Warm Up Routine

Emma posed a question on her blog asking how we all warm up our horses, and instead of firing off a comment on her post, I decided to dedicate an entire post on PONY'TUDE to our warm up process.

It's a complicated thing.

Being a typical Gemini, Dino has approximately 9 different personalities that can rear their heads on any given day. We have Tantrum Dino, Workmanlike Dino, Tired Dino, Hot & Spicy Dino, Playful Dino, Distracted Dino, Lazy Dino, Magical Unicorn Dino, and Rocket Fuel Dino.

There's probably a few more in there.

So, my warm up varies depending on what my plan is for the ride, which of Dino's personalities is strongest that day, where we are, and what our surroundings are like.

Lately, I've been experimenting with using fitness work as a warm up for dressage when Lazy Tantrum Dino is calling the shots. His work ethic took a serious hit over the past month as we got back into regular riding, which happens pretty regularly in the spring when we come back from the severely reduced workload of winter. Dino was tired of indoors, tired of circles, tired of not being able to run and jump, and expressed his opinions by getting very snarky about it all. But he LOVES doing trot & canter sets around our big field, so I started using that as a warm up, and it worked out really well for us. It got Dino moving forward and in a good mood, which I could then channel into productive flatwork.

Erstwhile floppy-rein warmup
Most days, I have a combination of Lazy Dino and Workmanlike Dino do deal with. Because of his history of chronic muscle tightness, Dino also generally needs quite a lot of time to loosen up and stretch. I do a lot of walking. Like, a LOT. Possibly upwards of 20 minutes of walking, depending on how quickly we go from Lazy to Workmanlike. While I used to warm up on the buckle with a completely floppy rein, over the past year I've moved towards taking contact (in a long/low frame) from the second I swing a leg over. This prevents Dino from taking Great Offense at the contact later on in the ride, and has helped train him in the concept that going forward while I have a feel of his mouth is something within his abilities.

I do a lot of transitions, a lot of changes of direction, and a lot of leg yielding and shoulder-fore in the walk. I want Dino to start responding to the Go Button reliably, stretch out over his topline, bend around my inside leg, begin to seek the contact, and take bigger steps with his hind legs. Some days this happens within a few minutes, other days it takes much longer. I go with the flow.

When his walk is loose, his back is starting to swing, his neck is stretching down, and he's moving off my seat and leg, I ask Dino to trot.

The first few trots are in the vein of Western Pleasure Quarter Pony.

Dino shuffles along with short, uninspired steps. I'm patient because I know his body isn't quite ready to go any faster. Big circles, walk/trot transitions and transitions within the trot help get Dino moving and grooving. A little shoulder-fore to get him straight, a little leg yield to get him in the outside rein, and we are beginning to get in business. Some days, we only need a little, simple warm up to get into work mode. Other days, it takes more. I find that riding sitting trot, no stirrups, and going back and forth lengthening and shortening Dino's stride is always a good exercise to get him forward and through, and doing lots of different schooling figures helps keep his interest as opposed to just riding around on the outside track.

Before we canter, Dino needs to be reliably in front of the leg. When I put my leg on in the trot, he needs to go somewhere, and he needs to not be dragging himself along on the forehand. If it's still taking me several requests to get him to move forward off the leg, or if he still feels sluggish or heavy in the least, the canter will either a.) not happen, or b.) be horrifically ugly, and/or c.) result in a tantrum and huge fight.

In a rare instance of Hot & Spicy, Rocket Fuel, or Magical Unicorn Dino, we can pretty much pick up the canter whenever I want without all this rigamarole in the trot.

The first time I canter each direction, unless Dino is already very much on the aids for some strange reason, I am not looking for much. I want him to pick up the canter, be on the correct lead, not take offense to the fact that I have contact with the bit, and remain in the canter until I say otherwise. That's about it. I may go back and forth and vary our speed a bit, do a little hand gallop, or make some big circles, but our warm up canters are nothing to write home about.

At that point, I can pick up the contact, bring Dino's frame up a bit, and really get to work, whether it's dressage or jumping. Our jumping warm-up may be a bit less extensive, but the goal is still forward & round.

Once in a blue moon, Dino comes out absolutely on fire. In these circumstances, warm-up is a much shorter affair, and we pretty much get right to work to channel his excess energy into something more productive than running around like a llama on crack. At shows he is often a lot more 'up' than he is at home, and we do less walking and more trotting and cantering to get him focused and into work mode. When we warm up for a jumping phase, I want to feel that he's attacking the fences with gusto and listening to me when I ask him to wait for or move up to a distance, and able to really boogie and gallop when I ask.

But, in general, our warm-up remains fairly similar to what I've outlined above, and I modify based on Dino's current mood and level of motivation. Some days we spend a lot of time in the walk re-installing our "Leg Means Go" button, other days Dino is ready to rock and roll as soon as I throw a leg over. He's a changeable creature, if nothing else!


  1. Dino sounds like he keeps you on your toes!!

  2. Ha, I love the personalities. I think Rosemary and Roscoe are both Gemini. Could explain their drama :)

  3. lol @ llama on crack!! i also adore your strategic use of capitalization, in such examples as when Dino takes Great Offense and contact... hahahaha

  4. I'm the same way - I kind of gauge how Suzie feels before deciding how to warm her up.

  5. That is quite the warm up! Oh Dino.

  6. Well done you for "riding the NOW horse!" :D


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