A well-structured warm-up will help to minimise the risk of injury to your horse and help them to move easily in their work. Turn your usual warm-up regime on its head and focus on the canter for a more supple and relaxed horse, says grand prix dressage rider Elizabeth Allen.

“I find that using canter as the main part of my warm-up works well for many horses,” says Elizabeth. “Canter is often the pace horses find easier and it makes them more rideable sooner, because they’re more relaxed. With relaxation you’ll find you can achieve a soft and elastic contact quicker, as well as using half-halts to influence your horse’s balance.”

1. Walk first

On a long rein, walk your horse for five minutes, making regular rein changes and encouraging him to stretch forwards and down. Then pick up your reins so you have a fairly loose contact and your horse is in a longer, soft outline,

2. Go lateral

In this relaxed outline, ride some leg yield from the corner of your arena to the quarter line and then to the centre line. This checks your horse is moving away from your leg aids and will help you to warm him up more laterally.

3. Find canter

Make a transition to canter and ride a few large circles to check your horse is:

  • Soft in the contact
  • Maintaining an even canter rhythm
  • Relaxed through his back
  • In front of your leg

With these checks in place, go large to see if your horse stays straight and in a good rhythm.

4. Step sideways

Try riding some easy leg yields in canter to work on your horse’s general athleticism. Ride this movement from the corner to the centre line, or the quarter line if it’s easier for your horse.

5. Improve his straightness

Now ride some counter-canter each way. Use the corners to help you maintain the suppleness and to encourage your horse to take more weight onto his hind legs.

6. Check your aids

To introduce trot into your warm-up, ride from canter-trot-canter transitions. This will help your horse loosen over his back and check that he is reactive and listening to your aids.

7. Finish soft and supple

Finish your warm-up with some leg yield in trot to help maintain the softness. If your horse is a bit onward, riding leg yield will help to naturally slow him down.

After finishing this warm-up, walk on a long rein for a few minutes before picking up your contact and starting to work on whatever exercise you had lined up.

Meet the expert: Elizabeth Allen is a BHSI and UKCC3 coach. She rides at grand prix level and is part of Collective Equestrian. 

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