Working up for the win, both in training and competition

Lots of us are in the middle of competition season, or in the lead up to it. Warming up for both you and your horse, when training and competing is so important. Your horse’s body and mind need to be ready to complete the complex tasks you are about to ask them to undertake.

Warming up prompts your horse’s body to respond with what is needed during exercise, there can be a reduction in risk to soft tissue injury or reinjury, a reduction of technical faults and it helps to minimise post exercise fatigue and soreness.

Exercising involves a network of functions from the body requiring regulation and coordination. Energy is needed for muscle function, thermoregulation, digestion, gastrointestinal function and circulation to name a few. Horses have a massive capacity for oxygen supply and delivery to muscles, but it needs to be enabled prior to exercise to get the benefits.

In the process of warming up the horse’s body temperature increases and with this muscle, tendon and ligament flexibility improves. A rise in temperature also improves the metabolic process, helping to preserve glycogen and delaying fatigue. Increased muscle fibre and nerve conduction aids coordination and technical performance. Not only do benefits occur due to a rise in temperature but other effects from warming up take place, such as; increased heart rate, respiration rate and splenic contraction and there is an improved blood supply and oxygen delivery to the muscles. This increase aids muscle power output and the mass recruitment of muscle fibres helps take the load of individual fibres.

As well as physical benefits there are mental benefits for both the horse and rider. Mental preparation is significant both when training and in competition. Allowing the rider to ‘feel’ the horse so they can identify anything out of the ordinary in both movement and personality. It is a chance to check tack fit and identify any issues that may be occurring, and finally a time to work through the movements or the course you are about to complete.

Warm ups should be tailored to the individual and will take in to account different factors such as, age of the horse, any previous injuries, the level they are competing and training at, the length of activity, the weather condition, and the list could go on. However, you can apply general rules to your warm up and if you need help getting started there is an example of a warm up below;

Step 1. On average 10 minutes is a sufficient time for walk in a warm up. Including some halt – walk transitions not only to start muscle engagement but also to help focus your horse on what you are asking them to do. Your horse should be in a relaxed frame or in a frame that is easy for them and you can include some large curves and gentle flexing.

Step 2. Moving in to trot and canter, again, at the beginning of your warm up, it should be relaxed with gentle flexing and some larger circles and arches. Encourage stretching, and a long and low posture in order to engage your horse’s core and stretch through the topline. Rather than lots of transitions focus on correct ones in a good posture. However, don’t forget the power of transitions if your mount is proving disinterested in your aids.

Step 3. Now, introduce some more specific movements which will help you in the task you are about to do. At this stage you are engaging and mobilising the specific muscles and joints needed, and to do this you can use some ground poles and lateral work. If you are competing now is the time to practise some of the movements you need to produce e.g. dressage specific or jumping. However, keep it in mind you do not want your horse fatigued entering the ring.

Your warm up can last from 10 minutes to 30 minutes depending on the task at hand and your individual horse. For more ideas and physiotherapy based exercises contact me for more information!

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