Your dressage competition warm-up really can influence how successful your test is ridden and ultimately make the difference between winning and losing. Courtesy of Golly Galoshes, the versatile equine gaiter, we spoke to Para-Dressage rider Natasha Baker to pick up some vital tips, which could help you present the perfect performance in front of the judge!
The most important aspect for me riding any horse is to ensure that in the warm-up, that the horse is forward going and has impulsion. Some horses can be a little lazy, so concentrate on getting your thinking forward and carrying you. This is not to be confused with going faster! Impulsion is the horse’s desire to go forward and take bigger steps from behind. If you rush a horse out of his natural rhythm I would lose the quality of step, which would lose me marks in the test.
Once you have walked for 5 – 10 minutes and warmed up the horses muscles, Start to to think about stepping up my warm-up and look to create energy and impulsion, by doing lots of transitions between walk and trot and then introduce some canter. In the canter work, Ask for bigger strides to ‘open up’ his engine and get him revved up a bit! Even if your horse is fizzy, transitions are an excellent way to keep him focused on you and concentrating on the job.
In my warm-up, I tend to run through similar exercises which we would do at home, as well as incorporating movements found in the test to be ridden, I find that this familiarity also helps settle the horses if they are tense and also gives us a pattern or frame-work to follow – helping channel my mind too!
If the warm-up has markers, use them! Ride your transitions to each marker or every other marker, so that is second nature when you step into the arena in front of the judge.
Once you have your horse thinking forward, then look at softening exercises. For this I use lateral work, which helps your horse to become engaged and then work more through and over the back. I always incorporate some shoulder-in and also some leg yield, the latter which also helps focus the horse’s attention on moving away from my aids and helps him step more underneath himself with the hind-leg.
As with any horse you need to play your warm-up by ear. If he or she has got out of bed in the morning and is overly excited then attempting to stretch down in the early stages of warm-up is pointless and focusing on lots of changes of rein and transitions would be far more beneficial, then allowing you to have a stretch walk break in-between before picking the horse back up and working some more before going into your test.
Practicing riding off the track in your warm-up, can check for straightness and riding square halts can also help add up valuable marks in the test. I ride lots of circles too in my warm-up of varied sizes to again ensure that my horse is listening to my aids and soft through his/her back and neck.
Depending on your horse’s temperament, you might find that a short warm-up, returning to the lorry for a break, then hoping back on for another short session works better, than getting on-board for a 45 minute warm-up session, prior to your test. It’s a matter of trail and error with any new relationship, so experiment to find out the warm-up that bests suits your horse.
Allow time to take off your horses bandages and boots at least 10 minutes before you are due to go into your test. We use Golly Galoshes over our bandages, because not only does it keep them dry and clean, but also helps prevent sand getting up underneath them and causing rubs and sores. Quick and easy to remove, they take less time to remove than our bandages and wraps, however you need to also double check your tack and have a quick slurp of water, so make time for all this, so you don’t keep the judges waiting!
Many riders finish their warm-up early and stand about outside the test arena waiting for the rider in front of them to finish. I find from experience it is much better to keep the horse moving and concentrating on you from the moment you leave the warm-up to riding across to the test arena. If you have space even walking him about then riding positively into the arena will help him concentrate on you. With a young horse this can be especially important, as their attention span tends to be shorter so I prefer to get in the arena and continue practicing the movements as I have done in the warm-up until the bell goes.
Finally remember when you go down the centre line in your test, smile and breathe! You need to ensure that you don’t get tense in your test riding; otherwise all that fabulous warm-up will be ruined!
Photography David Miller