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The Importance of the Warm Up

Considering warmer weather is right around the corner many of you, including folks who had their horses ridden in the Horse Ranch Development program, will be making the first ride of the spring.  I thought I'd share a few thoughts about the importance of the warm up, and include a few personal photos that you might find humorous about what can happen when you don't take the time to do it properly.

What is a warm up? What it is not is leading your horse around for a minute or two and then getting on. It is also not running him around until he is sweaty and tired. What you want to do is like any athlete, prepare them mentally, emotionally, and physically for what they are about to do. In this case what you want to do is go for an enjoyable ride. You need to check all three of these areas to see where the horse is at and then help him get to where you want him before the ride.

The more thorough the warm up the more enjoyable the ride. Generally the greener the rider or horse the longer your warm up should take. Let’s face it: if you’re a saddle bronc rider it probably doesn’t matter as much to you if your horse wants to crow hop down the trail for the first half hour. If you’re a weekend rider and have never rode a saddle bronc and have trouble staying on if they spook from a prairie chicken, then you might want to take extra time and get them more settled, connected and thinking before you mount up. Things I look for in a warm up is that my horse is responding and not reacting to my requests on the ground. How he is acting on the ground is a good indication of what he will be like in the saddle and most times worse. They can feel your tension or worry when you get on which usually amplifies the horse’s state of mind. I like to start by moving my horse’s hindquarters and then forequarters. Then I like to circle them and get their feet moving at a trot then a canter. After that I might get them to jump a small object like a barrel or log and always watching to see that their movement stays free and fluid. If they are tight or sticky about moving I keep playing with them until they aren’t. I also check their brakes and backup from the ground. Because of horses claustrophobic nature I do all this with the saddle on if I’m going to be riding them with one, to make sure that they have time to warm into the saddle and cinch. Horses are claustrophobic by nature, some more than others, saddling and cinching can set this feeling off in a horse and allowing him time to warm into the restriction of the saddle will really help. The time you spend warming your horse is time you use to study the horse and his movement. Much can be learned from watching what the feet do, how his back moves, what position his head is in, what are his eyes saying, what is the tail doing, what does his stride look like and how does it compare to the day before or before you saddled. The list goes on. I’m also watching to see if his confidence, respect and understanding levels are where I would like them before riding. If not I continue the warm up until my horse is settled and with me and he checks out on my list. Learning the online skills and using them wisely can be the difference between winning the competition and loosing or having an enjoyable trail ride or one that leaves your finger prints in the saddle. Many doctors and nurses would be far less busy and many more people would still be riding if they understood and used a proper warm up before riding. Next time you go for a ride warm up your horse, see what side of the corral he woke up on, help him prepare and feel the difference in your next ride. For your viewing pleasure: I thought a few pictures might be fun of what it looks like when I was in a hurry one day and didn’t do a sufficient warmup.

Everything appears okay...but things are not always as they appear.

What was it that guy said about a warmup?

A series of dismounting pictures due to lack of rider position enjoyment! 

All four feet off the ground, below.

I guess me being in a hurry isn't his problem!

If this looked funny but not your kind of fun, take the time it takes.  Your horse will appreciate it and you will get less bumps and bruises. Horses are living, breathing, thinking, feeling animals, and we need to learn to listen to what they are telling us. Some times when they talk we don’t listen, so they speak louder through their actions.

Stay safe and have fun!