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Dear Nancy,

I have a very athletic warmblood gelding. He is 6 years old, he has had good basics and he is very safe. My question is: I am an amateur rider, still learning to get my seat and I feel like I spend the whole ride trying to get things right. At the end I have five minutes of good work and then we are both pooped. What is the best way for us to warm up so that we can get beyond the warm up sooner and spend more time working. Thank you for your time.

Directionless in NY


Dear Directionless,

I do have a very good basic warm up for you. With this warm up you should feel that you and your horse become warmed up more quickly and are able to move on to more advanced work.

When I first get on I walk on mostly long reins for at least 10 minutes to let the horse loosen up and start moving in his back. Mostly long reins means that the neck is long and low the back stretching thru to the bit, the contact can be very light, or almost completely loose, but when I touch the mouth the horse is giving in, not ever pulling at the reins. I make sure right from the start that he moves away from my legs, meaning that whenever I give a forward aid with my leg that my horse immediately responds by going more forward..accelerating, goes from here to there with a more vigorous step. At this point in the ride that does not have to be pretty. A quick step, jig step or rushing is acceptable for a second, just checking that he is listening to my legs. Eventually for him to be more enthusiastic without loosing the gait is preferable. Do not pull on the reins if he gives too much reaction, just settle him with the seat and perhaps massage the mouth with the wrists so that he does not get strong, most of all do not pull back. It also helps that you have the idea that your horse is flexed to the inside around your inside leg right from the start. Even though the beginning work is long and low remember that you have and inside leg and an outside leg. It is much easier to collect a horse that is supple to the inside and not too "straight".

After the walk I do the same work in trot and then in canter. The work will consist of trot circles 20 meters, long diagonals to change direction and trot canter, canter trot transitions. The warm up is done in half long reins, the horse should be round, stretching down and bending nicely to the inside. To get the bending you will need to supple the inside rein as well as keep him nicely obedient to your inside leg. Your outside rein will have a nice light contact and be the rein in the future that determines the length of frame, in the beginning you may need to let loose on the outside rein to allow the horse to bend his neck easily to the inside, later he will need to respond to half halts that will encourage him to stay more collected as he accepts the bending. It is important to remember that the warm up is used to loosen you and your horse up, however, it is also used to prime the horse again about your aids and what they mean - so for instance if you ask him to go forward to your leg - and he does not go - you must not think he is not warmed up enough. Even if it is not pretty he must understand what the aid means, he must accelerate. If you ignore that he ignored you then you will not have legs that mean anything to him later in the ride, he will be thinking "she does not care if I go forward when she puts her legs on" Later in the ride you will combine forward aids and half halts to create more balance and collection. Now you are just checking the gas pedal and the breaks, it does not all have to look perfect it has to feel like he is listening.

Trot canter do not walk canter or canter walk yet, this requires more balance and collection and you are still warming up. Also remember to sit 5 or 6 steps of trot before you canter and after you canter to practice sitting. Just walking to avoid sitting trot is not teaching you anything. Also he needs to feel you sitting before your canter depart. You want to practice small stretches of sitting trot with your horse so he gets used to swinging in his back under your seat, and so you get used to letting him move under you without using your hands for balance. It is very important that you do not feel that he stiffens in his neck and mouth when you give him a rein aid. You always want him to find the place of give in the reins. For this the neck needs to be round and poll giving in. If the neck is too long and the horse is going too fast this will be difficult to achieve. It will be the response to your go aids and wait aids that will turn it into give. Do not spend too much time waiting for a reaction. If you use your legs do not get a response, ask immediately again a bit stronger and then praise him for a positive reaction by relaxing the aid and with your voice. The same with the reins, when you ask him to slow down or make a downward transition do not wait too long, if he does not respond use the aid a bit stronger and then relax it. Do be careful not to create pressure in the hands or legs because your horse is not reacting. Use a stronger aid and then relax. Remember always with the hand it is not pulling back, it is pressure against the forwardness and then going with or accepting the forwardness through the wrists.

Okay that is the warm up. That should take 10 of walking and then another 10 - 5 minutes or so. More after days off or cold days or when they get no turn out.

I hope this helps! Good luck, Nancy
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