safer than a horse you’ve never met or ridden before.
  • Your horse’s temperament and training – do you feel confident that your horse will be able to remain calm and relaxed for most of your rides, or have there been some training issues or behavioural difficulties recently that it would be better to get help with?
  • The type of activities you will be doing –  are you planning on cross country at a hell-for-leather pace, or are you happy to spend the time working on flatwork instead?
  • Location, facilities and equipment – is your saddlery falling apart and the girth could snap any minute? Do you have a safe location to ride in such as a fenced arena or round yard?
  • Pregnancy related health factors – how are you feeling within yourself? Do you find you have a tendency to faint now you’re pregnant, is your crazy pregnancy fatigue or sickness interfering with your ability to think clearly? Do you feel physically capable of riding?
  • If you aren’t going to ride, what are the risks of other horse related activities you might be considering? – I had mentioned to my instructor that I wanted to teach Essie to long line when I stopped riding, and she rightly cautioned me that that may actually be more dangerous than riding. Just remember there are risks on the ground too.
  • If you decide not to ride, what will you do for exercise? Continuing to exercise throughout pregnancy, where possible, is healthy and recommended.

Life isn’t black and white. It’s a million grey areas, don’t you find?

Ridley Scott

As much as we wish sometimes for a black and white, yes or no answer, there often isn’t one. The beauty of life is in the lived experiences, and those experiences are often messy and different for each person.

To help me make my decision about whether to keep riding, I asked a special group of like-minded ladies what their thoughts were. The answers I got were hugely varied, from stopping immediately, to riding while having their first labour pains. Their answers were in no way helpful telling me what I should do, other than to let me know that there would be no wrong answer. That I had to work out what was right in my own context and with my own assessment of the risks before me.

I chose to keep riding until 20 weeks of pregnancy, with the proviso to stop earlier or later depending on what felt right.

How I came to that decision was a little bit of gut feeling, being a riding addict who shrivelled inside just a little at the idea of stopping earlier, and the assurance that I had risk mitigated as much as was possible.

I chose to only ride inside the arena, or an enclosed space, and stop working on training my mare for the trail. And I kept my ridden sessions shorter as I did have a tendency to feel lightheaded at times. I let my dressage instructor know at the beginning (before we’d made a public announcement) so she was able to give me regular breaks and understand if I needed to stop during a lesson. I felt confident that my mare could be calm and relaxed in all our ridden sessions, and in fact I was blessed to not have had any hairy instances during the times I rode while pregnant.

It just happened that at 20 weeks I got my first intuitive sensation that ‘this doesn’t feel quite right’. While riding I could finally notice my baby bump and a little frisson of fear took hold.  I listened to that gut feeling and I have no regrets with my decision to stop at that point. Although now, at 38 weeks, I must say I am feeling rather impatient to get back in the saddle!

The last dressage lesson at 20 weeks

So, if I was to do that patient consultation all over again, my advice would be a little different. I would say:

  • Assess the risks and know that there will always be an inherent risk no matter how much minimisation and safety planning you do – are you comfortable with the risk that remains?
  • Be ok with your decision, everyone will be different 
  • Listen to others with discernment – there will be naysayers on either side of the fence, who criticise with nothing helpful to input, but some may give food for thought that you hadn’t considered before, like when my instructor told me that perhaps teaching long reining for the first time while pregnant wasn’t the best idea.

I hope this has been helpful! If you have any experiences with riding while pregnant, or choosing not to, I’d love to hear about it!

A rude interruption…

This is not at all what I had planned to write about for my second post, but I thought it was worth writing down, if only so that I remember the lesson.

So yesterday started off as a really nice day. I slept in, spent some time pottering about the house in the morning before I planned to go down to the horse paddock to meet the vet who was coming to give Essie her Hendra vaccination.

All was going well until unexpectedly the electrician showed up. I won’t go into the details except to say that they were a day early and their appearance altered both mine and my husband’s schedule for the day to be able to accommodate their wishes. On top of that as I was getting into the car as planned to go to the paddock the car took a couple of goes to start. Ominous fretting ensued, would I be broken down on the side of the road before too long? As I tried to ring my husband about the situation the phone decided now was the time to have a little conniption. Finally I was on my merry way.

