You wouldn’t jump on your horse and immediately gallop around the ring, just as you wouldn’t walk into the gym and immediately head to the squat rack to attempt a max lift. In Part 3 of our series, we’re looking at the  benefits of warming up before you get on your horse, and why it’s so important.

In Part 1, I asked how often you physically prepare when you are schooling or competing. For instance, do you warm-up or go through any flexibility or mobility exercises before you get on your horse? Do you perform a cool-down to prevent excessive muscular soreness and stiffness after a long day of showing? The typical response is no to all of the above.

Generally, we tack up our horses, mount, and get on with our ride or show day. I am going to challenge you to get out of your ‘typical’ routine and start to treat yourself with the same principles you would apply to your horse.

Let’s start with warming up before you head out for your ride.

Why is a warm-up important?

  • Similar to achieving suppleness in your horse, a proper warm-up stimulates blood flow in our working muscles and increases the suppleness of our muscles and tendons. This enhances our posture and stability in the saddle.
  •  Our tissue temperature increases, which also helps with decreasing the viscosity or thickness of the fluid in our joints, thus preventing stiffness and rigidity in the saddle.
  • It allows us to focus on the muscles and functional movement patterns that are required for our sport. This can enhance reaction time, muscle coordination, mind-muscle connection, force, strength, and power.
  • It decreases the risk of injury. The increase in muscle tissue temperature aids in increasing the elasticity (or suppleness mentioned above) which can decrease the risk of strains, sprains, and chronic overuse pain.
  • It allows you to take the time to become mentally prepared for your upcoming ride. You can use warm-up time to reflect and revisit your goals during your training ride or competition, as well as create focus and clarity to clear your mind of distracting and/or negative thoughts.
  • Warming up enhances your performance. There have been many studies across several different sports that show a positive correlation between the physiological and psychological benefits of a warm-up and sport performance.

An effective warm-up should gradually progress in intensity, moving from active slower speed, shorter range of motion patterns to more dynamic, faster speed, full-range movements. Try this short dynamic warm-up the next time you are at the barn!

1. Walking High Knees

• Length of barn aisle OR 10-12 repetitions in stationary position.
• Start off with small movements and progress to bringing knee as high as possible by the last 2-3 repetitions.

2. Walking Butt-Kicks

• Length of barn aisle OR 10-12 repetitions in stationary position.
• Start off with small movements and progress to trying to touch heel to butt by the last 2-3 repetitions.

3. Heel Raise 4/Toe Raise 4

• Length of barn aisle OR 16 repetitions in stationary position.
• Walk 4 steps or your toes then walk 4 steps on your heels OR do both movements from a stationary standing position – repeat (use wall/stall for balance if needed).

4. Tempo High Knees

• Length of barn aisle OR 10-12 repetitions in stationary position.
• Fast, quick feet, bring knees as high as possible for the last 2-3 reps.

5. Tempo Butt-Kicks

• Length of barn aisle OR 10-12 repetitions in stationary position.
• Fast quick feet, bring heels to butt.

6. Walking Toy Soldiers

• Length of barn aisle OR 10 repetitions in stationary position.
• Swing your leg out in front of you (slightly stretching the back of that leg). At the same time, the opposite arm is reaching toward the leg.
• Alternate in a walking pattern.
• Begin with short range, slower tempo movements, then progress to full range, faster movement. Eventually try to have the leg and hand touch.

7. Overhead Walking Lunge with Quadriceps Stretch

• Length of barn aisle OR 6 repetitions in stationary position.
• Reach arms overhead, lunge forward with left leg (3 second hold), stand up and grab R ankle/foot with R hand and bring heel to bum to stretch the quad—front of leg (3-second hold). Repeat with right leg lunge.

8. Arm Hugs to Toe Touch

• Length of barn aisle OR 6-8 repetitions in stationary position
• Swing arms wide and bring back to hug yourself, lean forward and try to touch your toes (3-second hold). Repeat

9. Leg Swings

• 8-10 repetitions per leg in stationary position
• Stand facing wall/stall. Swing leg out to side and back across the front of your body. Begin with slower, short-range movements and progress to faster, full-range movements

Part 4 in the Equestrian Athlete series will discuss the importance of completing a cool down routine after your ride or a long horse show day.

Meryl Wheeler is a former equestrian athlete who has a passion for physical fitness and health. As a Certified Athletic Therapist and adult educator, she brings her knowledge of the musculoskeletal system and injury prevention to create effective online strength and conditioning programs designed to help clients realize the power, opportunity, and potential they have to reach their own health and wellness goals. To learn more, follow Meryl on Facebook and Instagram

-Photo credit: Lucio Landa; courtesy of Meryl Wheeler.