Jul 31, 2022

A Case for Warming Up (and How to do it Correctly) with Kyle Carter

By Kyle Carter - Ride iQ
USEA/ KTB Creative Group.

Imagine: you are at the biggest sporting event of your life. The stakes are high, and you have spent countless hours preparing for it. However, you are expected to just show up and immediately perform. You cannot stretch or take a practice swing. You have no time to loosen up or sharpen your eye. Sounds like a recipe for disaster, right? Just like us, our horses need adequate time to warm up each day. A warmup is any preparation for work, and it is often the leading edge of that work. It is the small aid response that becomes the more advanced aid response. At the end of your warmup, your horse should be attentive and fully available to you.

Your job is to entertain your horse and make him desire to be involved with you. If you pick up the phone, they’ve got to pick up the other end.

Understand the Importance

Muscles, tendons, and ligaments are more elastic if they have been properly warmed up, and this helps to prevent injuries. That alone is reason enough to include a proper warmup in your daily rides. If a horse’s body is not in the right place before working, significant physical damage can be done. Consistently skimping on the warmup can and will affect the longevity of your horse’s career. Aside from helping your horses to be more physically sound, warming up also contributes to performance. Performance improves when the horse and rider are ready to answer questions. A quick response to our aids can only be achieved with adequate preparation, and that preparation comes in the form of a thorough warmup. When you are practicing a challenging exercise, you want your horse to be mentally sharp and ready to respond to your cues–this cannot happen without a warmup.

Get to Know Your Horse

While a proper warmup is always crucial, the exact style of this warmup will differ from horse to horse. Each horse has its ideal mental and physical place for performance, and you need to find what this means for your horse. Some horses achieve this balance through a longer warmup, while others prefer a shorter one. If your horse does not perform well after an extensive warmup, you need to find an alternative way to loosen up their bodies, such as a long hack. You can also try doing a pre-ride or breaking your warmup into multiple segments. If you have a horse that tends to get anxious in crowded arenas, try finding a secluded space to begin your warmup. You should not attempt to determine your perfect warmup routine at the competition–this needs to be done in training.

I am warming up at home with the goal of putting the best warmup together for each individual horse at the show.

Doing so will increase your confidence because you are developing a plan for getting yourself and your horse ready to compete.

Warmup Guidelines

As aforementioned, each horse will require a unique warmup routine to get its body and mind best prepared for training and competition. However, there are general guidelines to follow.

  • You should begin each ride with a minimum of 5 minutes of walking on a long rein. This allows your horse to become loose and relaxed.
  • After walking, you should work at the trot and canter for 15 to 20 minutes. Some horses prefer to canter early on, while others require a longer time trotting first.
  • Incorporate a lot of transitions and changes of direction to attract your horse’s attention.

If you’re not doing 40 transitions in two minutes, you are not doing your job.

  • Transitions do not have to be limited to changes of gait– they can include changes of bend and lengthening and collecting the stride.
  • Your goal in warming up should be for your horse to be light in the contact and giving quick responses to your aids. Especially for jumping, you need to achieve adjustability–otherwise, finding correct distances and proper balance will be difficult.

In every sport, athletes prepare with a full warmup of stretching and sport-specific skill sharpeners to get ready for training and competition. However, far too often, riders show up right on time for jump and flat lessons without having warmed up. You must take this sport seriously because your horses depend on you. They cannot get themselves ready for the first jump or movement, and we owe it to them to spend time on a proper warmup. With dedicated time and a thoughtful plan to prepare your horse for work, your stress will go down and your performance will improve. You will feel like you are in a better place to create solutions within your rides.

So, give your horse the warmup they deserve and, as always, pat your horse.

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