There's always going to be a million opinions out there about how you should warm up your horses but at the end of the day, the only opinions you should hear out are actually the ones of your horses. What does that mean? Your warm up should be catered to fit each horse individually as well as yourself depending on what type of horse you have, his strengths and weaknesses and what yourself as a rider needs to do to give your horse the best ride that day. This might even change on a daily basis depending on how you or your horse feels and starts that day so don't feel like there is one way to warm up and one way only. Does Isabel Werth warm up every horse the same? Nope. Will you ever see Isabel and Laura warm up the same? Nope. What about Kent Farrington and Mclain Ward? Or even Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer? No they dont.
Between you, your trainer (if you have one) and your horse should come up with an enjoyable, purposeful warm up that will prepare you for the best ride you can have that day!
I want to share with you my top 3 warm up exercises for either dressage horses, jumpers or any discipline that would make great additions to your warm up routine!
1. Leg yield at the WALK
Once you've spent some time letting your horse walk nice a forward on a long rein. Start to pick up the reins and engage in a nice active, rhythmical medium walk. This is where you might pick up the trot and get going but I encourage you to take a minute a give the leg yield at the walk a try. This can be done on the long side or across the diagonal depending on what you and your horse are comfortable with.
Focus on: keeping the rhythm of the walk, keeping the frame and topline nice a supple (your horse should be sightly bent away from the direction he is going towards), making sure when you apply the leg your horse moves over to leg yield.
Common errors: too much bend in the neck or at the shoulder often happens (aim for a very slight banana bend through his whole body), too much hindend (if you have a mirror make sure your horse is either leading with the front legs or evenly stepping sideways), getting stuck (this often happens when your horse goes sideways too much. Think forwards and diagonally sideways).
Benefits: Warms up the horses entire side body, stretches the hind legs, stifles and hammies, makes sure your horse is reacting to your leg aid, suppling the topline.
2. Figure 8 in TROT
You're ready to trot, pick up a nice trot rhythm with a nice frame (if your horse is a little stiff in the topline encourage the frame to be a little more through and round) and when you're ready (perhaps after 1 or 2 rounds) begin riding your horses in a figure 8. (Sidenote: many people will use the serpentine in the warm up which is great too. I like the figure 8 because its a little more shallow, smoother and has softer corners allowing all horses to get a nice warm up.) Depending on the size of your arena, you can determine the size of the figure 8 but ideally you would ride it like you were constantly changing reins across the long diagonals of a dressage arena. Jumpers, you can do this in any arena making the size of the figure 8 most comfortable for your horse. To challenge your horse a little more, you can play with transitions from trot to walk to trot once your horse is warmed up to wake up the hindquarters, engage your horse a little more and make sure you have an honest connection.
Focus on: keeping a good trot rhythm, making sure your horse is trotting in front of your leg (aka make sure you don't feel like you have to kick every stride to keep going), a true connection and bend in the corners/round sides of your figure 8, using your legs to help you straighten the horse on the diagonals.
Common errors: rushing or slowing down, drifting on the diagonals (if you feel your horse is bulging or leaning against one leg and drifting, correct this with your leg and make sure your horse is actively traveling in a straight line between both legs), cutting corners (make sure you use your inside leg to get the bend around the corners and your outside rein to support, balance and keep your horse with you)
Benefits: tests whether your horse is traveling evenly between both your legs, supples your horse throughout the topline, warms up the spine, back muscles and muscles used for flexion, helps you and your horse establish a true and steady connection.
3. CANTER on the 1/4 line or inside track
You've warmed up your trot, perhaps you did the figure 8s, maybe tested out the transitions, now you're ready to get the canter going. Pick up a nice canter, maybe do some large circles to make sure your horse is in front of your leg and waiting for you, and then start to ride 1/4 line to 1/4 line instead of along the fence line. To challenge your horse you can ask for an outside bend on the long sides to really test his balance, attentiveness to your aids, and to keep his shoulders up. Add a little more of a challenge by playing with the tempo in this exercise. Extend and collect on the long side while still focusing on your straightness and balance.
Focus on: riding your corners as well-prepared corners, making sure your horse is traveling straight on the 1/4 line (unless you ask for a lateral, be aware that your horse doesn't put his hind end to the inside or drift), keep the impulsion and engagement (make sure your horse is pushing from behind, that the inside hind is active, and you are using your core and squeezing the reins to half halt and keep your horse balanced). If you do the counter-flexion, make sure your horse doesn't do a flying change without you asking. Sit evenly in the saddle with your inside hip slightly open.
Common errors: running through the corners (prepare each corner), drifting back to the rail (correct this not by more inside bend, use your outside leg to push him away from the rail and ask for a little outside bend to get him to lift the shoulders up and pop the bulging shoulder back in. This is a common error a lot of jumping horses will make on the flat), haunches fall in, tilting of head (make sure you have an even contact and not pulling one rein more than the other).
Benefits: engages your horse from behind, improves straightness and balance, strengthens hind-end and encourages a more even push from behind, makes sure your horse is truly straight and listening to your aids.
So there are 3 exercises for all levels and all disciplines to try next time you warm up your horse! I do all of these with my horses and can feel how much it helps and improves the rest of my ride. Warm ups are meant to get you and your horse ready for the "work" section of your ride and also prevent injury. One of my favorite mottos to tell my students is to ride smarter not harder! I hope you all enjoy these exercises, please sign up for our newsletter to get updated on new posts and don't forget to check out the online store to purchase online 1 on 1 training with me (your arena, your horse, your ride, your own evaluation and training session with me)!
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Ellesse Jordan Tzinberg
International Grand Prix dressage rider, dressage for showjumpers trainer, boarding and sales, online lessons