Warm-up Strategies
Posted by Irina Yastrebova on Wednesday, July 8, 2009 12:07 PM
Recently I had a few conversations with my students regarding warm-up and it's strategies. One question was about the role of canter in warm-up and another one about structuring the rides and having a plan and motivation to work. I will share with you my approach to warm-up and hopefully this will answer the above questions as well.
The purpose of the warm-up is to get your horse ready for work. Warm-up is not simple 10 minutes of walk and 10 minutes of trot before you are allowed to do anything else. The warm-up must be tailored to the plan of your ride. Besides the big goals and the ideas of where you are going with your horse you must have a plan for each ride. Very often it can be some specific areas you think need improvement after your last ride. If you have a habit of observing your horse's performance during work you will notice things that require more practice such as transitions, circles, bent or better tempo, these can be your plans for the next rides. With more schooled horses the plan is more layered and complicated.
Now, back to the warm-up. For example, if you had a plan to work more on bending today. You will include in your warm-up more circles, serpentines, spirals, figures 8 and other manage exercises that help your horse to bend. However, these warm-up figures must be easy for your horse to do. For example, if you are working on 10 m circles. Your warm-up should include bending lines no smaller than 20 at the beginning and 15 at the end of your warm-up. Because your plan for today is bending pay more attention to how you are bending your horse, how he is responding to your bending aids and practice that. Yes, you want your horse to be in front of your legs and going nicely forward, but only to the satisfactory levels. Because your plan for today is bending do not try very hard to ride a perfect working, collected or medium trot/canter. If you have noticed that your horse lacks impulsion through the corners or smaller circles make a note in your head that this area needs work and plan to work more on transitions next time. There is only so much you can work on during one ride. If you spent 20 minutes on warm-up and 20 minutes on work you have ridden for 40 minutes already! It is time to cool down and finish.
You can warm your horse up in all three gaits. Yes, you always start in walk to let the muscles gradually come to working condition. I actually love spending some time in walk at the beginning of my warm-up. I wrote a whole blog on the subject. Please read the Warm-up at Walk article. Again you can tailor it to your plan even in walk. After walk it is not mandatory to trot. It is very customary and it is a good gait for young or green horses because it is very symmetrical and steady, canter on the other hand can be excitable for young horses, especially, at the beginning of the ride. However, with more schooled horses or older horses easy and balanced canter can be a great way to supple them up. In nature horses selfdom trot. They walk, jog, canter and gallop. Many riders notice that they horses are better in trot after canter. You can start in trot and finish your warm-up in canter. For example, continuing with our plan for today's ride - bending. You start trot, ride a few figures such as circles, big figures 8, three loop serpentines and then pick up canter and ride a few easy figures in canter. Easy is an important concept for the warm up. It must be easy for the horse to perform so he will not tense up or fatigue very quickly.
Your plan for the ride should not be very detailed. Almost never your horse will be exactly the way you want him to be. He can be tired, stiff, excited, tense, amazingly supple and attentive (things like that happen too :)). You will have to evaluate your horse and decide how much and what exactly you want to do today. The warm-up is the time to do it. In principle follow the plan. Changing it all just because you noticed other areas that needs work is not a good idea. It is very wise to just watch and to plan corrective exercises for the next ride. This will give you time off the horse to think about what exactly is needed for improvement. For example, you wanted to work on bending today but found your horse lazy off the leg and not paying attention to you. You can still work on bending, however, do not ride small circles where your horse is bound to slow down. Ride bigger circles where it is easier to keep him forward. He may be lazy because he is tired. Do not jump into quick conclusions why your horse the way he is today. After the ride you can think about it all and create a plan to improve his impulsion or give him a day off.
Happy riding...
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My blog is about teaching, riding and training. I share what is important to me in my work with horses and riders. The writing helps me to think things over and have a better understanding of training ideas and priciples.
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