When you’re riding a young horse who has a lot of talent and power under the bonnet, it’s all about embracing that va-va-voom and allowing them forward right from the word go, while instilling the basics that will give your ridden work a framework, whether you’re slotting in a quick 20-minute jumping session or working in at a competition. Five-star event rider JP Sheffield, who is competing at Burghley Horse Trials this weekend (1-4 September), shares how he warms up his young horses.

“It’s important to let your horse chill out in the warm-up, but it’s vital you take this time to relax too,” says JP. “You would not believe the number of times I need to remind riders to breathe. Taking a moment to focus on your breathing and really breathe deeply will help you stay mentally relaxed, which will have a knock-on effect on your horse.”

How to ride it

When it comes to the warm-up, your plan of action very much depends on your horse’s age, type and personality. Some horses need a little push to get them in the right frame of mind at the start of a schooling session. Others naturally have bags of ‘go’, so it’s all about allowing them forward – in a controlled manner.

  1. As a general rule, spend lots of time in walk and trot in the warm-up, but make it nice and active. From the moment you hop on board think: ‘forward, straight and listening’.
  2. Keep an even contact, but don’t grip with your hands. You need to allow the horse enough movement to go forwards, so avoid restricting that with your hands.
  3. Most importantly, leave your horse’s mouth alone: give a touch with the reins and then release.
  4. Of course, this can be tricky, especially if your horse is a bit of a hot-head. JP’s top tip? Stay on a circle (of any size) in the warm-up. Whether you’re at home or at a show this has a relaxing effect mentally.
  5. Once your horse is settled, go forward to canter.
  6. Again, allow him forward, with his poll up and his nose forward. If you find yourself gripping up and getting tight on him, stay on a circle.

When you’re at a competition, warm up in the same way that you would when riding at home. Sticking to a routine that’s familiar to you and your horse will help you both relax, focus and prepare for the task ahead. Allow yourself plenty of time before you’re due in the arena and don’t forget JP’s keep advice — remember to breathe!

Meet the expert: JP Sheffield is an event rider, trainer and sports horse producer who is based in Leicestershire. Follow JP Sheffield Eventing on Facebook. 

Find out what’s inside the latest issue of Your Horse

Get the latest issue

Check out our latest subscription offer