Warm Up

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.

10 thoughts on “Warm Up”

  1. A lot to ponder here – I really like your observations and appreciate you sharing them. I think I’ll incorporate the “pro” approach a little more this weekend. Kind of pigeonholed into that approach anyway since I don’t have a trainer, haha. But really, I want to make sure Griffin can succeed, so focusing on him and adjustability sounds like a good approach for us right now.


  2. this is so cool – and definitely makes a lot of sense. David O’Connor said in a clinic that the biggest thing to test in warm up was the “whoa” and “go” in your canter – how many strides does it take you to go from 500mpm to 300mpm? or 300 to 500? my coach Dan has said similar things – you should be able to find your show jumping canter even while running xc, and should practice both in warm up. janet foy (dressage) says that it’s most important to focus more on the things that are more challenging for the horse. in my experience, most riders struggle more with the compressed and collected canter vs the more open gallopy stride – so that is what really ought to be worked on when addressing adjustability. when i’m actually in the moment tho, it can be hard to remember all the high level detail tho haha!!

    another thing that occurs to me – i’d posit there’s a difference between the pros who *compete* primarily and the pros who mostly *teach*. the teachers of riders are always going to be more likely to focus on their rider (the one writing their check) vs the pros who compete more and earn their dollars based on achieving good results with the horse. with my two jump trainers (one who primarily competes and one who primarily teaches), having been warmed up by each at events in the past, i can definitely say they have very different styles!

    anyway sorry for a super long comment but this topic is really interesting to me. there’s definitely an art and a science to an effective warm up routine! so cool you got to make so many observations! one of my coaches always says there’s the most to be learned from watching the world class pros on their novice and training horses since it’s easier to see them really riding (compared to when they ride their super well schooled upper level horses)


    1. It was really interesting to witness and then see the pros tackle the course on their training horses. The horses were much more forward than the ammies from what I could see through 5-7 although I’m sure that had a lot to do with the conditions and the experience of the rider. So much to think about!


  3. Interesting that you noticed a difference between pros and amateur/young riders. But I’m also not surprised and what you saw makes a lot of sense. I think it has a lot to do with confidence for either the horse or rider. Pros in theory are already confident and just need to get their horse sharpened up and ready and can work on the horse’s confidence by creating adjustability. Ammies should have the more confident horse with the rider that needs sharpening up (not always, but in general, especially at a championship) and this is usually done by jumping a lot until they feel more confident heading out on course. However I do think people tend to overjump their horse in warmup and really don’t need to jump each jump more than a couple of times (unless something goes wrong). Warmup isn’t going to fix anything if you haven’t been workin on it at home but I also understand the blind panic of OMG THOSE JUMPS ARE MASSIVE AND IT IS SOAKING WET AND OMG I MIGHT DIE PLEASE HORSE JUMP ALL THE JUMPS AND I’LL LOVE YOU FOREVER OMG LOOK AT THE MUD ARE MY STUDS BIG ENOUGH OMG MY WATCH BROKE OMG PANIC PANIC PANIC PANIC 😉 And yes those thoughts are runon on purpose 🙃 In an ideal world I think everyone would warmup like the pros but sometimes our emotions get in the way and we need a little extra help that the pros don’t. And sometimes there are just bad riders who don’t know or care enough to jump less in warmup. And basically warmup is the scariest part of any show (in my opinion!)


    1. All very good points. When I did my one and only CT to date I only jumped twice in warm up. Not because I’m awesome, but because I was scared shitless and didn’t want to come off in warm up 🙂 there was no working on adjustability for me. I clung like a drunk monkey to her back hoping for the best 🙂


  4. What a neat revelation. It all makes a lot of sense. I can see why the ammies would need all the rider work vs the pros working on their horses. Pretty sure even a green horse could jump around XC by themselves better than without an ammy messing them up so it makes sense to focus on the rider.
    Also, I am clearly doing warm up wrong from both perspectives because I have never warmed up for a full hour before doing XC. Maybe it’s because these are much more fit/excited horses and they need that extra time to calm down compared to my horses. I usually warm up for 20-30 mins max. I go in, establish listening (lots of transitions), get muscles warmed up, pop over each jump once (maybe twice if the first is awkward) to remind horse what we’re going to be doing, then go stand by the gait and wait to go. Having read this, I think I’ll add some more adjustability to work on top of just getting them listening to me, but I probably won’t be adding much more time onto my warm up.


    1. I think the time also had to do with this being a true 3 day event so the horses hadn’t just done dressage before hand. Also it was cold and rainy so they likely wanted more time to get the muscles moving. Or at least that’s what I’m thinking. Having ever done it I could be way off base


  5. That’s a crazy long warm up too, anything over 30 minutes seems excessive for xc, even watching Rolex they go out about 30 minutes before they leave the box.

    I always see riders jump a million times in warm up. Makes no sense but they clearly have no purpose, just going through the motions.


    1. they entered warm up an hour before I saw them at my fence, but thats not saying they actually warmed up for an entire hour. There was another “last chance” warm up ring they funneled into after being in the one I could watch and then they went out on course and finally got to me at fence 6. In actuality they probably actively rode for 40 minutes? Maybe a little less?


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