Levi Hunt shares some tips for a beneficial warm up of a ridden horse.
Whether you are a competitive rider, or train at home, focused on jumping or dressage, the basic principles are universal.
Much of the work we ask horses to do is strenuous on muscles and limbs. An effective warmup can improve performance, maintain healthy supple muscles and keep ontop of straightness.
Generally, stretching should dominate your warmup, allowing all muscle groups to elasticate before the collection and shorter position is required.
A free walk for a few minutes allows the horse to settle under the rider. Stretching the neck in walk, trot, and canter, in equal measures on the left and right rein is paramount to opening up the body of the horse. One thing I look for is the poll of the horse being the lowest part of the neck and the wither being the highest. It’s easy to see and also allows the back of the horse to lift up and activate the core.
Bending the horse both ways can give an indication to which is the least supple rein, enabling you to focus more on that bend to allow your horse to be more ambidextrous.
Check that your horse is active enough. If he starts behind the leg and a little slow, then that has to be addressed before the main part of your session begins. You can do this by making quick transitions and changing the pace of the walk, trot and canter to keep the work interesting and create energy.
The length of time will vary for each horse, older or stiffer horses may require longer, younger horses may feel ready to start their main work within ten minutes. I wrap up my warmup when I feel my horse is feeling supple, active and balanced.
However, some horses don’t settle and stretch to start with, this could be down to tension, excitement or stiffness. If this is the case then don’t force stretch if it can’t be offered. Allow the horse to work in his most comfortable position and try to achieve aforementioned stretch when they relaxe into work, most likely at the end when tiredness kicks in.
Also if you have a sharp horse to start with don’t be a hero on a long rein! Don’t fall off on my behalf!
Levi Hunt - Grand Prix International Rider for Great Britain,
British Dressage Young Professional of the year 2016,
Regional British Dressage Team Trainer, UKCC3 Coach