You will see a lot of conflicting information on whether it’s safe to horse ride whilst pregnant. Some people will say it’s dangerous, too much of a risk, or others say there are benefits to continuing.
Pregnancy for each woman is as individual and unique as her fingerprint. Emotions, feelings, circumstances and the physical experience of carrying a child and giving birth are both bespoke and distinct.
Can I go horse riding while pregnant? Deciding whether to go horse riding when pregnant is wholly personal to that particular person. Horse riding will not harm your baby, but there is the risk of falling off. Each woman’s instinct, feelings and perception of risk will differ.
I personally did not stop horse riding when pregnant and carried on until I was two and a half month before the birth. The reason I stopped in the end was purely because it was getting too uncomfortable for me with the weight.
It might be different for you though, so let’s take a look through the perceived risks of horse riding while pregnant, whether it’s dangerous, whether it can cause a miscarriage, and even the impact it could have if you are trying to conceive.
Risks of horse riding while pregnant
- According to medical research the physical exertion of riding does not harm your unborn baby.
- If you are a novice or less experienced rider, you are more likely to have a fall than an experienced rider, but they may ride more challenging and unpredictable horses.
- More accidents occur with horses when dismounted so lunging, loading, turning out and bringing in from the field. Many women choose not to ride when carrying a child but spending time around horses on the ground can be equally risky.
- Women worry more in the early days until the pregnancy is safely viable but the risk to the baby from an accident when riding, is far greater later on during the pregnancy when the baby is larger and less protected by the bony structure of the pelvis
Is horse riding safe when pregnant?
Most doctors take the view that, in a healthy and uncomplicated pregnancy, the physical act of horse riding does no harm at all to the unborn child.
However, there are of course always risks associated with a fall or accident – that is the more likely scenario and why people will tell you that horse riding is dangerous when pregnant.
Women with a history of pregnancy-related problems such as hypertension or who have experienced miscarriages are advised to keep their feet firmly on the ground. If you fall into that category, the risk of miscarriage is far higher (I talk about the statistics on this further down the page).
Is horse riding safe when pregnant? Yes, horse riding is safe and should not harm your baby. However, you are at increased risk or taking a fall from the horse which is where it can be dangerous. This is why it’s a personal choice.
Possible risks at the different stages of pregnancy
When you decide to ride during your pregnancy could be a deciding factor on how safe or dangerous you view the activity. Here are my views on the different weeks and trimesters and what it could mean for you.
- Horseback riding while pregnant in 1st trimester (week 1 to week 12): If you do think you’re going to be safe horseback riding at 8 weeks pregnant, you’re in the 1st semester. During this time, the baby is settling in the pelvic girdle. This is made up of bone and does offer a level of protection to the baby should you fall of the horse. For experienced equestrians, the risks and danger should be very low if the horse is at walking speed.
- Horseback riding while pregnant in 2nd trimester (week 13 to week 26): This is the time when your baby will start to develop well-defined toes, fingers, teeth, and denser bones. If you decide to go gorse riding at 14 weeks pregnant then you might be starting to show. Your uterus expands to accommodate the forthcoming arrival. As with the previous trimester, I only recommend walking pace rides, and only if you are an experienced horse rider.
- Horseback riding while pregnant in 3rd trimester (week 27 to the birth): As previously mentioned, I rode horses throughout my pregnancy, only stopping two and a half months before due to the discomfort I was feeling. The birth is approaching, and if people didn’t know you were pregnant before, they sure will now.
When I rode during the 3rdtrimester I did get some funny looks and a few comments from other people. To paraphrase one person, they said something like this:
“Are you sure you should be riding now? You’re going to harm your baby, and what happens if you fall off? I would never do that I think you’re crazy and very brave!”
This is typical, and you will get very similar comments thrown at you.
You will be heavier, so you might not be able to ride like you used to and will probably find it harder to get into the saddle. Most women do tend to stop around the 5-month mark thought, and I will explain why a little further down the page.
