Is it cold where you live? Do you feel stiff when you mount up? Have you been sitting at a desk or driving your car for hours before riding? Are you still wound up from your day? Before you ask your horse to move it would be a good idea to consider spending a few minutes warming up your body in preparation for your ride. Here’s a simple exercise to get you going.
Next time you ride notice if it is difficult for you to get your leg across the saddle. Are your shoulders tight? Do you feel stiff in your hips? Riding when you are stiff will have a direct effect on your horse’s ability to move and runs the risk of injury for both of you. It is important for you to be limber enough for him to respond correctly so take a few moments to warm up. This will benefit both your and your horse.
Warming up is important for many reasons. When you are cold your blood concentrates toward the middle of your body leaving the extremities, your fingers and toes. A few minutes of warm up increases blood flow to your tissues. This makes the muscles more pliable, increases the amount of oxygen reaching your muscles and at the same time prepares you mentally for your ride. In addition it improves coordination and reaction time meaning that you will be able to respond to your horse much more quickly than when you are cold.
In the winter months a good grooming begins the process. I take my horse for a brisk walk on a loose rein around the outside of the hill field before heading to the arena. This allows him to warm up at his own pace. The increase blood circulation warms his muscles, and the ligament/tendon/fascial system, which has very little blood supply. This system becomes pliable from the body heat generated. Once the ligament/tendon/fascial system is warm it is like a stretchy elastic system. If you ask your horse to work hard before this is warm you take the risk of tearing and damage because this system is stiff an unpliable when cold. Even in warm climates warming up is important but takes less time.
To warm you up and improve your pliability in the saddle start with your horse standing still, both reins in one hand. Reach back with your other hand and see how far down your horse’s flank you can go without leaving the saddle. If you have a mare you want to make sure she is not ticklish about her flanks! Do not brace against your stirrups. If your horse is quiet enough you can drop them to ensure that you are not pushing.
How far toward your horse’s stifle can you go easily? Come up and repeat the motion several times without straining, as this will only increase the tension in your body. Where do you have to let go in order to reach further? What is happening in your ribs, neck, shoulder and hips? If you are careful not to force this movement you may find that by repeating it a few times you will go further with less effort.
Reach toward your horse’s hip joint and return. Repeat several times. Again pay attention to any holding or tension you may discover as you do this movement. You can make a series of rays each time by returning to the starting position and changing the angle slightly going from the flank to your horse’s dock. Repeat with the other hand and find out if it is harder or easier on this side. Once you have the idea you can also practice this exercise at the walk and trot.
Use this Murdoch Minute as a reminder that it is important to warm up before your ride. It is equally important to cool down afterward. The warm up prepares you and your horse’s body for exercise and helps to avoid injuries. Not only will this exercise help to warm you up it will also improve your symmetry and flexibility and always remember to enjoy the ride!