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Timing of Dressage Warmup

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  • Timing of Dressage Warmup

    I have a horse that has been there, done that, and he is currently showing me the ropes at Training. He is absolutely a saint, but we seem to have this recurring problem at every horse trials...our dressage warmup. He is the kind of horse who needs to keep moving consistently, keep doing transitions and changes of direction and anything to keep him interested and engaged and forward. If you take a walk break, good luck getting him forward again. However, if you do TOO much before you go in the ring, he starts getting heavy in your hands. So we are struggling with not doing enough (thus not having him forward and loosened up) or doing too much (having him drag his toes into the ring). I always try to time it PERFECTLY so I can do what I need to do, have him right where he needs to be, and trot right into the ring for my test...but it always seems like we have to wait maybe 5 minutes or so, just enough time for it to be too much warmup...and again if I walk, it's over.

    Last time I just pushed through and kept working him until we went in the ring and he was so flat and heavy by the time we entered at A that our test was a pale comparison to our warmup.

    Does anyone else have a horse like this? How do you time your warmup, and what do you do when even your most perfectly laid plan is shaken by a late ring, or whatever? I know I can't make it perfect, but I am determined to figure something out so we can carry our warmup over to our test!

    Thanks so much!

  • #2
    I have a horse like this. He will only tolerate the warmup ring for so long before he starts looking for excuses to be distracted.

    I do a couple of things to help:

    1. When I ride at home, I do long stretches of work with 1-2 walk breaks between. I do let him stretch in the trot and canter as we are working but only drop down to a "non working" walk once or twice. That way, I am extending the length of time that he can work without losing his patience and teaching him that we do go back to work after the walk.

    2. I keep a close eye on the dressage schedule and check with the ring stewards to see how close to on time they are running.

    3. If I do get stuck with too much time in the warmup (and like, you even just 5 min can change the whole game) I like to fill the time with stretchy trot and working trot transitions. This keeps him moving, thinking and loose.

    Hope that helps and good luck!


    • #3
      I always find timing my dressage warmup is tricky to do. Either my horse isn't as fresh and frisky as I anticipated, and I over-ride him, or I haven't given myself enough time to really get him connected and through before it's time to go in.
      I found with him though, if I get out and do an early ride, then he really does best with a short warm up before dressage.
      I don't think anyone can tell you what to do, just gotta keep experimenting with the time you need before the test, and know that horses are not always the same from one to the next.


      • Original Poster

        Thank you both so much for the great suggestions. I really appreciate them! I especially am excited to try extending the walk breaks at home to remind him that walk breaks do not mean we are done for the day.


        • #5
          Don't forget that walking doesn't have to be mosing along on a long rein not doing anything. If he needs to stay engaged, work on your medium to free walk back to medium transition. Do some serpentines, etc. Keep him engaged while both giving you a chance to let your bodies rest.

          I do agree with Action, though. If you have a while to wait before you get on, check in at your ring a few times. If you are nearing the time to get ready and have a helper, ask them to double check your ring before you go over. Can you walk at the BEGINNING of your warm up, if you get there and realize they are a few minutes behind?


          • #6
            Yes, teach your horse that walking does NOT mean "we are done".

            Practice at home so you know HOW LONG it takes to "get it together again" after a walk break. Lets say it is ten minutes.

            When you get to the warm up, check how the timing is going. If there is a delay, then take a walk break, but arrange it so you start working again 10 minutes (in this case) before you go in.

            During the walk break, keep his attention. don't just wander around. You can do lots of transitions between free walk and medium walk, walk and halt, lateral work, etc. to keep him mentally and physically "engaged" without making him tired.

            chief feeder and mucker for Music, Spy, Belle and Tiara. Someone else is now feeding and mucking for Chief and Brain (both foxhunting now).


            • #7
              Yes I do have a horse the same way. When space/place permits I've even gotten up in a 2-pt. and taken him off and given him a short sprinty gallop up a hill or even down, then gathered him up gently and put him back on the bit and to work...just to keep him thinking....oh geez, we may NOT be doing dressage, it might be just right to XC....keeping him mixed up and thinking helps but these old guys you can only fool them a little bit! They're pretty smart!
              Proud & Permanent Student Of The Long Road
              Read me: EN (http://eventingnation.com/author/annemarch/) and HJU (http://horsejunkiesunited.com/author/holly-covey/)


              • Original Poster

                Super ideas, guys..you are absolutely right that in the walk I can keep him engaged and ask him to do different things within the walk that will keep him on my aids. I also like Amanda's suggestion of getting to the ring and figuring out how my ring is running before I start working. That is one of those things I should have thought of...I guess I get anxious once we're in the warm up! I will certainly try that, though...it might take a few tries before I get the timing right but at least I have some ideas. Thank you all so much!


                • #9

                  I have most definitely been in your shoes before. The age old question of warmup timing....it seems as though every horse is different.

                  If I could give you a small piece of advice...You need to completely change your approach to this. Although your horse is a seasoned campaigner, no matter what, when you are in the tack, you are the pilot. If you haven't been on the horse for over an hour than he almost definitely has the ability and/or energy to stay forward and active. This sounds more like an unwillingness to be submissive to the aids more than anything. Whether I ride a breaker or an advanced horse, when I put my leg on, the horse must react.

                  My favourite saying is "every horse can feel a fly land on its arse and swish its tail....it most definitely can feel your leg....its just what does that leg pressure mean to him"

                  If you start over analyzing this warm up timing thing, I worry you will forever be a slave to trying to get it "just right". Unfortunately getting the ride time for the dressage that is exactly the same as what is printed in the draw is unlikely. However, if you have more control over how your horse reacts to your aids, it shouldn't matter how long it takes to get in the ring because YOU will be in control.

                  Just a couple of thoughts....and if you ever would like some ideas or exercises to help you have a horse that is more responsive please don't hesitate to ask


                  • Original Poster

                    Dom, you are absolutely correct, and that's exactly what my trainers focus is in my lessons. He must respond appropriately to my leg, and he IS getting better. At least for the first 30 minutes....I guess I do need to be more assertive...which I have trouble with since he does know better than me and has a way of convincing me that he's got it. Haha. So I'd love to pick your brains about the exercises you have in mind...would you mind sharing?