You know your horse's warm-up is important, but you always seem to be in a rush or you’re not sure what you should be including?
Once that uncertainty creeps in it can be easy to give up or lose focus. Don’t worry we’re here to get you back on track.
The length of your horse's warm-up depends on a number of factors.
Warming up an older horse or warming up an arthritic horse takes longer than warming up for dressage of jumping for example and each warm-up needs to be tailored to the horse you have in front of you, which we all know can change from day to day.
Always wanted to know how to warm up your horse correctly? The piece of the puzzle that you ate missing?
Worry no more, I’ve got the answers.
How to warm up a horse before riding
So let’s look at our horse riding warm-up exercises:
The ideal horse warm-up has 6 key stages:
Horse warm-up exercises you’re probably missing: Warm-up walk! Walking in straight lines with lots of transitions within the gait to warm your horse's muscles
Adding loops, circles and serpentines to increase spinal flexion and stride length giving a gentle stretch to the limbs
Canter/lope work with lots of transitions within the gait adding in canter work before trot work helps loosen your horse's back and SIJ before trot work which can lead to stiffening of the back if your horse isn’t fully warm
Trot work with lots of transitions within the gait to improve responsiveness and hindlimb engagement
Transitions direct and progressive between different gaits again to improve responsiveness and hindlimb engagement which allows for a correct outline
Discipline-specific activities to prepare your horse for the event or training session you will be completing
Doing your warm-up in this order allows your horse to become warm, and increase their ROM before asking for any harder work or discipline-specific tasks, therefore reducing the risk of injury often associated with these tasks.
Warming up an older horse or an arthritic horse: Warming up your horse on the ground is a great way to give our older or arthritic horse's a more gentle and gradual warm-up. Depending on what type of work your horse is in you may be able to shorten the warm-up. If for example you only hack in walk you can remove the discipline specific and trot and canter sections of your warm-up.
Dressage horse warm-up: A dressage warm-up should include more lateral movements (circles, serpentines and loops), transitions and should gradually work your horse into a contact. You should always start in a long and low posture as this will engage your horse's hind end and core engagement, before bringing them into your working outline.
How to warm up a horse for jumping?: Jumping horse warm-up should include some additional pole work, more transitions and some tighter turns. This will help engage your horse's hind end and give them more power.
Why should you cool down your horse after exercise?
Cooldowns are super important in preventing injuries and stiffness occurring especially in horse's that are worked regularly and don’t have a large amount of time to recover between sessions. So those who are worked every day or when competing in more than one class for example your cooldown is going to ensure that your horse is ready for the next day or the next class and can perform at their best.
Your cool down is basically your warm-up in reverse. You’re going to gradually slow down and reduce your horse's heart and breathing rate. You also want to ensure that in your cool down you are allowing your horse to stretch their head and neck down and that you are again making those shallow turns to help stretch your horse's muscles. As unlike us, we can’t stretch our horse's after every session.
Research has shown that stretching our horse's more than 3 times a week actually leads them to getting sorer and developing stiffness so instead use your horse's natural movement to allow them to self stretch. This is much less intense and therefore prevents stiffness.
As you allow your horse to gradually cool and self stretch their muscles are able to realign and heal any tiny micro-injuries before your next session ensuring they are fit, happy and rearing to go.
Your total horses warm-up routine time is likely to be around 20-30min and the same for their cool down.