Hi there Mom. I see you. I see you struggling to juggle all of the demands in your life. From taking care of your kids, to the demands of your job, trying to keep up on the endless pile of laundry and dishes, making time to ride can see impossible. So when you finally do get the time to ride, feeling afraid in the saddle can quickly take all of the fun out of an activity that you used to enjoy-spending time with your horse! I understand your struggle. Riding after having kids is not the same. Because YOU are not the same. The physical changes are obvious. Our bodies are not the same after having kids! It takes time (and work!) to regain our core strength, to adjust to changes in balance and strength.
Our focus is going to be different too. No matter what, you will always be thinking about your kids and family in the back of your mind. You will not have the same fearlessness and even confidence that you had before. After you have kids your sense of self-preservation WILL be heightened. So it is NORMAL and should be EXPECTED that you will feel more fear in the saddle. Your family depends on you, and deep in your subconscious, your brain is going to throw up red flags anytime there is even a hint of danger.
These red flags will not always appear as logical thoughts. For example, if your horse’s bouncy trot causes you to feel off balance since you no longer have the core strength that you used to, your thought process probably won’t be like this: “I am losing my balance and I feel like I might fall off. I should gently pick up the reins and slow down my horse.”
Instead, your brain is probably going to respond like this: “YOU ARE GOING TO FALL OFF AND GET HURT AND POSSIBLY DIE! AHHHH! STOP! GET OFF OF THIS CRAZY ANIMAL!”
This will probably result in you snatching at the reins, leaning forward and grabbing the saddle horn as your heart races, you break out into a cold sweat, your stomach churns and you turn blue from holding your breath. This reaction is normal. In fact, this is how our brains are programmed to keep us, and therefore our children, safe. And it doesn’t matter how experienced or skilled of a rider you are, or how gentle and broke your horse is-this reaction happens to all of us.
(By the way, I didn’t make up this reaction. This is how I distinctly remember feeling and reacting after getting back in the saddle after having kids. So if you have ever felt this way, you are not alone!)
So the first step in overcoming these feelings is to understand that these feelings are completely normal. Give yourself some self-compassion-after all, having kids is a life changing event, and it affects EVERY area of our lives-and that includes our horsemanship! So give yourself a break, recognize these feelings as trying to help you stay safe, and you are on your way to regaining your confidence. The next step is to take it slow. This was really hard for me. Before I had kids I started colts, trained wild mustangs, and considered myself to be a decent rider. So my expectation for myself when I returned to riding after giving birth to my first son was to be able to continue my horsemanship just where I left off. Looking back, that was an extremely unrealistic expectation! Take it slow. Start back riding on the safest, gentlest horse that you can find. Understand that it is going to take time to regain your balance and core strength. Only do what you feel comfortable and safe doing. If that means you only walk in an enclosed arena on a kids pony while someone leads you around, that is OK! If that means all you do is catch and brush your horse, that is OK too! The point is just to enjoy your horse.
Gradually, as you feel comfortable and safe, increase the difficulty. There is no time table, go at your own pace. And do not be afraid to ask for help! Take lessons, send your horse off for training, do whatever you need to do to feel safe and comfortable with your horse. After all, for most of us, our horses is our “me time”, an activity that we do because we enjoy it. Keep it fun!
Another thing that helped me was developing my mental skills. Things like awareness-that is, recognizing my thoughts and feelings, and being aware of the moment when I first started feeling nervous or afraid, instead of waiting until I felt terrified and out of control. Also simple techniques like breathing, and using posture to increase confidence. It is amazing how taking a moment to take a deep breath and sitting up tall in the saddle with shoulders back and eyes up can really boost your confidence!
So if you are feeling afraid when you work with your horse after having kids, you are not alone. You can overcome this and enjoy spending time with your horse. You can regain your confidence. It will all be OK! Just breathe, and take it one step at a time.