Friday’s Five – Tips for a better cross-country warm-up

 

Friday’s Five – Tips for a better cross-country warm-up

I was talking to a friend the other day about how funny it is to discuss our sport with non-horse people. She said that her friends couldn’t understand why she was still taking lessons. “Don’t you already know how to ride?” they asked. “Well, yes,” she said. “But I’m always trying to get better.”

Competing in this sport successfully means you at least know the basics and can perform them well the majority of the time. But as we all know, beyond the basics there are so many intricacies on the path to success. Each time you move up a level, another layer of horsemanship, riding, care, and knowledge is required. I think one important aspect we often take for granted is exactly how to warm our horses up at shows.

The purpose of warming up for any phase is to prepare you and your horse to perform. There are three components you should consider: what you need to ensure your confidence, what your horse needs in order to meet the competition’s challenges in stride, and what the phase you’re preparing for requires of you. Here are some tips for cross-country warm-up specifically:

1) Consider the situation: What has your horse done already today? Has he done dressage and show jumping, or is this your only phase of the day? Remember to consider what your horse is thinking and feeling. If you’re coming straight from show jumping, you’ll only need to pop three or four cross country fences before heading to the start box. If you’re at a CCI, you’ll need to do a trot and canter set to relax your fresh, fit horse.

2) Create the rhythm: If you must spend most of your warm-up doing one thing, make it working on getting a rideable, consistent rhythm in your canter work as you jump your fences. Find medium or deep distances to your fences-taking flyers is not the way to prepare for a confident, rhythmic round. To this end, string four or five fences together in a figure-eight loop to ensure you’re riding the rhythm. Often I see riders stopping and starting jumping a roll top, walking for two minutes, jumping a table, then walking, and so one. That approach does not simulate what you’ll find on the course at all.

3) Picture your course: Speaking of simulation, it’s useful to practice the types of things you’ll see on course. Remember that you’ve seen the course and your horse hasn’t. If there’s a pair of left-to-right angled tables, angle one of the warm-up fences left to right. If one of the combinations is off of a sharp turn, mimic that turn into a warm-up jump. Get creative and make every jump count.

 


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4) Insist on straightness: It doesn’t matter if you’re riding a baby at Novice or an experienced horse at Advanced. Your horse must be straight. Let me say that again. Your horse must be straight. If your youngster is deviating left and right as he approaches the warm-up fences, he’ll probably do the same thing at the water jump and run past it. Widen your hands, lean back, and insist on a straight line to the jump. The same principle applies to the older horses. If he’s drifting left in the warm-up, he’ll probably drift left in a combination to a skinny or corner and have a run out. Even when you practice angling fences as discussed above, the line you ride must be a straight one-both to and away from the fence.

5) Don’t under- or overdo it: This is likely a very frustrating piece of advice to get, but it’s true. You don’t want to spend the first half of your course trying to make your horse rideable, but at the same time, you don’t want him to be exhausted before he even leaves the start box. We get information about our horses each time we compete them. I am still learning how much time and how many fences-is optimal for my horses before their performance. It’s hard to predict and often nebulous because horses are different each day. Note down after each show how you warmed up, and how that helped or hindered your performance. Regardless of your plan for the number of fences to jump, always end on a positive note so your horse is happy and confident leaving the warm-up.

Obviously, we didn't practice jumping into water in the warm-up area, but we did practice straightness and shifting the weight back to the hindquarters, which helped produce this balanced jump into the water after coming down a steep hill. Photo by GRC.

Obviously, we didn’t practice jumping into water in the warm-up area, but we did practice straightness and shifting the weight back to the hindquarters, which helped produce this balanced jump into the water after coming down a steep hill. Photo by GRC.

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