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🔥Warming Up As It’s Cooling Down❄️

Updated: Dec 9, 2022

In the busy lives we lead, we often have little time to exercise our horses before we have to pick kids up from school or get home to make dinner. So naturally you cut the warm up short to have more time to work on the new movement your trying to master. Only to get frustrated that your horse is fighting against you when you ask for shoulder-in or they fall on the forehand when you transition from canter to trot.


Majority of the time this comes down to an inefficient warm up. The days when you take your time walking your horse in a stretched frame, progressing to forward motion and then suppling exercises, often end on a high for both you and your horse.

Developing a good warm up routine will lead to consistency in performance.

Why do we need to warm up?

Your warm up will either help or hinder your horses training. It will determine how well your horse can use theselves during the session.

The idea is to gradually ‘Warm up’ the musculoskeletal, circulatory and respiratory systems so that your horse can perform at its best.


Most horses, at this time of year, are kept in with minimal turnout and even if they are turned out, horses actually move very little with the odd burst of high speed hooning around. Generally, they will stand still to conserve energy and use it as heat. Therefore it is extremely important to implement a good warm up routine to prevent injuries.

Joint Range of motion:


Initially we want get the horse walking forwards in a nice loose frame. This will help get the joints moving which in turn increases synovial joint fluid. As the joints become lubricated, the range of motion increases. This is particularly important for older horses or ones prone to arthritis.


Increase Heart rate:


Next, moving forwards to a trot will slowly increase the heart rate which in turn increases blood circulation, oxygenation and flexibility. At rest, blood circulation to the muscles is at around 15% therefore to immediately ask a horse to ‘work’ will result in lactic acid build up and potentially lead to injury. Lactic acid alters the pH of the muscles which effects their ability to contract and relax. However, once warmed up, circulation increases to 85% meaning lactic acid is more readily flushed away reducing the occurrence of early fatigue.


Flexibility:


With an increase in circulation comes an increase in temperature. Cold muscle, tendon and ligament fibres are susceptible to over-stretch injuries. The elasticity of the tendons and ligaments increase with temperature allowing a greater stretch while reducing the risk of injury. The muscles become more supple and pliable allowing your horse to perform more complex movements with ease.


Respiratory system:

It’s not just the locomotor system that needs warmed up, the respiratory system also needs time to adapt. The diaphragm and intercostal muscles need time to warm up so that the lungs can expand to inhale the oxygen needed to support the muscles on a cellular level. Gradually increasing to a canter will increase the demand for oxygen and therefore work the respiratory system a little harder.


How long or short should the warm up be?

It’s hard to say as the time it takes to warm up efficiently is dependent on many factors:

  • The weather: Is it warm or cold outside?

  • Age: Older horses will need more time to warm up

  • Temperament: Lazy or hot headed?

  • What type of work your doing: Flat work, jumping, hacking

  • Pre-existing conditions: Osteoarthritis, Kissing spines, Stifle issues

General rule of thumb is:

  • Walk on a long loose rein for 5 -6 mins

  • Trot in stretchy frame for 5 mins

  • Then start to add in some suppling exercises for 5 mins

  • Canter for 5mins ( This depends on your horse and what gait they find easier as some horses are more balanced at the canter while others will find it difficult.)

Once you know your horse well you will be able to adjust the warm up according to how they feel.


Tips and Tricks:


Horses with diagnosed back problems may benefit from prescribed core activations which are best done before tacking up, such as belly lifts. This will get the nerves firing to these muscles before you start exercise so that they are actively used during the session.


Other tips for horses struggling to engage their hind end with the colder weather would be to put a hot water bottle or the ’Epiony Heat Pad’ over the lumbar area for 10 - 15mins before tacking up. This will increase the blood flow and pliability of these muscles. The use of solariums before work is also great to warm up the muscles although you still need to carry out a good 10 minutes of walking and trotting to get the joint fluid flowing, the tendons and ligaments and the respiratory system warmed up.




I hope this was helpful in understanding the need for a good warm up routine before asking anything too challenging of your horse, especially as we are coming in to winter.


**As always, if concerned about your horses movement in any way, please consult with a qualified and insured equine professional!


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