Let’s Discuss: Horse Show Warm Up

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.

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Insisting on correct work, even in the warm up ring. Photo Courtesy of Mara M.

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.

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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.

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Photo courtesy of Mara M.

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?

19 thoughts on “Let’s Discuss: Horse Show Warm Up

  1. Karen M

    I have done different warm-ups for different horses, and even different warm-ups for the same horse in a different part of his career. Right now, I get on Eli kind of early but just walk a lot, to let him adjust to all the distractions. I’m in the warm-up for a while, but don’t spend too much time trotting or cantering, and usually only take few jumps.

    This one time, I was on my jumper from a while ago who knew his job really, really well but hated ponies. The show only had one warm-up, and for one of our classes, we had to share the warm-up with ponies. Begged my trainer to get me the f out of there asap before my horse killed a pony kid. I think I cantered for 2 minutes, took one jump, and went.

    1. Ha! Hating ponies is definitely one I haven’t encountered, but I’ve definitely seen and ridden horses who for one reason or another didn’t handle the warm up ring well so a short warm up was what they got.

    2. Mine LOVES ponies! Grey ponies, specifically. Once he saw a grey pony walking by our ring and whinnied at the pony during the entire course. I was laughing so hard I barely remembered the course!

  2. I currently show a 9yo TB gelding. During our first “real” show season I would get to the show grounds around 6a to hack him for as long as it took him to relax. This could vary from 15 minutes to 45 minutes. Then he would go back to his stall to wait for our division. Once it was closer to showtime we would walk around the show grounds until we were close to showing, brave the warmup long enough to pop over a couple fences with trainer, then show. At that point he was extremely overstimulated by a crowded ring.
    Now in our third show season he has adjusted to show life and just gets a 15-20 minute hack in the warmup before our division, then pop over a few fences with trainer and we are ready to go. It helps to get a good schooling ride in the night before we show, but if that doesn’t happen it isn’t a huge deal breaker.
    He LOVES showing. He was born to be a runway model. I’ve ridden him on trail rides, fox hunts and schooling on cross country courses since he was 3yo and he completely loses his mind. As he’s gotten older he gets better and better in the show ring and worse and worse at riding outdoors. So. Weird.

  3. Frankie and I have kinda figured out our jam- we take the walk from the barn to the ring to get muscles stretching on a long rein. Then I’ll usually trot for a few minutes and canter for a few minutes to get the engine running and make sure he knows it’s time to work. Nothing intense, just pushing him up into the bridle and gauging energy levels. Then trainer will come tag a jump and have us do whatever we need to do that day to prepare- usually it’ll be a low-ish vertical 2-3 times each direction, a bigger oxer at least once each direction, and then a vertical at or above show height to get the feetsies picked up. We’ll do more if we need to adjust our tempo, and one day we just jumped everything once each way because we were already on it. I also try to “tour the ring” a bit and get a hand gallop going before packaging to our first fence- it’s hard to open up in the crowded warmup ring, so that’s my chance to get the RPMs up before sitting him down to the first jump.

  4. Warm-up rings, omg. I know at some events I’ve been to they’ve been INSANE. Yankee was a hot hot hot baby and nothing ever really settled him in the jump warm up, so I kept it short and sweet for him. For dressage it was different. We actually would go for a gallop. A long-ish one, say 5 minutes. Its his favorite gait, obviously, and it always got the steam out in one fell swoop. Once I figured that out, dressage was golden. He would come back to the warm up so much more willing to participate. If he ever got super nervous, lateral work. Now, at almost 15 though, he’s a pro and only gets nervous if his rider is!

    I never rode B eventing, but my trainer did and I honestly don’t know what she did with him, lol. At jumper shows though, its pretty efficient. Usually 20 min max, lots of walking, trot long and low then pick it up for the canter. Pop over the X a few times then practice tighter turns and flying changes and hop over the oxer.If I warm up too early (happens a lot), I kind of repeat that, but in a shorter time frame. He’s actually not too nervous if he’s doing something. I’m sure at the larger shows he might need to be walked a bit more and not stand as much in-between classes

  5. Kristi

    One of my favorite things about making up the greenies is discovering what each needs to get to the ring. My goal is to be able to canter once each way, jump two before the first class and go. If I have subsequent trips that day, sometimes I can go from the grooming stall to the ring without a lap. Those horse get to stay longer at my house. Need a lot of prep, you are getting sold faster because I am too old for that. Current horse occasionally needs to GALLOP in the warm-up ring for a little while. Too dangerous on the lunge line. I can clear a warm-up ring if I go fast enough. 🙂 He is also terrified of ponies, the smaller and more colorful the worse they seem to be. Trainer was insistent that the wandering mini at the SA show had no business on the hunter side of the wall while I was in the warm-up ring. No room to gallop and I couldn’t get near the end with the pet pony being paraded around.

  6. Abby F

    Good topic!
    Every horse in our barn warms up differently, but this is how I warm up my AO jumper. I try to get on to give myself about 10 min of flatting before we start jumping. I don’t ask for advanced flatworm during the warmup (no lateral work, counter canter, etc…) I walk a lap in each direction and the pick up a medium trot, focusing on have him soft and supple. Then, I pick up a good canter and do some circles and collections and extensions to get him listening and rideable. I do a lead change each direction and then we start jumping. Usually, we jump a small vertical both directions, then, if there’s a liverpool in the course or really spooky jumps, we put a tarp under the warm up jump. We jump that a couple times, make an oxer and work our way up to a biggish (1.30m/1.35m) oxer. Then, we end on a bigger (1.35/1.40m) vertical in the hopes of getting a bump right before we go in the ring. I don’t deliberately get him to a bad distance to get a bump, the big vertical after an oxer usually does the job (obviously, you only want to try to get a bump on an experienced horse, no a young one).

    1. This is a lot like what I do, minus the liver pool since I don’t currently go to any shows that pull that out. val is super careful so I’m not usually too worried about a rub, but we do usually end on a tall vertical to keep him sharp.

  7. I’m nearly always running late so my warm ups fall very much on the more efficient end of the spectrum. I’ll trot until they feel loose, canter, little forward little collect and then jump as much as required. I’m thinking I might not jump my horse next time I warm up though.

  8. My older mare’s favourite gait is the halt, so my MO at shows was to take her over to the scariest ring I could find (usually the carriage ring) to get her blood pumping. Then she’d be nice & in front of my leg hahaha

  9. With Isabel, at an event I try to do a 20-30min dressage warm up that is pretty darn comprehensive. Unless everything is already working, in which case maybe we just walk until it’s time. She was pretty clear about what she needed when and sometimes she needed nothing. Then when it was time to jump later it was mostly a function of efficiency, since we had already had a full ride earlier. Wtc, trot the X, canter the X, canter the vertical, canter the oxer, and be done. Who knows how Charlie will be tho!!

    1. I guess there’s definitely a big difference between the way you’d warm up for an event compared to a h/j. I don’t push quite all of the flat buttons in preparation, but you have to push them in the dressage court whether or not you push them in warm up.

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