The Undervalued Warm Up

Your alarm blares as you wake, and you roll out of bed to start the day. Most of us shuffle over to the coffee maker, still half asleep, to start coffee. After that first sip of coffee, you start to function and think. What ever the rest of your morning looks like, it most likely involves activities that slowly require more brain energy, which “bring you up to speed” for the day ahead.

Now imagine, waking up to a blaring alarm clock, then someone starts yelling math problems at you. No coffee, no gradually getting your mind going, you’re just expected to yell answers immediately back. This 1) sounds awful, 2) is way harder than answering the same math problems once fully awake, and 3) may just ruin the rest of your day.

That’s what happens when you pull your horse from the pasture/stall and immediately get to work. You set your horse and yourself up for failure. Many of you are probably thinking, “oh I walk/trot around to get things moving correctly, so this doesn’t apply to me”. It’s a good start but a warm up should be much more than just getting things stretched out and should last more than 5 minutes.

You should have four goals to be met during each warm up before moving on to complicated maneuvers.

  1. Get things stretched out and moving.
  2. Bring your horse up to speed mentally.
  3. Make sure all of you have control over all of your horse’s parts (face, shoulders, ribs, hips).
  4. Gauge where you and your horse are mentally that day.

Goal 1 involves a lot of extension, which most of us do in standard warm ups.

Goal 2 involves slowly increasing the difficulty of warm up exercises so that your horse is slowly required to think a little more.

Goal 3, your warm up exercises should be testing your horse’s parts individually and together so that you know you have complete control and willingness from your horse before moving on to more difficult maneuvers. If there are holes in the basic warm up exercises, don’t expect to be successful at the harder exercises. So take a minute and work on/fix the holes in the warm up before moving on. This will help set you and your horse up for success.

Goal 4: Just like us humans, horses have off days too. Your horse may know your typical warm up exercises by heart and perform them perfectly every day and then one day, nothing seems to work. That’s okay, if your horse has an off day, adjust your ride plan to work on simple things. You may just end up working on your warm up exercises for the whole ride. Now if you recognize that you are the one having an off day, same concept, work on simple things. Rushing into a maneuver when you or your horse are not in the right mind space results in frustration and confusion which can cause your horse to regress. So instead, take an easy day.

Don’t rush the warm up. I usually take 15-30 minutes to warm up, longer if El is having an off day. If I’m on a horse that’s young and still learning, it’s common to use your whole ride time to get them used to a particular exercise. Taking your time will help you in the long run.

Tune in next Wednesday as I introduce some exercises.


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