How will I know when my horse and my body have had enough?
In case you missed my references here, here, and here, in addition to the complication of being an ever-expanding person of 2, my main equine squeeze is a 5-year-old, chrome-bedazzled, red-headed mustang mare. I believe in race betting, they call that a quinfecta. Or the Bermuda Pentagon. But she’s my Bermuda Pentagon, and I love her. Moreover, we’ve come to a bit of an arrangement over our two years together where even if she hates vast portions of her plush life off the sparse Nevada range (“LEG CUES SUCK, MOM.”), she’s more or less agreed not to intentionally murder me over it, which is helpful.
While every day with Itxa has some calculated risks (as it does with all horses – some more than others), the risks take on new meaning when you’re accepting them on behalf of another person who has no say. That was a big responsibility, and in some ways my first early test of handling my own desires as they relate to this person I agreed to grow. For those early months I can say that for me personally, I felt like I had what I needed from my body, from Itxa, and from my village of coaches to accept the risks and continue to work and play astride for awhile. It required checking in with myself and my horse every day and assessing where we were and where we were going, and really trying to make meaningful, deep rooted progress. Interestingly, I felt like these assessments and more abstract goals made me a more safe and conscious horseman, and made me want better things for my horse. For that time, I’m really grateful.
My day finally came mid-dressage lesson, when it became abundantly clear that for Itxa to progress in her training, I was going to have to ask her to push through her issues and get to the other side of something, and I froze. I wasn’t completely convinced of what was in this can of worms, and my gumption had been replaced by self-preservation instincts on steroids. Part of me was annoyed that this inevitable day had finally come, but mostly, I was at peace with it. If I couldn’t ask a full and fair question, it wasn’t right to expect a full and fair answer from her in response. It was time for me to stop training, and in my case, that day came around 4.5 months into my pregnancy.
Just as not every training method works for every horse, no one formula was going to tell me when I could stop riding, either. I had had my obstetrician’s blessing to continue riding to that point, I had many examples of amazing individuals who had continued to ride many months beyond that point (Zara Phillips competing in a 4* at 5 months pregnant, the queen that she is!), and I’d seen plenty of examples of incredibly strong and brave women stopping and starting at all points of pregnancy, including the moment they found out they were pregnant. I don’t feel like any one of those choices was wrong, because they were right for that person. I felt lucky that my moment had been so clear, and that I could now feel liberated to explore our relationship together on the ground.
If I had so chosen, I could have continued to comfortably ride a different, safer lesson horse for another month or so before things started to hurt or jiggle more than suited my own physical circumstances. But that just wasn’t for me. 4* eventer Laine Ashker said this wonderful thing about her mount Anthony Patch after Rolex this past year: “This horse doesn’t allow me to follow my dreams, he IS my dream.” While Itxa is no 4* Rolex horse, her progress and happiness are the essence of my dreams, and the mount I want under me 90% of the time. That doesn’t mean I don’t pop up on other horses often in “real life,” just that going on without her at this point held no interest for me.
I still rode the occasional cheat walk on Itxa up until as recently as a month ago (I’m now more than 8 months along!) and every ride has been a splendid gift. No matter what happens after this, I know I’ll never take for granted even a bad day in the saddle ever again!
Go Riding. (In my honor, since I can’t.)
Lorraine has been a regular contributor to Horse Nation since its inception in 2012. Her non-horsey but awesome husband Dan, her 5-year-old BLM mare Itxa, Australian Shepherd Rev, and stupid cat Jeoffrey live in the beautiful Rocky Mountains of Utah. They are stoked to invite another human into the Zoo in July, 2015. And because she gets this a lot, her horse’s name is pronounced EEE-chah, and yes, horse show announcers and organizers can and should hate her for her terrible horse name choices. See more of the family’s equine adventures and beyond on Instagram, @lorraine.jackson