Safe Warm Up Steps
In an ideal world we would allow our horses to walk around the arena on a loose rein for a good 5 – 10 minutes. However as many of you will have experienced, life with a fiery dressage horse isn’t so simple.
If your horse is anything like mine, and has a phobia of pigeons exiting a tree without warning then the thought of walking around on a loose rein is pretty daunting to say the least. We also know how important it is to stretch our horses necks and get them working over the back, engaging the hind leg and developing that beautiful topline that we all crave.
Again, trotting on a loose rein stretching their necks so perfectly between their front legs can feel at times like you’re perched on the edge of a cliff, just praying that our grey feathery friend doesn’t make a loud departure from the fur tree at the end of the arena.
So I have put together some simple warm up techniques that I use when riding my dressage dragon.
When I first get on and walk around I will collect up the reins to a rough outline, not so much that the neck looks like a mini grand prix horse about to go in the ring at Olympia, but enough that you still have a moderate roundness and stretch, and you are in control of your horse ahead of an inevitable spook. I like to think that I am remaining one step ahead of my horse at all times.
I will stay on a 20 metre circle and start with some simple walk and trot transitions, again keeping the neck moderately stretched so that I am loosening the back and stretching those muscles and vertebra. Staying on a circle with a gentle inside bend, along with the up and down transitions keeps the horse focused on what you’re asking and not on what’s going on around you. This also allows you to still do the all-important stretching and loosening in a more controlled way. Whereas if you trot around the whole school on a loose rein you’re just asking for them to spook and leap in from the track (and in my horses case buzz off on a jolly with you left sat on the floor!).
Now that you have done step 2 on both reins you can now open your horse up to using the whole school, but here I would keep the outline the same (still round and stretching, not up in a competition outline yet) and go straight into leg yields. Going down the quarter line either to the centre line or to the track.
Once you feel your horse has settled into the work routine sensibly and the tense feeling has dissolved, I will have a canter on a 20 metre circle doing trot / canter transitions. Again, still in the same outline, I won’t pick them up until the very end as you don’t really want to be training at home too much in that upright outline you need and use at a show.
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