Oh, You Mean WARM UP

“I always thought that ‘warming up the horse’ was plodding around the round-pen or arena to get my schooling horse’s muscles moving and us kind of reacquainted.” Candace Wade shares her latest “late-in-life lesson rider” revelation.


“Thump on the head” revelations are one of the many perks I get from riding horses. Yes, I am the “ever-student-late-in-life-rider” writer at Horse Nation. My latest discovery is what “go warm up the horse” really means.

My riding instructor rattled my reins when she urged me to consider competing in the “Geezer Novice” level of the dressage competition at the farm this spring. My first sputtering response was that I can barely spell dressage let alone perform a memorized pattern – in front of (gulp) people – and a (double gulp) judge. Then my “compete with myself” gene kicked in and I saw ribbon-fueled stars in my eyes. I agreed.

Learning patterns. Counting steps. Staying on the rail. Struggling to make circles that didn’t look like ostrich eggs. Crisp salute on “X.” You know the drill. But, the big “Why didn’t I know this years ago?” was what warm-up means. Hold the following lagniappe for later — complaining that your horse feels too lazy or “not forward” enough for what you are trying to accomplish. Note: Keep in mind I’m talking about recreational riders like me. Wait, maybe any rider.

I always thought that “warming up the horse” was plodding around the round-pen or arena to get my schooling horse’s muscles moving and us kind of reacquainted. On a trail ride, it meant starting at a slow, ambling walk. When I unzip my riding vest, we are “warmed up.” What one misses by being ignorant.

My equine partner knows the dressage pattern like an automaton. We had no oomph. She lagged out of the corners and our free walk was somnambulance on the hoof. My instructor offered, “Go out and warm her up.” Huh? “Get her into a good trot and canter. Wake her up.” I did. We trotted back into the pattern and my lovely schooling horsey sparkled.

What I learned: My horse’s mind was cold. She was on autopilot and we didn’t share energy or enthusiasm. Back to “My horse feels lazy, isn’t ‘forward’ enough and she isn’t ‘present’.” That was my doing, not hers. 1. I wasn’t internalizing enough energy to share it with her, and 2. I hadn’t warmed up her mind. Besides not understanding the concept of warm-up, I had to stop feeling sorry for her and being grandmotherly to her because she was a schooling horse. Kindness is being a sage partner and helping her feel engaged and enthusiastic with me.

I can feel her working with me now. She’ll try to get away with a bit of slogging, but I can now catch her while she’s thinking and urge her forward. Everything we do together has improved. She seems to enjoy our work together. Wheee!

Our “Geezer Novice” dressage competition is looming in the next week. If I help my horse and stay out of her way, she will carry me through to… not being the worst. I just need to be ready if she jumps out of the arena (as she did last week) to grin and shout “yeehaw!”

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