With five minutes left of my 20 minute commute to the paddock, and five minutes until our appointment time, I receive a phone call from the vet saying they were going to be an hour late. Great, could you not have phoned a little earlier?

I went home, only to have arrived long enough to empty my bladder when I received another phone call from the vet saying they’d be there in 20 minutes. Great. I got back in the car and went straight back down, by this time fuming as to all the things that were just not going right!

As I was driving I recalled an article written by my friend and equestrian mental skills coach Jane Pike (you’ll probably hear a lot more about her) recently on the subject of anger. Her article – which you can read here – talked about the fact that anger is typically viewed as a negative emotion and we pay little attention to the positive qualities that it has, namely that:

It’s a call to activate our boundaries and to evaluate our circumstances from an emotional, physical and spiritual standpoint

Jane Pike

So, I reflected on what boundaries might have been crossed in my morning’s shenanigans that had caused me to end up huffing and puffing in annoyance. What it came down to was that I felt that people and inanimate objects – as ridiculous as that sounds – had failed to deliver on what they said they were going to do. They did not deliver on their promises.

Well and what can I do about this threatened boundary? All I could think of was that I make sure that in my own life I always do what I say I will.

That my yes means yes and my no means no.

And then my mind flicked to horses. If I feel this frustrated from a few things not going the way I expected, how much more frustrated must my horse feel when I am inconsistent. When my yes today is a no tomorrow, and swaps back and forth seemingly at random.

Take leading for example. I can off the top of my head think of five different ways I have asked my horse to back up when she’s crowded me in the last couple of years. And the criteria of the distance I want between us when I am leading has changed just as many times. No wonder we get horses giving us behaviours we don’t want when we can’t make up our minds what we do want! I am amazed at the patience and forgiveness with which my horse treats me.

And I think these skills that we learn training and handling horses can in many respects translate over to parenting.

In my work I have the opportunity to see many different families, and many different parenting styles, some effective, others not so much. What shines through is that consistency is key. Kids need to know what to expect. Just like horses things tend not to go so well when one day a particular activity or behaviour was ok but the next day it is not.

I want my child to know I will do what I promise to do, that I will react in a predictable way to the different behaviours they offer, that in fact my yes does mean yes and my no means no, that I won’t change my mind at random or not show up when I say I will. I’m sure this is easier said than done but my hope is that I will always aim to be the consistent mother my children need.

As I return to riding I want to make sure that I am a consistent, quiet, kind and dependable partner for my horse, and I want to be the same kind of parent for my child.

If you have any stories where the principles of horse training have been similar to child rearing, I would love to hear about them!

Continue reading “A rude interruption…”

Our family grows by one…

The journey of becoming a mum while being a rider

Those two little lines that change everything. I can remember what I was wearing (a very daggy track suit), the type of day it was (a rainy Sunday), and what I was doing (arguing with my husband about something incredibly insignificant that I can no longer recall) when shortly after I ran out to the kitchen to confirm that my husband could also see those two little blue lines on the pregnancy test stick.

And so began the next chapter. The whirlwind of supplements, tests and scans, sickness, and unsolicited advice that pours in from every corner.

And something I had not anticipated — the many new worries and fears that crop up now another human being has become part of the very real picture.

I have worked for several months on a maternity and labour ward, so my knowledge of birth is somewhat more in depth than the average person and as a result I have a wealth of unpleasant and some very scary memories of the myriad of things that can possibly go wrong when it comes down to the business of childbirth. Knowing too much can certainly be a curse. To top that off I had recently discovered the potential problems that being a rider can have on birth and that my pelvic floor and lady bits could be at more risk than the average Joe.

And so began my journey to discovering the best way for me to approach birth, pregnancy and riding in the midst of that.

My plan for this blog is to share bits of my story, talk about the things we can do to prepare our bodies for birth, and journey with those who want to come along as I get back into riding after the birth of my baby — in hopefully 2 weeks time!

If you ever feel like sharing part of your story I would love to hear about your experiences with pregnancy, motherhood and riding, and anything in between.