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How to make the most of chaotic warm-up rings?

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  • How to make the most of chaotic warm-up rings?

    My OTTB is not a fan of warm-up rings, at all. He hates horses trotting and cantering past him and towards him. He's fine in group lessons and hunter paces when we're all moving in the same direction. A recent event had some large divisions and the warm-ups were pretty chaotic, especially the jump rings (horses going every direction including up). We're only at BN, so I'm sure it gets better as you move up, but how do you make the most of this situation without creating more anxiety?

  • #2
    My OTTB boy is extremely anxious and had a bit of a rearing problem in stressful situations, he also does not like being ridden with other horses. When introducing him to the hectic warm up ring the biggest thing I focused on was making sure I was completely zoned in and breathing. I honestly didn't think of being competitive until he learned to settle in the warm up. I found trying to isolate a corner for yourself whether it be just enough for a ten meter circle and doing a lot of walk-halt-walk transitions helped him focus on me instead of the other horses. If he has a buddy that can warm up with him once he is calm and working with you that can help introduce him to going around the ring, encountering other horses. In most cases time and experience is the best and quickest way however having him in the group lessons is a good way for him to learn to work around others without the stress of competition.

    Work until your idols become your rivals.


    • #3
      So, I take my young horses and stallion on a long walk (under-saddle) before heading into the warm-up ring. This way they're already warm and loose before heading into the ring, so I don't need but to pick up a short canter and pop over a few fences which shortens your time in the warm-up. It's good for you too, if you're anxious, to just take that walk to breathe and get yourself mentally ready. Lastly, taking that extra walk insures your horse is properly warm before you start jumping.


      • #4
        It gets better with time! Small circles, walks, carving out your own corner when possible, timing your warmup based on when the schedule indicates warmup might be quiet, don't spend extra time in the warmup area, keep a "conversation" going with him, be willing to go on course without a warmup jump if that's what will help your horse stay in his skin and on this planet (I had to do that a couple times this year and it worked out great)... Good luck!


        • #5
          My OTTB was incapable of handling warm-up rings for a long time. Like from the time I pulled him off the track as a coming-6yo to his second or third year showing at the GP level (so when he was 11 or 12). I used to "warm him up" by taking him for a long walk (30-45 min) and that was it. It finally hit him that we were not going to die in the warm-up ring and now I can prep him like a normal horse....which is really nice because walking into 1.40m and 1.50m classes with zero warm-up fences was absolutely terrifying to me!

          So IME, it was really just time and experience. I don't think there's anything I could have done to change his feelings on horses coming at him, or his worst fear at the time - horses jumping a fence toward him and having a rail. Oh man did that lead to melt downs!
          Flying F Sport Horses
          Horses in the NW


          • #6
            With my OTTB I've found it's best to put him to work. After a short walk, I usually get him trotting on a 20 meter circle. The first few laps just kind of let him settle, and do my best to slow my posting, both directions. Then when he's starting to focus we do shoulder-in, small circles to the inside (same direction) and outside (other direction) of the 20 meter circle, shorten and increase the trot. Then when I feel ready we go around the entire arena. Then back on the circle to warm up the canter.

            This has been our first real year showing and he's gotten a lot better, though occasionally still gets rattled. Last weekend we were just doing a little fun schooling show and he was being totally relaxed, but lost it when a loud leopard appy came into the ring! He was just tense whenever that horse was near. He's been fine around pintos, mules, cows, etc but for whatever reason he just thought a dalmatian spotted horse was just plain wrong!


            • Original Poster

              Thank you for all the suggestions! This is very helpful.


              • #8
                From a slightly different angle (can't add any better to the great comments above), I try to do all I can to prepare mentally before I get on my horse to minimize further stress on me and him. I have a mental map of the grounds and identify some places I can retreat to if needs must (visiting beforehand if I haven't been there), find out which dressage ring is mine and know the stadium course so that I'm not having to figure out any logistics while sitting on my ready-to-go-or-blow horse. I warm up fully dressed (me and horse) so if I have to re-route due to craziness in the ring I can go for a quiet walk and then jet straight in when it's time without having to worry about stopping at the trailer or finding my person. I try to keep tack, horse boots and grooming at a minimum so I don't have to worry about fussing and doffing and donning and bits of tape coming undone and if he goes into the dressage ring with a big white foot covered in mud, so be it.


                • #9
                  If you regularly do group lessons, can you ask your instructor to practice having horses come towards you or trot/canter past you in your lesson?


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Gardenhorse View Post
                    If you regularly do group lessons, can you ask your instructor to practice having horses come towards you or trot/canter past you in your lesson?
                    Yeah, that would be so valuable!!


                    • #11
                      Having always regarded warm up arenas akin to polo scrimmages, I have always avoided them as much as possible. There are some excellent suggestions here.
                      Some riders change their horse, they change their saddle, they change their teacher; they never change themselves.

                      Remember the horse does all the work, we just sit there and look pretty.


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by Gardenhorse View Post
                        If you regularly do group lessons, can you ask your instructor to practice having horses come towards you or trot/canter past you in your lesson?
                        This was my first thought as well!

                        My trainer breaks racehorses as part of her business and one of the things she does is have a more experienced horse 'come at them' later in their training. So, I will ride my mare at the same time she's riding one of the young ones and she will ask me specifically to ride at that horse.

                        Most racehorses I ride that came off the track do not have an issue with horses coming at them, but some do and we do the same thing with them as well.

                        My mare was always a spooky, odd horse (dam to my current) but so good in warm up. I realized after a while it was because at home we would sometimes ride during the beginner lessons so she just got used to horses coming at her from all directions - so there's another option, ride during other lessons with no plan other than getting your horse used to it at all 3 gaits.