Making the most of your eventing warm up

The collecting ring can make or break your day’s eventing, yet many riders find it nerve‐wracking. This could be due to the lack of a plan, a heightened sense of nerves, or simply because of the environment. 

Naturally, the warm-up you do will be dependent on your discipline, the experience and behaviour of the horse, the work-in surface, and also the experience of the rider. Here, we look at some key areas of preparation that will maximise your warm-up experience.

1. Think about the warm-up’s purpose

  • From a physiological perspective, the warm-up is necessary to ensure the horse is physically ready to meet the competition’s demands
  • Some horses warm themselves up quite naturally, whereas others take longer to loosen up their muscles. 
  • Their physical needs of each horse will be unique to them and it’s important to tailor your warm up to reflect this.

2. Don’t use the competition warm-up to train

  • By the time you reach the warm-up ring, your training should be in place.
  • Think of it like long-term revision, versus cramming directly before an exam – if you have a structured revision routine that starts months ahead, you’re more likely to feel calm and relaxed on exam day.

3. Finding your mindset

  • With your coach, identify any areas likely to cause stress, and come up with an on-the-day mindfulness system. 
  • A nice tip is to take 10 breaths, paying attention to the quality of the breath; focus on calming and slowing the breath, so that by the 10th, you’re in control. 
  • Identify aspects of ‘controllable’ performance, like your horse’s way of going. Accept the things you cannot control, such as people watching you. If we feel in control of a situation, we’re internally more confident,” she advises. 
  • Imagine yourself riding a beautiful halt in the dressage test or riding the show jumping course in a good, balanced canter; when you come to do it, you’ll feel as if you’ve done it before. 
  • If anything goes wrong, remember it’s a learning experience. Horses pick up on rider tension and event atmosphere; take a deep breath, give the horse reassurance, and think about your goals.

4. A system for the warm-up 

  • “Spectacular achievement is always preceded by unspectacular preparation” – Robert Schuller. A great way to sum up the need for a pre-planned warm-up system for each phase. 
  • Work out how long it takes to warm the horse up on the flat at home. 
  • Many horses (and riders) benefit from walking and relaxing before starting the warm-up itself; this also gives you time to watch the dressage or show jumping and alleviate some anxiety. 
  • Having a system helps both horse and rider learn to be secure with their routine, even when the situation changes unexpectedly.
  • Walking down to the warm-up with no clear system adds a lot of pressure; it’s comforting to have an existing, automatic process. 
  • Don’t forget to reflect on your warm-up after the event, and what you’d like to improve.

5. Keeping the anxious horse calm

  • For horses that get anxious or excitable at an event it is even more important to have a methodical process in place that can encourage the horse to focus on the repeatable system, rather than on the environment
  • Encourage building up nervous horses’ tolerance to competition environments gradually; maybe start by hiring arenas. Keep the process consistent each time.

Warm‐up etiquette 

  • Where possible, pass left to left. Riders working in trot and canter have priority over the track.
  • If circling during jumping working-in, stay inside other riders, who should take the outer track.
  • If you need to stop to alter clothing or tack, leave the ring.
  • Look up when warming up; you can usually work out where riders are going based on their eye line.
  • Most fences have a specific way to be jumped; generally, red flag on your right. If you’re not sure, ask!
  • If you think a rider or pedestrian has not seen you are about to jump, call out and name the fence.
  • Always be polite to other riders, volunteers and helpers in the ring.

Get the most from your warm-up

BE Development Coach Owen Moore offers his top warm up tips: 

  • Be organised and allow time, from your logistical preparation (packing, loading and travelling) to your own personal regime (declaring yourself to stewards, getting dressed, tacking up, etc.). 
  • Tailor your show-day routine to each horse and don’t change your plan or be intimidated by anyone else! Remember that some horses and riders need repetition and routine, while others need a wake-up call and ‘psyching up’ for adrenaline. Lethargic horses and riders might benefit from going for a fast canter at the end of the physical warm-up, whereas stressed horses and riders often need to stay in a more low-key routine. 
  • On the flat, work on getting your horse’s muscles warmed up using your tried-and-tested system, and incorporate the basics – rhythm, your ‘gears’, the horse’s reactions, your lead changes, the quality of the paces, etc. You should have a good idea of how much work your horse needs before peaking.
  • Don’t do too much work that is energy sapping; save your best jumps for the ring. Practise your skills over a cross pole. Only move to bigger fences for final course preparation once the horse’s muscles are suitably warmed up. 
  • Try to enjoy it and stay ‘in the moment’. Remember, once you are competing in the ring, it’s just you and your horse.  

First published in the Mar/Apr issue of British Eventing Life magazine, original words by Kathy Carter