Your warm-up is everything. Whether you're at home training or riding your round at a competition, the warm-up is your time to prepare your horse. It should be taken seriously.
I'll admit that sometimes I take the warm-up for granted. I'll just ride around the ring working on getting the right rhythm for each gate in both directions and throw in a few circles here and there. Nothing special, just making sure the horse is moving. What I've been learning is that you don't actually have your horse's full attention doing this. The communication isn't quite there yet. So you need to find a way to make sure that your gas, brakes and steering (so to speak) are all working with the slightest aid cues.
So now I'm focusing on working to improve my warm-up so that it's more productive. And even though I'm still learning, I am already noticing a difference when we move on to the actual work of the ride.
The gelding, Monte, that I ride is a little bit on the older side. He'd much rather be lazy than actually cover the ground like he should. Once he understands what's expected of him, however, he'll happily continue doing what I've asked him. I just have to make sure that I set the tone at the beginning of the ride. So when I get on, I make sure to walk him at least once around the ring in both directions on a loose rein. Just encouraging him to stretch out while still covering decent ground. When I move on to the trot, I start off the same way. I get him moving actively forward once around in both directions before moving on to different figures. I try to spend more time riding various figures than I spend riding along the rail. I'm always turning and bending and moving in both directions. I try to make a point to do about the same amount of figures on the right rein as I do to the left. That way he's being warm-up equally on both sides.
Once I've got him moving and listening well at the trot, I'll move into the canter. Again, I start off the same way. I'll canter in a active forward pace once in both directions and then start working on different patterns and flying lead changes.
At this point, I'll then work on my transitions. I keep working on my figures, but I change my gaits in between. So I might turn down a diagonal at the canter, trot the centre, walk the end and then canter again at the corner. I might also trot the first half of a circle and then canter the last half. Or maybe trot the first loop of a serpentine, halt at the centre, walk the second loop, halt at the centre again, trot the last loop and then canter down the long side. I don't really have a strategy as to what I ask for and when I ask for it. It's all about playing around, working on the horse's responses and keeping him guessing.
All of this probably takes me about 15 minutes if I'm having a lesson. If I'm riding on my own, it might go on a little bit longer and I'll take longer walk breaks throughout my warm-up. This is because I'm only riding on the flat and over some ground poles when I ride on my own so I can spend a bit more time working on getting Monte listening to me.
The warm-up definitely helps set the tone for the rest of your ride. Sure, you can have a good ride even if your warm-up wasn't the best and you can also have a bad ride even if your warm-up went great. It's not a guarantee, but it can set you up for a greater chance of success.
I'd love to know what your opinions are on the importance of the warm-up. Do you have any strategies that work well for you? I'd love to read about them in the comments below.
Until next time, happy riding!