Whether at a competition or at home, warming up is essential. It allows you to have an attentive and responsive horse for the rest of the session or competition. You can also use it as a basis for schooling when working alone.
I usually start by waking my horse up, i.e. I walk him for ten to fifteen minutes. If the weather’s nice, I go outside, otherwise I stay in the arena. I use this time to stretch him because he has just come out of the stable; so, it’s a bit like he’d just woken up.
The warm-up doesn’t just mean getting the muscles working. It can also be a whole session, during which we don’t focus on technical exercises for once, but on the physical and mental well-being of the horse. We don’t ask him to work hard, so it’s pleasant for the horse. In that case, it is necessary to remember to take breaks because it can last quite a while. It is not just going to be ten or fifteen minutes. You can spend half an hour, even three-quarters of an hour on a good warm-up.
Once you’re in the arena (if you started outdoors), do some easy movements, go around the arena, do some wide circles, change reins… Continue the work you were doing outdoors but start getting him used to his surroundings without asking too much of him. Take this opportunity to show him what he’s afraid of a little. It’s always easier to reassure them in a slower gait; the horses do not veer off so much when they’re in walk rather than in trot or canter. They have more time to analyse the situation. So, you have to take advantage of the walk to show them everything, even if it means you have to stop in front of certain objects.
The warm-up does not simply mean that the horse’s head has to be low, you need to warm-up the muscles and prepare the horse to be responsive for all the required exercises. Start by riding some figures of eights in order to bend your horse on one side and on the other. Train him to change his bend while keeping a constant pace and the same outline.
Then alternate with a bit of leg-yield. When you are leg-yielding, don’t just think of opening your outside rein. You must keep the inside rein at the withers to control the shoulders and make sure the reins don’t slip away. Hold your inside hand at the withers. And be careful that your horse is not just in a neck flexion. His body must be straight and he must cross his hind legs. The typical mistake is to do nothing with the inside rein, so the horse just has a neck flexion but walks straight.
The shoulder-in is also especially useful because it rebalances the horse. We like to call it “the Aspirin of riding”. When horses are a little tricky, it solves many problems.
You can finally do the same exercises in canter. The same way you did in the trot, bend your horse a little bit on the inside, then on the outside. Doing your warm-up only on long reins isn’t enough. The main thing is to control your horse and relax him. Shorten the reins if your horse is a little too hot. Then relax him on longer reins when he’s responsive. Finally, aim for a nice neck extension for some effective stretching.
Now that you’ve finished your warm-up routine, you can end as you started: with a short walk outdoors on long reins !
Do you work on your warm-up routine regularly ? Do you have difficulties finding the right one for your horse ? Leave me a comment here.