How to Warm Up at a Competition

Horse shows are already stressful enough without the added fear that you’re going to feel rushed or get mowed over in the warm-up. Lila Gendal shares some tips for a safe, effective warm-up.

Top: Skybreaker warming up for show jumping at the Green Mountain Horse Association Horse Trials

From Lila:

The point of a warm-up is to prepare you horse to perform its best in the show ring–not to play bumper boats with other competitors. How can we make our warm-ups more effective while lessening the risk of horses and riders almost taking each other out? Here are some tips to consider regardless of your discipline:

1)      Timing.

Warm-up is all about timing. For me, I know that I need about 30 minutes to warm up for dressage and 20 minutes or less to warm up for jumping. Of course this all depends completely on the horse you are sitting on; some horses require more time while others don’t need as much. It’s important to carefully calculate how much time you really need to warm up your horse. Some people spend WAY too much time in the warm up ring, while other people come trotting in at the last second with a panicked look on their face. Also, factor in the possibility that things are either running ahead or behind schedule. Check with the ring steward in advance so you know whether or not you should get on your horse at the planned time.


2)      Be respectful of others.

Have you ever been in a warm-up situation where you have run into another horse, or been run into? Have you seen competitors almost crash into one another or horses kick out at each other? Warm-up can already be a stressful, high-energy atmosphere, and poor warm-up etiquette only fuels the fire. Warm-up areas can sometimes be jam-packed, but finding a space for yourself and sticking to that space is important. This doesn’t mean you can’t use the whole arena, but if you stay in one semi-defined area, other riders will notice this and generally give you your space.

Check out this Chronicle of the Horse video of a packed-to-the-gills warmup at last year’s Pennsylvania National:


3)      Left-to-left.

This is a universal rule when riding. When you are approaching a rider from the opposite direction, pass that rider left shoulder to left shoulder. This eliminates any confusion and hopefully spares you from a head-on collision. If you cannot pass left-to-left, or you need to change your route at the last second for whatever reason, yell out something like: “Inside!”, On your outside!” or “Coming on your inside number 126!” etc.


Warming up your horse should not be scary nor should it be life-threatening. Let’s all do our part to make warm-up situations less stressful and more productive!


About the Author

My name is Lila Gendal and I am 27 years old. I am from Vermont and have been riding horses since I was 6 years old. I have been eventing since I was 10. I have been riding and training with Denny Emerson for the last 7 years. My goal is to compete at the upper levels someday. I currently have a 2005 Holsteiner mare, “Valonia” (Contester X Parlona), who is currently going training level, and I am riding one of Denny Emerson’s horses, a 2005 Selle Luxemburg gelding, “Beaulieu’s Cool Skybreaker” (Beaulieu’s Coolman X Une Beaute by Heartbreaker) who will be moving up to training soon! When I am not on a horse or in the barn I am likely working in my office on what I like to call Equine Media… or social media for equestrians and equestrian websites.


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