Is it dangerous though? Well, I didn’t think it was, and continued short horse rides at a walking pace as I felt safe and at ease with my trusted horse and my own ability.
When should I stop riding my horse while pregnant?
Most women who ride multiple horses per day are able to carry on until about halfway through the pregnancy. I only stopped two and a half months before the birth though. It’s a personal thing.
For many riders I have spoken to, they have said that at that point, the increasing bump begins to cause practical problems and affect balance. Riders can also experience soreness and strain as the hormones begin to soften the pelvic girdle.
Most women find their own natural stopping point and generally the fitter and more experienced the rider, the further on into the pregnancy that may be.
On the flip side, many established riders can quickly become frustrated once they are not able to perform to their usual standard and may not be happy to plod around in walk.
There is no right point to stop, it is whatever feels natural and your body will usually tell you that.
On average, most women do opt to ride have usually stopped by the fifth or sixth month. Whilst you are riding, keep in close contact with your medical team and let them know what you are doing.
Benefits of horse riding while pregnant
Horse riding has so many benefits, but are there are any that can be related to pregnancy? I think so, and here’s a small sample of what I think it can continue to bring you.
1. Mental health and stress relief
If you are stressed it can lead to health issues such as heart disease and high blood pressure. During pregnancy, these problems can increase the risk of an early deliver or a baby being born underweight.
As horse riders, we all know how this activity can help to reduce our stress, so it makes perfect sense to me that this one of the benefits of horse riding while pregnant.
The benefits to horse riding come in many forms. Here are some that I completely endorse:
- Increased body awareness.
- Increased mental agility.
- Increased coordination.
- Increased core strength.
- Increased muscle tone and flexibility.
- Increased stable strength.
If you ask me, all of those are benefits that not only could help you whilst pregnant, but also things you are going to need a bucket-load of once the baby arrives!
2. Keeping active is good for you
The UK’s NHS website says that:
“The more active and fit you are during pregnancy, the easier it will be for you to adapt to your changing shape and weight gain. It will also help you to cope with labour and get back into shape after the birth.” (read source)
The exercises the NHS advises against are:
- Don’t lie flat on your back for long periods.
- Don’t partake in contact sports where you might get hit.
- Don’t go scuba diving as compression sickness can harm your baby.
- Don’t exercise over 2,500 metres above sea level due to altitude sickness.
The conclusion on this is that exercise is good for you and your unborn baby.
I read take that advice as meaning exercise is one of the benefits of horse riding while pregnant. Make your own mind up though please!
3. Shelling peas!
It is commonly thought that horsey girls can pop a baby out just like shelling peas! There is no doubt that being fit is a huge plus for the rigours of pregnancy and labor, but did you know that riding really stretches the soft tissues in your pelvic girdle?
It makes sense really that, as a rider, your ligaments are going to be longer and more toned than the next persons. When you are pregnant, midway through the term, your body releases hormones to soften muscles and ligaments ahead of the birthing process.
However, some mums to be can really struggle at this point as in simple terms, the pelvis lacks stability and this can lead to discomfort, pain (see definition of pelvic girdle pain) and difficulty performing daily tasks.
Certain physiotherapists and chiropractors endorse the view that ligaments already stretched by the equestrian process plus a pregnancy can make life very difficult for riding women. This can be exacerbated by actually carrying on riding when pregnant as well.
Horse riders really need to look after their backs and you may find, in the long term, you protect your spine and pelvis more effectively by not putting a foot in the stirrup until after you have had the baby.
Can horse riding cause miscarriage?
There are people who will tell you that physical exertion such as horse riding, can cause miscarriage. It’s a rather out-dated view and has been part of medical literature for many years. In fact, I found this study which referenced the 1938 Handbook for Midwives which stated:
“Furthermore, lay people have tried to use excessive physical exercise as abortifacient, and older literature mentions physical activity (e.g. jumping, running, and horseback riding) as a cause of miscarriage.” (view source)
The medical study went on to discover that high-impact exercise during pregnancy is associated with a greater risk of miscarriage in the early stages. However, they also found that exercise in the later stages of pregnancy does not increase the risk of miscarriage.
