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Structure your horse's warm up and cool down

Updated: Nov 30, 2022

gillian higgins horses inside out painted horse dark bay skeleton gillian

A good warm up and cool down are crucial parts of your horse’s work and will help to reduce the risk of injury.

Gillian Higgins explains the importance of these two phases to your schooling session and suggests how to structure the warm up and cool down to avoid injury.

The aim of the warm up is to:

  • Increase blood flow to the muscles and vital organs.

  • Improve pulse and respiration rate.

  • Awaken the core.

  • Stretch the muscles, ligaments and tendons.

  • Take the joints through a full range of movement.

  • Increase flexibility and range of movement.

  • Focus the mind.

How long is your warm up?

Every horse is different but your warm up should be around 15 – 20 minutes long. If your horse is older or has had a previous injury you may need to extend this phase a little as your horse may need more time to warm up correctly.

Structuring your warm up

Start with a forward free walk on a long rein.

  • This allows the back to swing and elongate the topline and back muscles. It also enables the spinal ligament system to raise the back and support you, the rider.

  • Learn more about the biomechanics of working your horse in a forward and down neck out line in Gillian's book Posture and Performance or in her video course Anatomy in Action

A short walk hack is a great way to warm up your horse and once back in the school you can start to ride some simple movements such as serpentines, figure of eight and circles. These are all great for preparing the muscles for work. Remember to repeat the exercises on both reins.

Lateral work is also good to incorporate in to your warm up.

  • Try some leg-yield, shoulder-in and travers. These are all great for stretching joints, encouraging the hind legs to step under and across the body to loosen and supple your horse as well as engaging his core.

Still on a long rein, move up to trot making sure it’s regular and moving forwards and then into canter.

  • Continue to ride the movements you have already done in walk and you can introduce transitions that will lift the back, improve suppleness and begins to open the airways and increase your horse’s respirations rate and circulation.

Gillian talks more about warm up exercises for specific disciplines and performance in her online lecture demonstration series

Warming up in canter in a two-point position alleviated stiffness and is kinder to your horse’s back. It is also beneficial if your horse has any kind of back problem. Gillian talks a lot more about warm up and the biomechanics of canter in her upcoming series of webinar lecture demonstrations. Find out more about them HERE

Cantering in a long and low outline elongates and strengthens the topline muscles helping to prepare them for when you pick up the contact later in your training session.

The cool down

gillian higgins horses inside out allowing horse to stretch down cool down

This phase at the end of your training session is just as important for the health of your horse’s musculoskeletal system as the warm up.

  • Allowing your horse time to stretch down in a long and low outline helps him elongate his muscles and give the circulatory system a chance to remove toxins, draw lactic acid from the soft tissues and reduce the likelihood of inflammation. It also gives the heart and respiration rates to return to normal.

  • Another important benefit of a good cool down is it calms and relaxes your horse before you return to the yard. Your cool down also allows your horse to relax.

  • A good way to cool your horse down is to take him for a 10 minute hack.

gillian higgins horses inside out cooling down 10 minute hack

If you enjoyed this article and would like to learn more check out Posture and Performance and Pilates and Stretching for Horses:

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