How often have you seen the warm up at a show full of horses wandering aimlessly round on the buckle? Are you one of them? How much time do you allow for your warm up? 40 minutes? An hour? Don’t forget you’ve probably entered two classes. That’s a lot of time to spend warming up for ten minutes of test riding.
Do you ever wander around for ten minutes at home? Why would you? A lazy horse needs inspiration. A sharp or young horse needs to focus. Either way your horse needs to get in the warm up and get warmed up. He doesn’t need 20 minutes to take in the scenery. The more workmanlike you are the calmer he’ll be.
Your warm up is designed to warm your horse’s muscles up and get him listening to your aids. It’s not the time to run through your test, school him or even try out a new idea. Most riders have turned up at a show and decided a ‘bit of outside flexion’ or a bit of ‘long and low’ is the order of the day. It’s not something they’ve spent much time doing at home but for reasons unknown to any rider it seems like a good idea when you’re at your most nervous and under pressure. It’s not.
In the warm up remember other riders are focused on their horse not yours. They won’t care if your horse is on the bit or if you’re on the correct diagonal but get in their way too often and you’ll soon get their attention. Always pass left hand to left hand and move to the inside if a horse behind you is in a quicker pace.
Nervous riders have a terrible habit of looking at the floor. Look up! If you’re not looking where you’re going how can you move out of the way for others? Lift your chin up and open your eyes. Be aware of other riders and earn their respect.
So how long is long enough? Work it out at home. Time yourself on a few sessions. When you’re warming up for a test you need to walk, trot and possibly canter. Ride transitions between paces, a free walk on a long rein with a transition to medium walk (not a drift into halt) and a few changes of rein. There may be movements you want to run through before the test. Add them to your test run but bear in mind if the warm up is busy you may not get to ride them. When you finish halt and check the time.
You may be surprised to find you actually only need 20 minutes to get your horse warmed up. Add 10 minutes to that to allow for nerves, loss of gloves, hat and number and you only need to put your foot in the stirrup half an hour before your time. By all means turn up early but use that time to settle your nerves and allow your horse to do the same.
Ride into the warm up with purpose. Allow your horse to walk a couple of circuits on the inside track out of harm’s way on each rein. That’s enough to allow him to see where he is and see any scary banners.
If your horse decides to make an issue out of something don’t panic. Positive riding will always win in the end but you need to be feeling ready for battle first. Allow yourself time and take yourself off to the opposite end of the school for a while. Get his attention in medium walk and move on into trot before broaching the subject again. Don’t confront a gremlin until your nerves have settled. Why make a nervous situation even worse?
On show day what you don’t know or can’t do isn’t worth worrying over. Focus on riding forward to a steady contact. Listen to your horse’s rhythm. You should hear a regular one …two ….three …four. If you hear onetwo …threefour you know it’s not right. If there’s no gap between beats onetwothreefour then your tempo (the speed of the rhythm) is too fast. It’s this regular rhythm and forwardness that makes your test flow. Which is exactly what the judge wants to see.
Leave your warm up and go straight in to do your test. Don’t stand and watch the horse in front go while your horse switches off. If you have to wait go and walk round the lorry park. Ride forward and keep your contact. Slopping around on the buckle won’t inspire him to do his best in the arena – nor will it calm a nervous horse down.
You wouldn’t be human if you didn’t feel nervous at a show but get on and be positive. A short, constructive warm up will make you and your horse feel more confident. And whatever happens if you haven’t just spent the best part of an hour wandering round the warm up in a confused, nervous daze this test is sure to be better than your last!
Good luck and enjoy your schooling.
Great minds really do think alike! Check these out –
For tips on warm up rules and etiquette at a show check out this great post by Nicki Strong – http://www.horsemart.co.uk/horse_advice/horse_warm_up_etiquette/1712
For more information on visualisation when you’re learning your test check out Tanya van Meelis’ blog http://horsethought.com/?p=126