When we school our horses, we begin the process with a warm up. Every horse is different on what its warm up needs may be, but the end result should be the same, a horse that’s prepared for harder work that day or if competing, to enter the ring to perform. The process is, however, very individual.
As an instructor and coach, many times I’ve noticed a lack of understanding of this process. That it is NEEDED for the horse to perform the way the rider would like. It is often misunderstood as being only an opportunity to loosen the horse’s or rider’s muscles. Instead, it should also be thought of as an opportunity to develop the ride you’d like. It’s a chance to create the ride you want.
When you are planning your warm up, the first thing to consider is how does your horse come out of the stable or field for work. Is he stiff or hurried, or sluggish or hot; is he attentive or dull, or maybe electric and distractible? The next thing to consider is what does he have to do for his performance or what are your goals for the day? Does he have to be relaxed, obedient, and supple? Does he have to jump 2’6” or 4’? Does he have to gallop for 6 minutes? These answers will help you understand where to take your warm up. Remember, the goal is to create the ride you want, not to expect it when you first mount up.
In your lessons, hopefully you have learned what activities or exercises help make other activities or exercises easier. Most warm ups include walk, trot, canter, circles, bending, and transitions. It may also include a variation of lateral exercises and transitions within the gaits. If jumping, it will also consist of jumping fences progressing in height. This process is to improve upon the initial portion of the ride and prepare and develop the horse or “the ride” to what you want to have before going into the ring or working on more advanced schooling. If you’re preparing to jump, the rider should incorporate rideability on the flat as well as to and from the jumps. Not only should the horse be warmed up to jump the height of the fence required, but also jumping well, so the rails can stay up and the horse remain adjustable.
Another aspect of the warm up is for the rider. The rider needs to be more precisely aware of the timing and intensity of aids that may be required for that day. The rider may need to get in touch with her athletic self, (as opposed to her sedentary desk self), and get her mind focused on the horse. When jumping, the rider will likely be focusing on rideability and a secure position. If you are at a competition, getting the butterflies under control will be another task the warm up should help with.
Learning to embrace the process of a warm up, especially when nervous before competing, is an important part of a rider’s job. Being comfortable with beginning from maybe an unpleasant start each day, and feeling confident you can improve on it, especially at a competition, is very important and will ensure a positive and productive training or showing experience. Learn what you and your horse have to do each day to get the rideability you need to perform the tasks you set out to do each ride.