Some people believe that riding around on long reins at a walk at the beginning of a session serves as a sufficient warm-up. Although a vital part of the everyday ride, this activity does not adequately increase oxygen and blood flow to the horse's muscles. It's important, therefore, to differentiate the purpose of this phase from the actual warm-up phase. When you first mount up, you should spend a few moments allowing your horse to walk around on a long rein, especially if he lives in confined quarters much of the day. This gentle activity allows his joints to regain mobility. As the fluids begin moving and lubricating, the movement gradually brings his respiration rate up and gives his muscles time to limber up. This phase also allows the horse to adjust mentally to the workout ahead. It gives him time to settle and relax, which will make his body more adept for the task at hand. For some horses, this phase needs to last only 3 minutes or so. For older horses, it may require up to 10 minutes. But, generally, two laps around the arena should suffice for most horses.
The Warming up Phase
Following the initial phase of loosening up, you can begin to increase the intensity of your exercise, allowing the muscles to gradually increase their working temperature, which makes them more pliable. Once you begin the warm-up phase, keep it active because the point is to increase blood flow to the skeletal muscles.
This does not happen at a wandering pace, or if you trot actively for a minute, stop to chat with someone outside the arena, and then start trotting again and so on. Once you begin moving the horse actively forward, keep going!
A few points to bear in mind:
- Maintain contact with the horse's mouth and ask that he carry himself with good posture.
- Keep any ridden figures/patterns very simple at this stage, utilizing mostly straight lines, changes of directions, and large circles.
- Avoid tight turns, serpentines, and similar movements.
- Use the rising trot to keep the horse's back as loose and unrestrained as possible.
- When cantering, sit in a light seat, slightly inclined forward from your hips, so that you do not drive your seat bones down into the horse's back muscles before they are fully warmed up and engaged.
This phase of actively riding the horse forward to stimulate blood flow and pliability of his muscles should last from 5 to 10 minutes. From that point on, the horses tendons and ligaments will be warm enough that you can begin to add suppling exercises into your riding. For the following 5 or 10 minutes you can continue riding actively but begin to progressively add more gymnastic demands such as smaller circles, serpentines, leg yeld, and lateral movements if your horse knows them.
This text about loosening up and warming up our horse is an Extract from Equine Fitness by Jec Aristotle Ballou, Author of 101 Dressage Exercises.