Here dressage rider Lara Edwards looks at the importance and key points to remember when warming up before competitions.
Competition days can be a stressful, nerve racking occasion but having a well thought out, focused and planned warm up can ease the tension and encourage your horse to perform to its best.
The aim of the warm up is to prepare your horses body for the movements you are going to ask him to do during your test and to maintain a positive and confident frame of mind for your horse.
While this seems very simple and obvious you must remember to take into account all the contributing factors on the day such as the general competition atmosphere, the large number of horses walking around and other unexpected elements such as loose dogs, children running about and adverse weather.
The goal is to relax and prepare your horse’s body and mind, so you can access if your training is coming together when it matters. A reliable warm up plan will have been rehearsed and practiced multiple times before you get to the competition to ensure you have a tried and tested routine that works for you and your horse.
This will help you focus and get past all the distractions, to enable you to produce the quality of work you have been working towards and practising at home.
A tip to remember particularly for a dressage test, is the importance to prioritise yourself, it is not just about your horse but about your own position and technique, too. Producing a harmonious, refined dressage test isn’t just about how your horse feels, but the correct representation you present to the judges too.
Your warm up routine depends on your horse and his needs. Making a plan will take time and effort, not to forget practice through trial and error; you must have the ability to adjust as you go, and to support your horse on the day.
As your horse’s level of education develops the plan will need adjusting to suit. Another point that may seem obvious but can often be forgotten in the adrenalin fuelled environment is to remember that a warm up routine is not the place to train your horse.
At home familiarise yourself with if your horse takes longer to settle if its windy or how much extra time is needed to become supple when its colder, knowing factors like these will allow you to adjust your plan with confidence and achieve a better result.
Take into account the layout of the venue. Some arenas are right next to the lorry park whereas at other venues you might be required to park some distance away. By arriving with plenty of time to check this out you can adjust your warm up plan.
If your horse is young, inexperienced or nervous it is up to you to keep your eyes open and avoid any situations that may unnerve him. Try looking for a quiet area to warm up, away from other horses.
Another factor to consider is if your horse is reactive to horses riding directly towards him; manoeuvre your warm-up to avoid these confrontations. Remember warm up routines are specific to each individual horse.
Remember to take a deep breath and be confident throughout any anxious moments. With both practice and experience you will get better at timing your warm-up, allowing you to feel prepared and ready to produce your best score.
At the end of the day competitions are meant to be fun for both you and your horse!