Pregnancy often gets a bad rap—sore feet, chronic exhaustion, no wine or sushi… But it’s nice to know that at least when it comes to showing horses, for some riders, there’s no reason why you can’t perform at your best—even at 32 weeks pregnant!

Last weekend, California eventer Frankie Thieriot Stutes and her 9-year-old Oldenburg gelding Chatwin did just that at the United States Dressage Federation (USDF) Region 7 Championships, where they won reserve champion in the Great American/USDF Adult/Amateur Third Level class, and took third in Sunday’s $1000 CDS HOY Third Level Test Final.

This is the second pregnancy (and second boy!) for Thieriot Stutes, who finished eventing Chatwin for the 2017 season after an impressive, fourth-place finish at the Bromont CCI3* in June. We caught up with the rider to learn more.

NF Style: Congratulations on your weekend! Had you always planned to compete at the USDF Region 7 Championships this year? 

Frankie Thieriot Stutes: I did the Dressage Championships last year, not pregnant, and I really wanted to do them again this year. When I got pregnant, I thought I could still try to make it happen. [Chatwin] did the [Bromont] CCI3* in June with me, and then he had a vacation, and then I put him back to work and got all our qualifiers done in order to be able to go to the California Championships this past weekend.

Have you ridden throughout both your pregnancies? 

I only have Chatwin, so I took those six weeks off after Bromont, and when he had his vacation, I didn’t ride either. My first pregnancy, I rode the whole way through. This one was a little bit different, because he did have that break, and I wasn’t sure how I would feel getting back on after six weeks. Your balance changes so much when you’re pregnant, and that’s kind of a long time. But I think it was still early enough on in my pregnancy that I was okay.

You mention balance—how else does pregnancy affect your riding? 

I haven’t really had many problems with my balance changing, I think because I’ve ridden pretty much through [my pregnancies] both times. I think the hardest thing, for me, is the pressure that’s on your bladder, which makes it uncomfortable to ride—especially at the sitting trot. For me, if that didn’t happen, I would be [comfortable] doing whatever, but that does make it a different mental game than usual [laughs].

Does knowing Chatwin as well as you do make that easier? 

Chatwin and I have a really special partnership—and I’m definitely not looking to get on anything else. I’m really comfortable with him. He’s kind of a quirky horse, but I know his limitations pretty well. He’s really sweet when he needs to be, and tends to take good care of me. I still jump him once a week, so I’ll do that a little bit longer and then be done.

With my first [pregnancy], I competed [Chatwin] for seven months, and then my friend [eventer] Tamie Smith rode him for me at the end of my pregnancy. It’s kind of special that he and my two-year-old have a really good relationship. He’s kind of a wild horse, just by nature, and really playful, but my son will sit on him with no halter on and he’ll kick and scream and do whatever, and [Chatwin] just stands there. He’s really gentle with him. It’s sweet to see how having [my son] changed him, too, around the barn.

What advice would you give women who are contemplating riding and competing throughout their own pregnancies? 

I think you have to know your own limitations. There are definitely some days when I can only ride for 15 to 2o minutes, and you just kind of have to be okay with that. As far as jumping goes, someone had asked me if I felt differently going cross country, and obviously, I’m not doing that anymore, but I did do Bromont at four-and-a-half months pregnant.

I kind of have a deal with myself that if at any point jumping, specifically, I’m thinking about being pregnant instead of the task at hand, then I won’t do it anymore. First and foremost, I want to do my horse justice, so I think you have to listen to your body…but every day that’s different. Leading up to the Dressage Championship, the sitting trot gets pretty horrible [laughs]. But I’ve had some weeks when it really didn’t feel very good, and other weeks when it was fine. It just kind of changes, and it depends on where the baby is sitting, too.

Aside from that, I think it’s funny that so many people freak out when they find out you’re jumping when pregnant, but for me, through two pregnancies, it’s been so much easier for me to jump than to do flatwork, especially at the end, because your core and your legs and everything change so drastically. Your ability to sit the trot and look good doing dressage [is different]. I told my brother the other day that jumping is the only time I feel not pregnant because you’re in your legs more than anything else, and you’re not really sitting on the saddle and putting all that pressure on your pelvis. I’m always like, if people care that you’re riding while pregnant, they should care that you’re sitting the trot, not jumping!

It’s just different for everybody and I know everybody’s comfort level is different, but to me, the riding while pregnant thing is as much a mental thing as it is physical. I know some people who have stopped riding and two or three months, which, physically, you shouldn’t really be impacted at that point, but mentally they are. I think it helps, too, that I only ride that one horse, and that he and I have a really good relationship.

You’ll be taking some time off in the next couple months, what’s the plan for Chatwin? 

Chatwin won’t do any other three-day events this year. He’ll go down to be with Tamie [Smith] and Heather [Morris] and Mackenna Shea. Tamie is going to take him to some jumper shows for me, so he’ll get to play. He’ll be there for six weeks, and then after that, he’ll go for a month to my friend Niki Clark, who’s a really good Grand Prix dressage rider. Niki rode him a bit the last time I was pregnant, too. So he’ll go down there and they know him super well—it definitely helps to have some of your best friends be riders! Those girls are like my family, so it’s more just that Chatwin gets to do something and get out a bit. After Niki rides him, he’ll come back up here and he and I will get started in December. For sure, not that long after the baby comes, to get ready for next season.

Aside from your new addition to the family, do you have any big 2018 riding goals in the wings? 

I’d like to take [Chatwin] to a CCI3* overseas next year, so we’ll try to gear up and make a plan for that, and kinda see what that ends up meaning and what the dates are. That’s kind of the goal.

-Photo courtesy of Frankie Thieriot Stutes.