A horse’s warm up sets the expectation for the entire ride. Keeping the horse on the aids with simple patterns gives him time to become loose. Ensure that there is not too much pressure, but make sure you get a good response and effort from the start. Here are some tips to ride effectively in the warm up.
Have a Plan
Having an individualized plan for each horse’s warm up is crucial. Is the horse spooky, lazy, or hot? Is he older and stiff or young and loose? Knowing this information will help to formulate the most effective start to the ride.
Exercises to Try
Accomplishing rhythm, relaxation, and contact (the foundation of the training pyramid) is the goal from the start of each ride, regardless of the horse. Simple exercises will help accomplish this, such as serpentines, 20-meter circles, and frequent changes of direction. Transitions, especially trot-canter transitions, will help to loosen the horse’s back and get him on the aids. Ride these transitions on a 20-meter circle to maintain bend through the entire body and keep the horse in front of the inside leg. Riding transitions within the gaits, forward and back, while maintaining clear rhythm and activity will help engage the horse by working in front of the driving aids. This means that the horse is responsive to the leg aids in a relaxed way.
Make sure that at each point of the ride, the horse is working from the hind legs and stepping up to the reins. Remember that the contact to the bit is a direct relation to how the horse is working from behind. Make it a goal to encourage the horse to step into the contact with a relaxed back and neck.
Use basic lateral exercises in relation to the horse’s education to encourage suppleness and straightness. Shoulder-fore and leg-yields will help to continue to enforce and establish the inside leg to outside rein contact.
The most important thing to remember in the warm up is not to rush. Spend the time to make the horse loose and interested in working. Make sure to get a good response to the aids with frequent rewards. Working on transitions and different bending lines will keep the horse’s attention, warm the muscles, and the different gaits will ensure you targeting different muscle groups. Being mindful from the start will improve the ride.
What About Stretching?
Not all horses benefit from stretching in the warm up. If a horse is too tight, naturally wants to be on the forehand, or is spooky, it may be best to stretch at the end of the ride. Otherwise the stretching will be counter productive. The horse must stay in a good balance while stretching to seek the bit. If this cannot be accomplished from the beginning, it is best to work on stretching at the end.
Remember the goals for the warm up: to create a good balance and state of mind for the horse.