The importance of warm-up and cool-down
A 10-15 minute warm up and cool down are critical to a proper training schedule for your horse. The warm-up phase of your ride allows both horse and rider to establish rhythm and slowly stretch out their muscles and tendons. For the rider, the warm-up is also an opportunity to let go the mental noise of the day and focus on the joy of riding, while stretching out their hips and allowing the leg muscles to lengthen. I like to do at least a 10 minute loose rein walk in my warm-up followed by a marching leg yield across the diagonal at the walk or trot. In some cases, I’ll also go into a slight forward seat and canter my horse. This can be beneficial for older horses or horses that tend to be stiff. The important thing with any warm-up is that you progressively ask for more rather than pushing them into a very forward gait immediately. The idea is to bring blood into the muscles, lengthen the tendons and flex and weight load the joints progressively. This method will allow your horse to perform at its optimum level during the main part of your ride and will put the least amount of wear and tear on your horse’s bodies. Riding the horse in a connected but stretching frame is a great way to relax your horse and engage their back, just be vigilant that the horse doesn’t come behind the bit. You should always have a soft connection where the horse seeks the bit rather than sucking behind it.
Once you’ve finished the heart of your ride, where you work on certain sequences/patterns or dressage elements, you should end with a cool down. The cool down is important for your horse in many ways. Firstly, it is a reward for them mentally. By letting your horse go longer in your cool down, stretching and moving forward athletically, they receive a mental and physical release. It is also important that those muscles, which were tightened during collection are allowed to lengthen again. If you don’t allow these muscles to extend during a cool down you decrease your horses flexibility, which in some cases can even lead to cramping. Many people don’t offer a cool down period for their horse and after compressing the muscles put them directly into their box stall for the next 15 hours until they get turned out the next day.
I’ve come to enjoy the warm-up and cool-down periods of my ride as much as the more technical periods. It is a time to bond with your horse and enjoy their natural beauty and freedom.
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