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Conquering stressful show warm-ups: How to suck it up and move on- Sponsored by Back on Track
Eventing requires a tough skin, extreme focus, athleticism, determination, an appropriately matched horse, and the list goes on forever. Whether you and your horse are preparing for your first Beginner Novice Horse Trials, or you’re a seasoned three-star rider, every rider puts an enormous amount of blood, sweat, and tears into this sport that challenges us, sometimes beyond what we think we are capable of.
We spend hundreds of dollars just to pay the entry fees, stabling, fuel, food, feed, hay, etc just to compete. In general, I would argue that most event rider’s blood pressure goes WAY up the morning of the event, or twenty minutes before cross-country, or a few minutes before you make your way down the centerline, or five minutes before your show jump round. Energy runs high at competitions, and nerves can be all the over the place. Whether you slap a pretend smile on your face, or you’re dry heaving in your horse’s stall, every rider experiences a certain level of anxiety and/or sheer excitement as adrenaline goes rushing through our veins. Which is exactly why you need to stay cool when it comes to DRAMA in WARM-UP.
I cannot tell you how many times I have been at an event coaching and my students experience a tiny moment of panic in the warm-up. Let’s say some arbitrary rider comes cantering along with their eyes down, and basically crashes into you. Do you yell out obscenities at said rider? Do you start crying? Do you make your horse halt? Do you find another place to ride in the warm up? Do you stop riding altogether and allow the drama to take over your mind and body?
I have to preface this by saying I completely understand the chaos that inevitably builds up in most warm-up arenas during events. I also understand that some horses need their space more than others, like mares that have a tendency to kick, or horses that cannot handle another horse cantering towards them, or claustrophobic nervous nellies, young or very green horses, or stallions, or whatever! I have ridden every spooky, bolting, bucking, green, nervous, wild horse I can think of in warm up and have lived to write this blog. I understand when these difficulties arise and destroy your plans towards creating a peaceful and harmonious warm up for you and your horse. Believe me, been there done that!
However, for every rider that has a pretty agreeable and unbothered horse, or even if you do face certain challenges in warm up, don’t allow some momentary hiccup to ruin your entire day. So another horse got a little close to you…so what? So, your horse bucked a couple times, or briefly took off for a few strides…who cares? So you couldn’t jump that oxer because some rider cut you off…is your life ending? So there’s an extremely fancy floaty warmblood in your division, or a professional is in your division…again, who cares? Has the world crashed and crumbled into a thousand little pieces? Most of the time, not all the time, it’s better to chill out, take a deep breath and JUST KEEP RIDING. Don’t allow yourself to become irrational over ten crappy seconds out of your thirty-five minute warm up.
I have to also admit, I have witnessed more times than imaginable where the rider has more warm-up anxiety than the horse, yet I continue to hear the blame being put on those horses, instead of sucking it up and rising to the occasion. “Well, my horse seems really nervous and can’t handle this atmosphere,” as the horse stands with his head lowered and one hind leg cocked. Yes, we can all agree that warm up at events can be incredibly chaotic, stressful and event riders don’t always grasp the concept of being respectful of others’ space. But getting bogged down in brief hiccups that occur in warm-up will ultimately become a waste of your time.
You want to see a real cluster fu*& of a warm up, go to a rodeo. One tiny arena (compared to most eventing warm-up arenas) filled to the max with ropers, barrel racers, etc, all warming up in different directions and nobody seems concerned or frazzled at ALL. Or go watch some Grand Prix show jumper warm up in the world’s tiniest arenas where they have one or two jumps to practice over. Believe me, those horses are not deadheads, and neither are all the Quarter Horses you see at rodeos, and yet they cope. My boyfriend goes to lots of rodeos, and I have never ONCE heard him complain or stress over the warm-up, and I’ve never heard any of his friends complain either.
This should go without saying, but I am not referring to those horrific incidents that occur in warm up, like horses or riders, or both, falling and getting hurt or a horse that is so anxious during warm-up that they basically try to canter their entire tests, or get eliminated in dressage. I am referring to one or two challenging and unforeseen moments in warm up, usually where one horse and rider either ride too close to or crashes into another pair. I am talking about brief moments of chaos where the rider (typically) shuts down and cannot use their brain. If you watch some of the top riders in this country, or the world, you might see a horse here and there having some difficulties in warm up, even at those higher levels, HOWEVER, you will not see those professionals start pouting, or giving up on the rest of their warm-up because they had a few lousy transitions, or someone rode two inches too close to them. They suck it up and keep riding because what happened five minutes ago is irrelevant compared to the present.
One of my biggest pieces of advice to those riders who get super stressed in warm-up; don’t stop your horse while you analyze what just happened. Don’t waste time by dwelling on those things that are seemingly out of your control. All I can say is brush it off, and keep riding. You’re in the warm arena to get you and your horse warmed up for whatever phase, so take advantage of that opportunity by actually riding. Worry about yourself, be mindful of others, but don’t dwell on things out of your control. Don’t get caught up in the warm-up drama, instead laugh it off, shake it off and be cool under pressure. Focus, relax and DON’T STOP RIDING!