Horse & Rider
Warm-Up Deep Dive
Whether you’re a yearround competitor or are dusting off the last of the snowflakes for your first spring rides, your warm-up plays an integral role in every riding session. It doesn’t matter if you’re preparing for a relaxed spring show, an intense aged event, or an early-season trail ride, what your horse tells you in the first few minutes of your ride can put you on a path to success or a bumpy ride to frustration. Instead of tuning out as you loosen up your horse, focus on that part of your ride as much as you do every other portion for the most successful outcome.
Here, I’ll detail my process for the first 10 to 12 minutes of every ride so I can get in tune with my horse and get the best results.
Use your warm-up to identify pieces that need addressing in your riding session and where your horse is—mentally and physically—to get the most out of your ride.
Start With Jogging
I like to begin every ride with some easy jogging. It lets my horse—and me— loosen up and get comfortable for our ride. I like to work both two-handed and one-handed, checking my steering and guide. I employ lots of directional changes, giving my horse a loose rein to see where he wants to go.
Work Transitions With Collection
As I go along, I want to check my horse’s transitions. I don’t want them to be too sharp, but I want him to be responsive and comfortable with slowing down and speeding up. At the start of a ride, I want him to go from the jog to the walk smoothly, without stopping. An abrupt stop can hurt your score in ranch riding, for example, so I want it to be a smooth slow-down from jog to walk with subtle cues while maintaining forward motion.
When I extend my horse’s gaits, it gets his muscles moving and his mind right before we try other, more challenging tasks. I like to start asking for an extended trot with a loose rein and no contact with his face. As we go along, I take up my slack and ask him to collect while keeping the same cadence and extension. I make contact with both of my feet, shorten my reins, and he begins to collect his body. To start, he might not be as comfortable with it, but he’ll ease into it. Then I give him back his face and let him relax.
I do this at all gaits and with extension just to check in with where my horse’s mind is and that he’s listening. When we’re competing, having this skill means it’s quick and easy to make adjustments when I need to. I can go from helping my horse to letting him do his job and still have a very consistent visual product.