While there were a lot of little things I picked up from my days volunteering at AECs, the biggest take home was in watching the warm up. Being stationed at Fence 6ab for Training gave me a front seat to the warm up arena and I made sure to watch what was going on over there in between riders at my fence and wallowing in self pity at being drenched by sideways rain in 60 degree weather for hours on end.
There were two main groups running training: Professional riders on training level horses and amateur adults/young riders. The two groups used their time in warm up so distinctly differently that even a beginner like myself could see it. I don’t have a good comparison on how the courses went after these different approaches to the warm up since the weather turned ugly right after the professionals rode. Too many factors played into it to be able to make any correlation between the warm up and the course and I only saw the riders over one combination, but it was still interesting enough to make me ponder it all weekend.
So what was so different?
Both groups entered the warm up about an hour prior to me seeing them at my fence, so warm up time seemed about the same for both groups. It was in how they used that warm up time that separated them out. Of note, which I think is important, the vast majority of amateur/young riders had a a trainer at the rail giving the instructions as they warmed up, so how those riders warmed up was being generated by the trainer who is also a professional and yet they were doing it very different than the professional riders were. Something to think about.
The amateur/young rider group warmed up in a manner that seemed the norm from what I have seen and read. There was a line of jumps in the center of the arena with several stadium type fences and a couple of solid obstacles and this group spent 85% of their warm up time jumping. They went over each one multiple times. A lot of these riders came to the jumps from various angles and approaches, but others just kept jumping the same ones over and over and over again. From my point of view, not knowing anything about the rider or the horse, it seemed like a whole lot of drilling and jumping efforts right before the course. But…I don’t do training level, so I have no clue if it was that much or not. It just appeared that way to me.
The trainers along the rail would yell various things like “don’t use a driving seat” or “hands down and forward” and “sit up until the base of the jump”. It gave the picture of the warm up being all about the rider. It was focused on working on the rider’s position, approaches and confidence. The time spent not jumping was spent milling about on the buckle. I saw a lot of trotting and same canter circles, but mostly it was jump then relax.
With the professionals, though, it was all about the horse. Unlike the prior group, the professionals spent 90% of their warm up time working on adjustability. They used the long sides to gallop and then would randomly bring the horse up at various points to a slower, more rocked back and collected canter. I saw the professionals jump maybe 3-4 times, once over each obstacle and that was that. The rest of the time they cantered, galloped and cantered some more. There was no milling about, on the buckle or trotting. They were either working on adjustability, doing a jump, or left the arena.
There are a lot of things to be thought about here. For starters, these are professional riders so yeah…they likely don’t need much work on themselves at training level when several had just been to Rolex this past spring. I’m sure they weren’t particularly nervous and this sure wasn’t their first rodeo, so working the rider kinks out wasn’t necessary. Unlike the amateur/YR group where many looked like they were about to lose their lunch off the side of their horse. I know if I had been there at the championship ride in those conditions, I would have needed all the confidence boosting a warm up could give me.
The biggest thing that got me thinking though was that trainers, who are professionals by nature of being a paid trainer, were dictating the entire warm up and not one had their student work on the adjustability of the canter before going over a course that had a lot of tight turns and bad footing. Having just watched the pros work solely on that one thing for 45 minutes, I would have thought they would have spent at least some time on the same things. While the riders were not pros, they were jumping the exact same course.
I’ll never know the reasoning behind it, but I do know that when I reach the warm up for my first cross country course that I’ll make sure to work on adjustability for a lot of it and jump just enough to get Gem thinking about jumping solid things.