Initial warming relaxes the horse and makes it feel calm and willing to carry out the planned activities.
The initial phase of warming of the horse is essential to warm the muscles, to open the lungs and to prepare its body for the work to be performed. The work takes place over twenty minutes with three gaits. In general we can split it up in this manner: from 5 to 10 minutes for stepping, from 3 to 5 minutes trotting and from 3 to 5 minutes galloping and the final 3 to 5 minutes stepping again.
There are different ways to start the relaxation work: a good system, for example, is to guide the horse by hand for 5 minutes before getting in the saddle. This is a good way not only to warm the horse but also the rider. The muscles in the back of the horse then prepare to receive the weight of the rider, especially in the case of horses that contract in the girth narrowing area.
Another way is to lead the horse on a rope for a few minutes. This method is useful to warm and relax the horse but must be performed very carefully because if the horse is bristling with energy, it can make excessive and impulsive movements and is likely to hurt itself or strain its joints and hocks or even tear a muscle.
We can distinguish three types of relaxation and warming work. Each of them must be used according to the age, level of training and the physical and psychological state of the horse.
First method: long-rein work that allows freedom of movement with minimal control.
Second method: work with the reins slightly taut leaving the horse to move naturally but with more control than the previous method.
Third method: work with the reins taut with the horse already prepared for the real work.
We start step walking with long reins for at least 5 minutes. The horses that stay in their box for lengthy periods need to start moving progressively and to get used to their surroundings. This way, they are able to look around. They are allowed to lengthen their limbs and stretch. Don't forget that the horse spends hours in a small box compared to its body size, a space within which it therefore cannot stretch and move around at will. This exercise therefore allows it to stretch its neck and to bring its nose to the ground, a position that is natural to the horse when grazing. This natural position, in addition to being relaxing, is useful for elongation and rounding of the back and in fact it is performing a natural stretching session.
With long reins, we begin to trot and continue for up to 5 minutes. This should involve gentle and regulator trotting. Excessive speed and violent movements can cause muscle and joint injuries.
As we proceed to the slow trot, we should aim to keep the trajectory and symmetry of the movement, paying attention to how the horse moves. Even if the reins are long and the horse has stretched out its neck with nose lowered, with small gestures for the toes and especially for the pressure of the legs and the weight of the body, we can indicate direction to the horse and in such a way to maintain balance. We allow the horse to move freely and therefore on the bends we do not demand flexion, allowing it the time to progressively assume the correct positioning. The important thing is that the horse responds to our minor requests from the beginning and will then already be more receptive when we get down to the real work. We are looking for regularity and stability of gait, conditions that contribute to relaxation, calmness and concentration.
We continue on to light trotting with the chest area in front and vertical to keep the horse's back free. We encourage the horse to stretch its head forward bringing the tip of the nose down.
We gallop continuously for 3 to 5 minutes with the horse active. The horse must move in this manner while maintaining balance and regularity of gait. When horses are too full of energy and are not used to being free, they make take advantage of this feeling and increase speed or start bucking. As they get used to the sense of freedom, they gradually stop running and bucking. With time, with this initial relaxation while galloping, horses quickly calm down, are receptive and cadenced.
On horse rides, we don't need to demand precision and correct flexion but instead allow the horse to move freely. Again with the head stretched out and with gentle prompting, we change hands on the long diagonals prompting the horse a change to gallop.
The priority should be to maintain the direction and straight movement of the horse. It is important that the horse moves forward with freedom of movement but with the shoulders and hips aligned. We look maintain a light and balanced posture on the stirrups without ever interfering with the horse's mouth. On the diagonal we let the horse gradually increase the length of its strides. We should let the change to gallop happen easily and naturally without any special requests, essentially then towards the end of the diagonal with light supportive rein action with the inner hand in relation to the foot on which the horse is galloping while the inner hand indicates the new direction and while the outer leg moves back slightly compared to the girth, the inner leg remains in place. Finally, in order to free the inner part of the horse from the weight and thus promote change to gallop, we bear the weight slightly on the outer stirrup. The position precedes action: with a change of hand, the horse changes canter. If the horse does not change canter properly, do don't perform any actions with the hands or change our posture. Simply move the horse forward thus keeping the rear engaged until only the canter changes. The horse knows the rules of balance better than we do and we should try and listen to it!
The horse will gradually learn to change gallop without increasing the speed and control of the balance.
Return to stepping
With the relaxation and warming work of the three gaits completed, we return the horse to stepping on a long rein with a pause for it to normalise its breathing after the gallop and for its heart rate to come down. The horse is physically and psychologically relaxed and its body is oxygenated.
Long-rein stepping pauses must always be respected, even during the actual work phases. Allow the horse to stay focused on the work, to be receptive to our requests and rapid in response. A path of hurdle jumping is a short exercise, approximately one and a half minutes, but intense in concentration. This makes the breaks even more important in the daily work.
Reins in hand
Second method: after the initial work with long-rein stepping, the task of warming takes place, in this case with the reins in hand but always with the horse in a natural posture. We needn't worry about the position of the head. By applying the same principles as long-rein work but with the horse being assisted by hands, legs and body weight, this 'semi-freedom' still enables the horse to obtain the same benefits of the work as the long-rein method.
This method is used with horses that are particularly long and uncoordinated or anxious or who need an 'educational' hand and greater presence that will help them to be more controlled, sustained or reassured.
It simply involves maintaining a very light and discreet touch with its mouth without wanting to put the horse in a full stance especially when the horse is still cold. Too often you see horses closed, with chin close to the chest: this involves trauma to the cervical region and makes the horses nervous. We can see this from the reactions of the horses: they knock their heads, butt our hands and push against them resulting in extreme and dangerous reactions from the rider. It is a negative stance that is harmful and against the rules of horse training.
Reins in hand
Horse in hand
Leading up to major international competitions, in the test fields, you may notice some riders mount their horses by hand from the start. The riders mount the horses between hands and legs to immediately seek roundness and connection between the front and rear. We must take into account that these horses almost always move on a rope in the morning in a relaxing manner. Another important aspect to note is that these horses have a toned muscle mass combined with training that allows them to immediately achieve the rounded posture in the hand without any risk. Good riders work with tact and sensitivity in a progressive manner encouraging the horse to enter alone a round form in the hand without any action with the hand to bring the horse's head toward you but waiting for the horse to enter the correct posture by itself. Working progressively, the horse becomes harmonic and flexible, calm and relaxed and enters the hand autonomously. This stance is obtained with patient daily work and is aimed at achieving muscle development, deconcentration, psychological and physical balance, control and regularity of the gaits.
Before being able to achieve this experience and the ability to achieve all this, the work must be performed according to the first two systems indicated to avoid the risk of making mistakes and causing damage.
Play is a natural and essential activity for the good physical and mental balance of the horse. This need is too often ignored by riders Taking into account instead the commitment that we require daily in work and the stress faced by the horses during competitions, it is absolutely essential to allow them the space to play plus freedom.
This is why we should not react to a buck or a leap! Let the horse have fun when it is with us and also ensure that it spends lots of time out of the box walking and grazing loose in the paddock.