Professional athletes of any sport don’t just throw themselves out of bed and right into training, and neither should you or your horse. Riding is serious business—and so is your warm up! Not only are you giving your bodies the opportunity to limber up before a ride, you’re also giving yourselves time to prepare mentally. This is also more time that you get to enjoy and spend with your horse, although you can make it as productive as you want it to be.
During the warm up, you should be doing more than just walking. Take this time to evaluate yourself and your horse. Ask yourself some of these questions (and more) while doing your warm up:
-How does your body feel?
-Are you happy/sad/angry/content/etc.?
-How does your horse feel? Are they sound?
-How is your horse behaving?
-Do you feel in-sync?
-What do you need to work on today?
-What do you feel will go well today?
Although it can be tempting to treat the warm up as a couple of easy walking laps, it should be treated as a part of training. Instead of having your horse walk along the rail lazily, make it interesting! There are a lot of things you can do to spice up your warm up:
-Do circles in different places around the arena in varying sizes
-Start with a large serpentine pattern and make the turns tighter each time
-Use walking poles
These will encourage your horse to be more sensitive to your aids and help them focus for the workout ahead. It will also give you a good chance to work on some very basic riding principles, which will end up benefitting both of you later on in the ride when things get more advanced. As you evaluate what you and your horse need to work on, you can alter your warm up to address those things in fun and creative ways.
Every horse and rider combination will have different goals for their warm up, so evaluate your strengths and weaknesses and talk to your trainer to develop a plan. Changing your warm up routine to better utilize your time in the saddle can be a game-changer, especially for those who aren’t able to ride as often or for as long. Take your warm up (and your riding) seriously, but remember to enjoy yourself! Riding should be fun, even if it’s hard.