Why We Warm Up
What is the purpose of a “warm-up” and why do I often do it on the ground before I hop on?
The goal of a warm-up with your horse should be to make sure they are Calm, Connected and Responsive.
First of all, if your horse is not calm, you’re not going to have all that great of a ride. Now, that doesn’t mean your horse needs to be so calm that he’s falling asleep! But, it does mean your horse should have his wits about him and not be fearful of you. If they are scared, no real learning takes place, and during the ride you’ll mostly be focused on calming the anxious horse instead of performing the tasks at hand. Unless, of course, your focus for your ride is to build more relaxation while being ridden, then clearly this doesn’t necessarily pertain to you. BUT, your horse should never be afraid of you! If that’s the case, you need to spend more time building confidence prior to your ride, or else you’re going to most likely have some pretty terrible rides.
The next thing a warm-up should focus on is connection. Connection is King, and many do not realize how connected and in-tune a horse can truly be. We’ve all been there… we are walking our horses to the cross ties or across the barn, and we stop, and they keep on walking or randomly stop to nibble on the scraps of hay on the barn floor. So many people miss this… their horse is NOT connected to them! The only thing keeping the horse with the human is the halter and lead rope! But, when the human climbs aboard they expect the horse to stand while being mounted, to make snappy transitions, and to stand when asked… but they don’t expect the horse to do those things on the ground, so the horse is quite confused as to what or whom they should actually be connected to. Your halter and lead are just a safety net, make sure you’re not just dragging your horse from one place to the next, or worse… your horse is dragging you. Expect your horse to be a partner on the ground, as well as when they are being ridden, it will help them stay connected to you and not default to tuning you out.
Once your horse is Calm, then Connected to you, you want to make sure they are Responsive! So if your horse is dull to your aids, get them snappy on the ground. It’s much easier to sort it out there, and it allows you to have a better view of the horses expression as you do it, giving you a better feel over all. If your horse is dull to following a feel on the halter, most likely they are dull or bracy to the bit or reins, or even your legs. When there is a brace in the body, there is a brace in the mind. Help you horse stay soft on the halter, and expect them to yield to you when you ask on the ground, in a responsive manner. It shouldn’t feel like you’re pushing over a dump truck with four flat tires when you ask your horse to yield his hind-quarters over in the crossties! If it does, then most likely they will be dull to your legs, and you’ll be working way too hard when you’re riding to just keep the horse forward, or to move and yield different body parts. Now, you want him Responsive, NOT reactive to your requests. Reactions are stemming from fear, and are not rhythmic or soft… they are tight and tense. So, be mindful of when you’re getting your horse responsive, that he’s not getting worried and just quickly reacting out of fear.
I can go on and on about these things, but in conclusion, your horses can be set up to be partners on the ground, before you step on. The goal is Calm, Connected and Responsive… and it’s much easier to get there if you spend a few extra minutes helping your horse on the ground first. This sets up your rides to be successful.