So, what can we take from this?
Well, we all know of pregnant friends who don’t let up on their exercise at all with no negative impact to them or the baby.
Modern day doctors have also found that strenuous exercise doesn’t appear to cause any harm. However, the caveat is that if you are a woman who has a history of miscarriage and early labor, then you could be placing yourself at risk.
Based on what I’ve read, my thoughts would be that there is no evidence to suggest that horse riding causes miscarriage, but to be cautious do the following:
- Don’t horse ride if you are a beginner or novice.
- Don’t horse ride during the early stages of your pregnancy when risk of miscarriage is highest.
- Don’t horse ride if you have a history of miscarriage and early labor.
Around 80% of miscarriages occur during the first trimester or three months of the pregnancy (view source) and are caused by genetic issues which dictate that the pregnancy is not viable rather than any external factors but most women in that situation would not want to take the risk.
For years, the medical profession maintained the view that exercise during pregnancy was to be avoided. It’s rather like the now outdated concept of eating for two.
However, whilst staying active and healthy is certainly recognised as a better option than lying around, most doctors and midwives are cautious about just how much exercise is sensible or to be recommended.
Some women do exercise quite strenuously during pregnancy, but an aerobics mat is not going to buck you off or kick you; the issue with horse riding while pregnant is quite unique.
The bottom line is; horse riding is unlikely to cause a miscarriage. However, the act of falling off could be a real risk to miscarrying.
How safe a rider and confident are you? I’ll leave this entirely up to you to decide.
Hard scientific evidence
There is very little actual credible data on riding accidents whilst pregnant. This is probably because pregnancy is not viewed as an illness and riding is driven by choice rather than necessity, so it has bypassed the interest of researchers.
Asking advice via social media or an equestrian forum is something of a mixed blessing. For every woman who reports happy and trouble-free riding whilst pregnant, there will be many more who are keen to share their horror stories.
If you want to take advice from women who have ridden whilst pregnant, try and talk to people you actually know and also those who are riding at a similar level to you.
Horse riding while trying to conceive
I read a post on Mumsnet recently from a woman who had been advised to stop horse riding as she was trying to conceive. I couldn’t get my head around why anybody would say this.
My view is that the benefits to horse riding could actually help you to conceive. The reason I say this is because of how riding horses helps me to relax, it reduces my stress, and keeps me active and sane.
A healthy mind means a healthy body. I truly believe that. Surely a woman who is stressed and unhappy is less likely to conceive? It’s actually a scientific fact (see source).
Working with horses while pregnant
Putting riding aside for the moment, what about other roles within the equestrian sector?
The best advice I can give about how physically demanding your job is. Working with horses while pregnant can very hard work at the best of times! You might not want to work with sharp and fit horses due to the risks of working in close quarters.
There could also be some implications around insurance as well. The organisation or company you work for will need to be informed, and they may request you take on more restricted duties.
The equestrian industry can be a punishing one when you’re pregnant, so you could request to be placed on admin type duties or reduced hours.
Since I first published this guide, I’ve had lots of pregnant women ask me additional questions on the topic. Here’s a selection of some of the more interesting ones with my responses.
Can I compete whilst pregnant?
Rulebooks and governing bodies can be surprisingly silent on this point and there have been plenty of famous riders such as Mary King and Zara Phillips who have evented whilst pregnant. Check with the governing body or show organisers.
Your pregnancy may, of course, be invisible but if you alert the powers that be by asking the question then you will have to be prepared to abide by their answer.
Many riders who opt to stay in the saddle in those early months, opt for a quieter life and ditch the competing but then it does rather depend on your discipline and the level you are at.
When is the best time to get back in the saddle after the birth?
This varies again for each woman and possibly reflects age and the type of delivery – a natural birth or Cesarean section. Surgery certainly takes longer to recover from – you won’t even be allowed to drive for six weeks.
