Monday, 12 December 2016

Warming up for dressage

One of the things we don't always think about when it comes to riding a dressage test is how to warm up. There are various rules of etiquette involved here, as well as some guidelines for what you want to get out of your warm-up. First, the etiquette:
  • Golden rule: when there are other riders and horses in the warm-up arena with you, you should always pass left to left. This means that if you are riding around on the left rein, you can stay on the track, but if you're riding on the right rein and meet someone coming in the opposite direction, you should take the inside track.
  • Avoid passing too close to horses you don't know. Even the best-mannered horse can kick, and you never know what the other horse is like either! 
  • Unless it's very quiet, don't walk on the outside track. The outside track is for people who want to trot or canter. These faster paces take priority, but there's always confusion when someone is cantering on the right rein and someone else is walking on the left as to who should be on the inside track. Strictly speaking, it should be the person walking, but don't bet on the other rider moving out of your way!
  • Don't halt on the outside track. It's discourteous and dangerous. If you can, try not to halt on the main lines across the school either. You can practise halts in all sorts of places, which do not have to include anywhere on the centre line!
  • Don't be a maniac. At all times, look out for other people and horses, including any trainers on the ground. Even if you're in the right, keep calm and make way for others. Often horses who are in an unfamiliar place will be on edge and may misbehave; it could be your horse one day so be flexible and help out a fellow rider!
Warming up at Hartpury
As for what you want to achieve from your warm-up (apart from not causing a diplomatic crisis with any other riders), here are my main pointers:
  • The point of a warm-up is to make yourself prepared to go out and compete. This should always be at the front of your mind.
  • From the beginning of the warm-up, you need to be relaxed, confident and communicating clearly with your horse.
  • Start out in walk. Do quite a bit of walk, on both reins, to loosen your horse off, especially if he has been in a horsebox. Keep your reins fairly long and your seat light and relaxed, especially if your horse is a bit on edge.
  • Keep your horse's attention by doing lots of transitions (walk-halt-walk), turns and some lateral work. 
  • Next, go up into a nice working trot. You use the walk to loosen the horse, and the trot to warm him up properly. Again, keep him listening - do transitions and changes of direction. Try asking him to collect and lengthen the trot, and make sure you ride on both reins.
  • Go back into walk for a quick breather before beginning some canter work. Even if your horse is very fit, there's not much point overdoing the canter work as it takes some of the 'sparkle' away from the canter in the test. Try to get a decent long canter in on both reins as well as doing yet more transitions and turns. The canter is good for getting his attention and for helping you to settle down too!
  • If there are any specific parts of your test that you would like to practise, now is the time to do it. Of course, you won't have entered a competition without ensuring you can ride your test already, so this isn't the time to learn it! I like to do some of the trickier turns and transitions. Don't just run through the whole thing or you'll bore your horse to tears. 
  • Once your horse has worked in all the relevant paces, keep him relaxed but listening. I like to do some rein back, which brings the horse on his haunches and encourages him to work effectively from the back legs. It also gets them listening and more alert - so it might be one to avoid if your horse is particularly highly-strung! Long rein walk is also a good one.
  • By the end of your warm-up, your horse should be attentive, moving with relaxed energy, and warm but not tired.
Warm-up dos and don'ts!
  • DON'T settle for mediocre paces. Your walk isn't just your rest between trot and canter - it will be awarded marks too, so make sure you're getting the most you can!
  • DON'T wear your horse out.
  • DON'T just go round in endless 20m circles.
  • DON'T expect to learn your test in the warm-up, or to teach your horse something new in that time. It isn't fair and it won't work!
  • DON'T ride into anyone...
  • DO plenty of transitions
  • DO lots of turns and circles, but think and plan ahead - you need to avoid other riders, and you need to ride your moves as if you were in the test, i.e. with plenty of preparation! 
  • DO lateral work and rein back
  • DO work in all paces on both reins
  • DO use the quarter line if it is safe to do so (i.e. a few metres away from the track on the long side - it helps you assess your straightness better)
  • DO practise collecting and lengthening
  • DO let your horse stretch, ideally in all three paces
  • DO push the horse into the corners
  • DO focus on quality over quantity (5 minutes of excellent trot work is better than 15 minutes of less good work)
  • DO practise halts!

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