Horses are a passion of mine, a unique pulse that runs through my blood that I find difficult to explain. In June, I joined the Mom club, but not just any Mom club. This club is for the crazy women who manage to find the balance between their love of horses and this brand new, precious life that we are completely absorbed with. When my baby-bump started to show, things got real and a small part of me was terrified that I would lose touch with my horses. I had so many people offering their words of wisdom, “Your life is about to change.” “Ride while you still can.” “Say goodbye to sleep!” I was filled with excitement for my growing family, and chose to remain optimistic that I would continue to be part of the herd.
Rather than feeling pulled in two directions, my heart just grew bigger and fuller than I imagined possible. Nekoda blew soft moist kisses at my growing babe in the morning when I showed up to feed. Her gentle disposition made me feel safe to continue riding her throughout the changing seasons. We were also able to get some extra exercise by playing with groundwork in the arena.
My daily workout consisted of throwing square bales into the RTV, and dispersing hay into our many slow feeders spread around the track paddock. When I felt ambitious enough I would bring the pitch fork along with me to pick up manure. Rubbing the horses down during morning check stayed the routine. In the spring, I was spoiled when I showed up to feed, finding the RTV already filled with hay to prevent me from lifting too much towards the end of my pregnancy.
Training slowed down towards the end of my first trimester. It was a fairly natural process. Some of my clients watched wide-eyed as I rode, terrified that their horse would be the one who would “misbehave” for the pregnant lady. Since we are always looking for a stress-free session, I began to instruct more from the ground, which made everyone feel better. My most difficult decision during this transitional time was how to deal with several of my young horses in training. I designated some of them to other trainers in my area who I trusted would continue with a similar approach. A few youngsters just went home with the knowledge I hoped they had gained. Listening to the horse is everything though, so I continued to work with my developed horses as I always had – gaining permission to ride before mounting, looking for softness and acceptance without force.
I think the horses recognized that I was changing. Perhaps they sensed the hormones, or the baby growing? One miniature horse who pays no attention people, pursued me every time I went in the paddock, to smell my belly. Several other horses that I have known for years seemed to approach me differently. I’m sure I also must have changed, as I was more aware of my surroundings and responsibility to keep everyone feeling calm and safe.
Then there was Pedro. This trusty, stout donkey carried me through the woods on teaching trail rides all winter. He carried me through my pregnancy and kept my seat soft, my hands familiar to the reins, and my heart in the moment. Donkeys tend to be less spooky than horses, and Pedro was a solid mount who I trusted every stride until I was unable to fit my swelling girth into his saddle anymore.
In the spring when I was no longer riding, I continued to practise movements and exercises on foot. Looking back, I can only imagine how ridiculous I must have looked at eight months pregnant, skipping around the arena while clarifying for a student the difference between canter from the hind quarters vs cantering on the forehand… It didn’t stop at canter. I would walk (waddle?) with posture in mind, which takes me back to that club I mentioned; you know the one with the crazy women who try to balance horses with parenthood? I gave my last lesson three weeks before giving birth.
Leo Isaac was welcomed into the world already knowing the feeling of horses. I carried him with me on the long drives to check on Encore when he was stuck at Whisper Ridge Ranch. He came with me to court when I stood up against animal cruelty, bringing Encore back from starvation a second time. My son is already familiar with the rhythm of the ride. He has felt my heart flutter with joy for my passion, and the pounding adrenaline that I could not avoid when I stood strong for the animals I love. Whether he ever decides to ride does not matter to me, but I expect him to be respectful and compassionate with all living beings. As for the herd, Nekoda and I have been enjoying our Saturday mornings riding or doing other things while Leo hangs out with the other love of my life, my husband. I feel so fortunate to be a part of this herd.
P.S. check out more of Manuela Stefan’s photography at GracefulHorses.com