There seems to be some sort of competitive race centered around how quickly a woman can bounce back from childbirth, the bestowing of accolades if you are back in your skinny jeans after just a few days.
Your hormones, however, are unaware of this peer pressure and will take weeks to re-stabilise. Every woman recovers at her own rate. It also rather depends on how much sleep you are getting!
Pregnancy plus recovery time can equal nearly a year out of the saddle so restore your strength before putting a foot back in the stirrup. Only ride for short periods to start with and confine yourself to safe sessions in an enclosed arena rather than hacking out and on steady horses with a reputation for good behaviour.
It usually takes around six months for riders to return to their pre-pregnancy fitness and core strength. Some riders wait longer to get back on board, just preferring to feel more recovered from the process of childbirth and pregnancy and better able to do things.
How will it feel getting back on a horse after childbirth?
It will feel wonderful getting back on a horse after having a baby! Well, it did of me anyway! But you will feel weak, uncoordinated and lack core strength so be realistic in what you can do – it will take a while to build your fitness and technique back to where it was before.
Your response times to problems will be slower so try and ride horses who are quite steady and known to behave well (that may not be your own!) and also something narrow!
If your own horse has been turned away whilst you were having a baby, either leave him in the field and start riding something else or ask a friend or training yard to bring him back into work after his time off.
Will I lose my confidence after having a baby?
This is a question many lady riders worry about, particularly those who are competitive riders and involved in one of the sporting disciplines such as show jumping or horse trials. As with all things baby related, it varies from one woman to the next.
Some women feel very different after having a child – the responsibility of this little dependent life hits them like a ton of bricks and totally changes their perception of risk. Other riders return to exactly how they were before: it is almost impossible to tell what it will be like until you reach that point.
Nerves can be affected by lots of things other than pregnancy such as a bad riding accident. You are far more likely to lose your nerve after a fall than you are through time out to have a baby.
Sometimes, for no apparent reason, riders can just experience confidence issues without an obvious trigger. Nerves can be managed and improved but there is no holy law which says you must return to riding at the level you were before you had a child.
Many women who appear to step down or reduce what they are doing, actually do so because they are juggling the demands of a new baby, possibly a job and their horses and it makes sense to be less ambitious for a while as everyone gets used to the new order.
So don’t assume a rider who does less after pregnancy has automatically suffered some sort of crisis of confidence – perhaps it is simple as the fact they haven’t had a good nights’ sleep in a few months!
What can I do instead of actually riding?
If you decide that riding is not for you whilst pregnant or circumstances intervene such as morning sickness, are there other things you can do to maintain your equestrian passion?
There are plenty of ways to use the time to perhaps try things that you wouldn’t otherwise have thought of or become involved with. Here are some popular suggestions:-
- Take a study course for the British Horse Society stage exams or the Essential Horse Knowledge Certificate. All riders benefit from increasing their knowledge and it can be great fun to meet other horsey people or increase your marketability if you are involved in the industry professionally
- Join your local riding club and help out at events on the ground. There are an abundance of volunteer roles which will not expose you to any risks and can be tailored around your physical needs such as writing for dressage judges or stewarding
- Give something back. Volunteer for your local Riding for the Disabled Group or horse rescue centre. You may not be allowed by their insurance to handle the horses but you could help out at events or fundraise for them. It will give you a worthwhile purpose and make you many new horsey friends into the bargain
Women are very good at telling other women what to do, in all aspects of life but particularly during pregnancy and childbirth. For example; breastfeeding – you are certainly damned if you don’t and then there’s the topic of when you should go back to work.
Obviously I am not a doctor; you should seek the professional advice. Ultimately though, it’s a personal opinion and up to you to ascertain your attitude to risk.
What I would say though, is that I don’t recommend any form of horse riding for beginners and novices. The risks of falling off and suffering a miscarriage are way too high.
As with all things pregnancy related, take informed professional advice and then make up your own mind. With the correct guidance, whatever is right for your body and your baby will be the right decision for you irrespective of what other people may do or say.