The horse is a predator evasion machine. He’s equipped with powerful muscles, long limbs, and a flexible frame. This unrivaled athleticism does not make a horse invincible to the aches, pains, and strains of daily life, especially in his cushy domesticated state. No longer traveling with the herd over great distances and varied terrain, a riding horse gets the majority of his exercise when he’s worked on the ground or under saddle. By taking a few extra steps you will ensure his comfort, help him achieve peak performance, and reduce the chance of injury.
- Older Horses
- Horses Recovering from Injury
- Stalled Horses
- Young Horses
Warm up can begin with a thorough grooming – it’s not just about getting your horse clean. Use a magic-fingers curry and brisk sweep with a medium-bristled brush to invigorate your horse’s muscles. A cross-fiber grooming/massage has an even more therapeutic effect. Use a curry comb or a massage tool working across the grain of your horse’s muscles. This technique releases muscle tension, increases circulation, and breaks down knots and adhesions.
After grooming, continue his warm up by adding movement. Spend 10-15 minutes at a free ground-covering walk in hand, on a lunge line (on a large circle), or under saddle. Encourage your horse to walk with a long reaching stride to attain full range of motion. This will increase blood flow, lubricate joints, and stretch muscles before you ask for faster or collected work.
Next, elevate his heart rate with jogging or trotting. Ask your horse to lengthen his gaits to further loosen and oxygenate his body. The addition of a low and extended neck will further stretch and relax his topline. If you’re under saddle, begin on straight lines then gradually add wide loops, circles, and serpentines. Tighten the turns as your horse warms up to increase flexion in his spine and stretch the muscles down the length of his body. As a final step to your warm up, add lateral moves giving special attention to his shoulders and hips.
In addition to exercises under saddle, there are manual stretching methods you can use on your horse. Leg and neck stretches may enhance your horse’s overall comfort. However, they should be done with caution and on a horse that is already warmed up. Never force your horse to extend a limb, flex his neck or hold a pose if he shows any signs of resistance or discomfort.
As important as the warm up is the cool down. Keep your horse walking until his respiration has returned to normal and his chest and shoulder feel like the same temperature by touch. Check his leg too. If they feel warm, hose his lower legs with cool water to draw away heat and reduce the chance of fluids pooling in the extremities.