lynn palmMost people who do any form of exercise know that it is important to warm up. Because a horse is an athlete too, he also needs a pre-exercise warm-up routine to help loosen and limber up his muscles after standing in a stall or in a pasture. A warm-up also prepares the horse’s mind, as well as his body, for the work you will be asking him to do — whether it is schooling, trail riding, pleasure riding, or showing.

The same principle applies to the rider’s mounted warm-up. The warm-up is a time for the rider to get into correct form and balance as she loosens her muscles and joints. I find it is a pleasant time when I can reconnect with my horse before starting the more serious work at hand.

An effective warm-up
Start the warm-up by letting your horse walk on a loose rein. Don’t be worried about the horse being “on the bit.” Instead, the horse should be allowed to move forward on a loose rein with the rider guiding him to stay on course.

Ride your horse along a warm-up pattern that includes very large circles, large turns, and straight lines. The horse should be moving forward but in a relaxed manner.
After warming up at the walk, ask the horse for the trot or jog. The trot is the best gait to limber up the horse. I recommend that you post during the warm-up, even if you’re using a western saddle. Posting gives you the opportunity to warm up and to also use your own muscles. As you begin to loosen up, you will notice that your muscles respond better and your coordination improves while your thinking slows. You begin to relax as your warmed-up body allows you to better follow the horse’s movement.

As part of the warm-up, try taking your feet out of the stirrups to get down in the saddle and closer to your horse. As your body loosens up, you will find you’re able to follow the horse’s movement and stay in balance, even without stirrups.

Change directions often in order to loosen up both sides of the horse and to keep his interest up during the warm-up.

I am often asked how much time should be allowed for a warm-up. The answer is that there is no set amount of time. It depends on many factors that you, the rider, must take into account for each ride. Usually, the colder the weather is, the longer and slower the warm-up should be to loosen up cold muscles and joints. The warm-up must also be long enough to physically and mentally warm up the horse, but it is not intended to wear him out or bore him. Enough time should be spent in the warm-up so that both sides of the horse are equally loosened up.

A good gauge for how long your warm-up period should be is that you should feel the same balance and relaxation without stirrups as you feel with them. You also should feel your mind slow down and focus, and you should feel positive about the upcoming riding session!

In the next article, I will cover the core of communicating with your aids — your seat, your legs, and also your hands.

Lynn Palm teaches and coaches riders and horses. She also develops training and educational products. Learn more on Lynn’s Web site at