Hello, my name is Kayley Knollman. I am a 15 year old USDF Bronze Medalist, FEI Junior, and one of Zarasyl’s Sponsored Riders. As an avid competitor and passionate rider, I enjoy learning and sharing as many strategies, techniques, and exercises to further my riding abilities. One of my favorite topics to practice that is also of great importance is the warm up strategy/routine. This is a very important piece to every ride, no matter the level of the horse or rider that is widely under-represented. With my experience riding lots of different types of horses, from lazy to hyper, strong to soft, and many more, it is important to develop a routine that works and is specific to you and your horse. Below, I will share with you some of my favorite warm up exercises and strategies for a variety of steeds.
- The Nervous Nelly- These horses are usually the kind that are very sensitive to their surroundings and various energies. My own competition horse, Lovie, is one of these types and can be extremely difficult if not given the proper time to get her mentally and physically prepared. I find that getting on, taking a lap in the walk to get stretched out, and going straight to the trot will keep their mind focused on the work and not whatever “boogeyman” may await in the corner. Whether it be leg yields, transitions from walk-trot-halt, or serpentines, I will utilize these lateral exercises to get my horse with me.
- The “Nah I’m Good” Lazy Joe- We know them. We love them. But sometimes it’s just too much, my legs are aching! These horses are the behind-the-leg, not so sensitive types that would rather take a nap then whatever you’re trying to have them do. I find it essential in the warm up for these types to do multiple halt-trot-halt transitions to get them really “tuned” and “sharp” to my seat and leg aids. Along with these, I also find a long walk warmup is not necessary, as they will just become slower and duller. After a lap of stretching, I jump into the trot in a stretchy frame, focusing on transitions within the gait, from small steps to longer steps. Additionally, when showing this type, it is key to structure your warm up around the 1) number of classes you’re showing that day 2) how many classes you’ve already shown and 3) the difficulty of the level you’re competing at. For instance, if it’s the first ride of the weekend, I’ll take a longer warm up to cover my bases, as the horse will be physically and mentally fresher. However, if it’s the last class of the weekend and the second of the day, especially at a lower level, I have been known to get on 5-10 minutes before my ride. Of course, all of this depends on your confidence, experience at the level, and energy!
- The Green Bean- These young ones may be a mix of the two former types, but deserve their own categories. They may have just been started as a 3 or 4 year old, or restarted in a change of disciplines. Either way, these horses still require guidance and support from their riders. Especially if they’re still new to being ridden under saddle, I will do a quick 10-15 lunge session with side reins (loose and non-constrictive) just to reinforce the ideas we’ve been working upon, such as going into the connection in a light frame with an active hind leg and adequate self carriage. Once mounted, I’ll start out in the walk to let them settle into my aids. As a young horse, there are really only two main goals: to go forward into the connection with a steady rhythm and to establish equal and light bending either direction. Turning may not be at its finest in this stage, so I like to focus on 3 loop-serpentines, changing the bend, and establishing connection into the bridle. A lot of green beans that are still learning may have a hard time cantering or maintaining the rhythm, so I will not canter for the duration that a trained horse may do, but at one the horse is comfortable and confident at. At this level of training, I am happy if the horse is forward, bending, and willing, with swing in the back and impulsion from behind.
- The Rigor Mortis- Whatever you may call them, these are the horses who are hard in the mouth, difficult to bend, and require some work to get into a consistent frame and bend. I make sure to especially start out with lateral exercises in the walk- travers, shoulder in, and turn on the forehands are among my favorites for these. Always starting out in a relaxed, loose, and stretching frame, I gently loosen and stretch the horse around my leg. Once I’m satisfied with the bending in the walk, I’ll take it to the trot and canter. I find that doing leg-yields and spiraling in and out on a circle work best to connect the horse from my leg to seat to hand.
Once you feel that your horse has been properly warmed up and is going forward into the connection, over the back, and from the hind legs, you can move on to the collected work. I always find that with an effective warmup, the horse is more prepared and easier to move into whatever you may be working on at your stage in training. Again, there are many different kinds of horses who may be a mixture of some, all, or none of the four types listed above. However, it is still just as important to have an effective and regular warmup routine that works for both you and your horse. Thank you for reading this blog post and I hope that you will be able to utilize some of these tips during your next ride!