There’s a saying in life – timing is everything.
But how do you get time on your side? How do you plan things (like getting pregnant) that can’t be planned? When my husband Mark and I decided to start our family we knew we had to try to structure it around my competition seasons. I run my own business where I train, coach and compete dressage horses and students on the international circuit. My daily life before baby was a 6 day work week where I would ride 6 horses and teach about 4 lessons per day.
My goal has always been to represent Canada at the Olympics, World Equestrian Games & Pan Am Games
This is not an easy task and is most definitely a life-long journey. Many dressage athletes are well into their 40s before this happens…if ever. My stable is on my parents property and they play an imperative role in keeping it running smoothly, especially my mother who oversees the whole operation. Horses are more than a full-time job, especially when we are talking about the elite athletes that I work with. They are as disciplined as a human athlete and expect their routine to be consistent – sort of like a child! More than a couple of days off and you’ll notice they start to get a little on edge. They want to work, they want attention and they most definitely want their 6 feedings each day! This means even with additional staff it’s hard for me to take time off for vacation, much less take a leave of absence for a baby.
We became Olympic contenders for Rio!
Obviously, being pregnant would have an impact on my ability to ride and compete, but at the time we didn’t know that it would interfere with making the Olympics! Just when I found out I was pregnant, my top horse decided to show us his real talent and just like that, we became “Olympic contenders” for Rio! I was thrilled to finally be one step closer to reaching my ultimate dream of competing for Canada at the Games, but I knew in the back of my head that qualifying would be a challenge with my ever-growing belly.
What if we made it – and I had to bring a 3 month old child to Brazil?!
I was lucky enough to have an easy pregnancy and riding for me was second nature even as the sweet potato inside me became a squash. In January I traveled to Wellington, Florida, home of our winter competition circuit with hopes of doing two qualifying shows before I had to stop riding (or while I could still fit into my show clothes!!)
At 28 weeks pregnant we scored our personal bests and sat in 2nd place in the country for the Olympic contenders. It was a bitter sweet feeling. I knew I had to fly home and focus on baby and teaching my students while everyone else had months ahead of them where they had many opportunities to contest my results – and that did happened, but I was ok with it.
The timing just wasn’t right this time around…
I didn’t get the chance to get all my qualifying scores for the Olympics, but I did get an adorable Baby Boy who brings us more joy than any competition ever could. And while I know there will be another Olympics in 4 years, Levi, our son, will only be a baby for a short while.
Surprisingly, my daily life hasn’t changed much with a 7 week old… well, not if you ask me how much sleep I’m getting, or if my house is clean!
I’m still making my nearly daily trips to the barn to teach lessons and ride. I’ve also dragged Levi along to 4 horse shows thus far, and while it definitely is a juggling act trying to nurse and soothe a baby while simultaneously instructing riders, it’s a great reason to get out of the house and have a sense of normalcy!
My mom looks after Levi while I ride and I make sure I don’t push my body too much yet either. Sometimes I stick to just 2 or 3 horses, and I definitely don’t make it to the barn for 8am anymore!
Reality check: trying to get two dogs, a newborn, a stroller, a diaper bag and breakfast into the car is a feat in and of itself!
Sometimes I wish I had the year long maternity leave that many moms have, but the reality of being self-employed and having horses who need to be worked only allowed me about 3 weeks off work. I’m so lucky to get to do what I love and have my baby with me. It’s literally “take your kid to work day” for me everyday! I know this will have its challenges as Levi grows and requires more supervision and entertaining, but I’m sure we will all adapt to that when the time comes.
With Tokyo 2020 just four years out, my planning has already started. And who knows? Maybe time will be on my side…and maybe not.
After all, timing is everything.
Leah is a professional dressage rider, coach and mentor. She lives in Caledon with her husband Mark and son Levi.