Warming up is a great way for you and your horse to start your ride off to an incredible start.
All athletes, professional and non, will tell you that a complete warm up is needed for a successful workout. Muscles need to be stretched and made limber before being asked to do more strenuous work. Injury can happen when our bodies are not ready to accept the stress of harder work.
The muscles are not the only concern during the warm up. Our horse's brains need time to switch from what they were doing to what they are doing now, just as our brain's do.
Warm ups give both of us, myself and my horse, time to start a conversation again. Even if I worked with that horse yesterday, today is a new day and I need to get a feel for what personality or quirks they have that day and my horse gets a chance to get a feel for me on that day.
We ask a lot of our horses when we tack up and ride or work with them on the ground. Whenever I work my horses, we work through a minimum of a 10-15 minute warm up. During the colder weather, that warm up may be closer to 20 minutes.
There are a couple of different options that I use for warming up.
The Walk Around
On the Line
I NEVER chase my horse in aimless circles for a warm up. Not only is this counterproductive to allowing their bodies a slow warm up, but it is not teaching them anything productive.
The Walk About
The Walk About can be done on line or off line, depending on how well your horse knows to follow your shoulder. During the walk about, we do small circles, large circles, changing directions into the horse and away from the horse. The horse has to think and pay attention to where you are going and what you are doing, so there is the added bonus of warming up their bodies and their brains at the same time.
On the Line
During the warm up on the lunge line, it is important to keep the horse's mind engaged. The warm up on the lunge includes lots of changes of direction, both moving changes or stopped changes and stops. By doing this you keep the horse's attention from wandering and getting them to engage and listen to you.
In an enclosed area, I let the horse loose. Depending on the horse, they may choose to do a quick run around the arena, letting out some bucks and farts. This is okay. They won't push themselves harder than they can handle. I keep myself as close to the middle of the arena as I can in order to not push them to go faster than a walk. As with on the line, I work on multiple changes of directions and stops in order to keep them engaged and moving at the same time.
During under saddle work, I don’t ask a lot of my horse in the beginning. We walk around on a long rein, letting them stretch their head down if they would like, stretching out their top line. After a few minutes of “aimless” wandering, then I start asking for more specific movements and direction. My reins are still loose and I’m not asking for much more than moving their feet where I want them to go.
Warm ups are a great time to check your horse’s brakes. Walk a few soft circles, check the whoa button. Walk a figure eight and check the whoa button again. By interjecting random stops into your warm up, you not only give you and your horse something specific to work on, but you get the chance to make sure those brakes will work when you need them to.
It is very important to remember that during warmups, you are not asking for any sort of contact or collection. You have just as much rein as you need to guide your horse, no more! Your horse’s body isn’t ready for collection and will start to get resentful if you ask for more than their body can realistically give.
Make up patterns during the warm up. Work on seat stops (whoas). Give your horse the rein he needs to stretch and relax. If the minute you get up in the saddle you start futzing and pulling at them, they are not going to enjoy being your partner.
Warm ups are the most undervalued, under-appreciated time you can spend with your horse!