When you’re riding on your own, sometimes it can be hard to get a ride off to the right start. Getting yourself focused and able to use your body to get your horse to use his body gets you both in the best position (literally!) to progress towards your more challenging work as your ride gets going. It’s also the best place to start if you’re starting at the very beginning building a fitness and training foundation for yourself and your horse. Today I’ll share my 3 favorite warm up exercises that I use to begin every ride, and I’ll explain how they help me and my horse develop the foundation we need for all the work we’ll do on a given day and in the future.

1. Walking with no stirrups – stretch the hips and find the sweet spot in the saddle, get the hips swinging, get the core stacked and shoulders back relaxed. Find a balance over your seat. It’s SUCH a simple thing, and yet so often overlooked as one of the best ways to warm up yourself while your horse is getting warmed up – especially if you’re riding after a long day sitting at a desk, or a long drive out to the barn!

2. Stand in your stirrups and stretch the lower leg – push the heel down, then forward and down, then back and down while lengthening your whole leg back towards your horses back feet. Finally find where your upper body effortlessly balances over a long, relaxed lower leg.

Vertically balanced shoulder-hip-heel, open hip, long relaxed leg. But could open up my shoulders more! Ugg always more to work on improving…

3. Now as we let the horse move into the trot, while the horse cruises around in a warm up frame on a soft contact, free up his back and improve your own balance while getting your riding muscles fired up by alternating your position.

  • Post the trot thinking on the rise “hips towards hands” and on the sit “barely touch the saddle” – your inner thighs will work to stabilize your body as you do this.
  • Then change up your posting to check your balance and really make your legs work to hold yourself – post stand, stand, sit.
  • Then alternate laps (or long sides of the ring depending on your strength) posting and in a two point.
  • Finally add some sitting trot, sitting lightly on your horse’s back and continue to move with his back and allowing his back to keep swinging, by changing your post rhythm – sit 2, post 2, stand 2. Play with that rhythm, try alternating after 3 or 4 beats instead. Find the rhythm that best challenges you to hold your position effectively without negatively impacting the way your horse moves.
  • Finally start to influence your horse more through these position changes, first asking for a more collected (or just slower if you or your horse is still new to dressage) trot while you do your sitting trot, then a slightly bigger, looser, freer trot as you post, then a long loose stride as you two point. You might alternate these trots each time around a 20m circle, or full laps of the arena, or just sitting/slowing/collecting on the short sides of the arena, and posting or doing a two point while opening up the trot down the long sides, again finding what effectively challenges you and your horse while giving you enough to time to adjust your position and give the aids and giving your horse enough time to respond without a loss of balance.

As you practice these changes over time, you’ll be able to make your position adjustments more easily without effort and your horse will develop the ability to give you 3 distinct trots on demand (and eventually on the down the road, more than just 3 – in the long term maybe everything from piaffe to extended trot!). When doing these transitions starts to feel easy and comfortable, you can switch it up so you try doing your sitting trot while your horse does a working or even lengthened trot, and post while asking your horse to collect. Try to think of new ways to challenge yourself and your horse using the combination of different rider positions and transitions between different trots, there’s an endless variety of things you can try as you and your horse get stronger!

If you’ve started your ride with those exercises, your body should be warmed up and in a balanced position. Your mind is focused on how you are riding and how you are communicating with your horse. Your horse is physically loosened up from moving freely around, and also mentally with you from responding to your position changes and requests for transitions. You are off to a great start, and ready to work on whatever else you wanted to practice during your ride!

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