I’ve seen a pretty wide variety of tactics where horse show warm up is concerned. There are the people who take 5 minutes w/t/c 1 or 2 laps each way, jump a few jumps, and then they march right in. They’re efficient, it saves their horse for the show ring, and they tend not to be in anyone’s way–though their horse may not actually be all the way warm when they walk in to the ring. On the other end of the spectrum, you have the people who take their time warming up and spend upwards of an hour in the warm up ring working on something that is sticky like lead changes or rushing to the base. Inevitably they step in front of your jump at least once with all of their circling. You also see everything in between, and from what I can tell the norm for most people is 10-20 minutes at least the first time they get on, mostly to stretch their horse’s legs and make sure the basic buttons are working.
I think I previously fell more toward the “pretty efficient” end of the spectrum, but I had a bit of an epiphany at our 1-day show a few weeks ago when I accidentally got on Val really early and I had a quiet warm up ring with time to kill. I was running through our normal horse show warm up (a little bend this way and that, making sure brakes and forward are installed by sort of tickling the buttons, tiny bit of leg yield) when it occurred to me that if I want to perform at a show like I do at home, I need to warm up the same way I do at home.
Being mindful of the other horses in the warm up ring, I did more of a true flat ride to really get Val ready for course work. There was a lot of trotting with lots of changing directions, leg yielding in each direction back and forth across the warm up area, lots of circles, and lots of walking in between to help him take a deep breath. At the canter we did more of the same (with less changes of direction) including leg-yielding both ways.
We did a little opening up into an almost hand gallop and then coming back to a really collected stride, sometimes to do a tiny circle, and then really pushing behind to leave said circle. And wouldn’t you know it, Val was relaxed and really rideable when we started jumping. It only took a few jumps to feel ready to walk in the ring, and then we put in three fantastic trips in which Val was really rateable and bending around my leg better than normal at shows.
I was still careful not to work too hard before we even did a class, so our warm up was a condensed version of our normal warm up. I also made a point of only sharpening up the tools we already have, not trying to fix a training hole the day of a show or working on something sticky, because in my experience at least, fixing something that has been an issue day of never works out. But I think a more thorough warm up that resembled what we do at home made a big difference for Val, and for myself as well.
Obviously each horse is different and needs different things. Some horses are super stressed in the warm up ring and a short warm up is all they can handle. For other horses, a long warm up might be what it takes just to loosen up stiff joints.
Sometimes the warm up ring is tiny and crowded and a thorough warm up just isn’t possible. At our last show, it was a lot harder to get in a good warm up. And I also got on my horse 3-4 times each day, so a long warm up wasn’t required for each outing.
But what does your warm up routine look like at shows? What works really well for you and your horse and what really doesn’t work? Is there anything you avoid or make a point to do every time?