Trainer Jenny Richardson BHSAI says we shouldn’t see warm up and warm down as the boring bits before and after our rides; warming up and warming down are essential!
Firstly, let’s quickly look at why we have stated ‘warm down’ and not ‘cool down’ in this feature! The term ‘cool down’ is very often used to mean the ridden stage at the end of a training session when we reduce the workload, work on a long rein, and allow the horse to relax and physically cool down, if he’s hot. However, the term cool down is really more accurately used to describe the actual cooling of a horse with water, post-exercise, to prevent overheating. I prefer the term ‘warm down’ to describe the reduction in exercise intensity after a schooling session!
Why warm up?
What are the practical reasons behind warming up? Essentially, this phase prepares the muscles and tissues for work, and can also have a psychological aspect, in terms of preparing the horse mentally. Each horse’s warm up and warm down programme should be tailored to its level of fitness and discipline.
Generally speaking however, the warm up period is a phase of gentle exercise that’s fundamental to training. If you are not effective in your warm up, you will be building on tight muscles. The primary purpose of this stage is to get blood to the horse’s surface muscles, and warm them up. Never stretch cold muscles; stretching longitudally and laterally comes afterwards, when the muscles are more supple.
Safe stimulation of muscles allows them to safely contract by increasing blood flow, but the warm up also allows synovial joint fluid to lubricate the joints, helps prevent lactic acid build-up by stimulating the circulatory system, and prevents injury caused by strain to tissues, such as tendons and ligaments. As a general guideline, all horses should be given around fifteen to twenty minutes of slow work, especially in walk, before they are asked to perform anything taxing.
If the horse isn’t put back in the stable after exercise with loose, soft muscles, the next day he may be uncomfortable. Equine tension is often triggered by tight, painful muscles; comfortable muscles make a comfortable mind. So warming down after exercise is key! Generally, 5 to 10 minutes of low-intensity exercise that culminates in a relaxed walk after exercise is perfect; there is a redistribution of blood within the body (as oxygenated blood has been helping the skeletal muscles, and organs of the body during exercise).
Looking for some training practice? Why not consider a trip to Ireland – we welcome riders of all abilities to our beautiful Irish venue here at Castle Leslie where I am head instructor – check out www.castleleslie.com, for information. Our ‘Horse Sport’ packages are always popular with eventers and showjumpers!