Finally, a Lesson!! But First..the Warm Up

Sunday was 68F, sunny and with a breeze. I walked out of my back door at 10:30 am and never walked back inside again until 6 pm. It was glorious. Not only the weather, but the fact that I live where I can always find something outside to entertain myself with for that long and never once get bored. Bliss.

This wasn’t Sunday and it wasn’t bliss, but it was pretty. We got 2″ on Wednesday and it shut the town down. 

Sunday also happened to be the day I finally started lessons again. It had been since the middle of November and it was long overdue.

Gem and Pete are no strangers to the cold fluffy stuff. We gave them access to the barn yard and the front half of the barn for shelter which nobody decided to use. 

But before I get into the actual lesson, trust me it isn’t that exciting anyway, I need to hash out something that I completely failed at not only in the execution, but also in discussing it with Trainer. Something about following my Gemmie lesson with a  bareback lesson on Nash got me all distracted.

Who me?


The last year of lessoning out at RB was great, but it was also a bit stressful getting home from work, loading up Gem and hitting the road in rush hour to drive through downtown with the trailer and make it there in time. Most of the time I got there with just enough time to tack and hurry into the arena. The few times I was lucky enough to have a bit of extra time, Trainer would start the lesson as soon as I got in the arena anyway. This all meant no warm up before a lesson. I’d hop on and we would get busy learning. Or flailing around. Which was more common.

I do miss how pretty the world is under a blanket of fresh snow

Sunday though Trainer came to me and after I realized that I could in fact perform a proper warm up before the lesson. So I got Gem at 1 pm for a 2 pm lesson, took my time grooming her (mare is staring her spring shed) and tacked up at 1:30 pm. Gem was in no mood to work in a winter coat at 68F, so I planned to take it a bit easy on her and we began by walking.

After 10 minutes I was like…umm ok we walked. Are we warmed up now? I don’t know. Lets trot.

So I trotted for 10 minutes. She was loose, responsive and listening really ell although we didn’t actually do much except trot all around the arena. Was that a warm up? I wasn’t sure but I still had 10 minutes before Trainer was due and had no clue what to do to fill the gap.

You see Gem doesn’t do repetition. She also tends to lose her marbles one allowed to canter and I didn’t want to lose the wonderful horse I had under me before the lesson. I was clueless what all to do and chose to sit on her and wait for Trainer to ask her and then promptly forgot when she arrived.

Which brings me to my question for all of you..what constitutes a warm up? I know it is different for each horse, each ride depending on what you will be working on and likely the day but I’m sure there are some general rules to follow. Like, how long do you typically warm up for? What is the end goal? Waking Gem up and letting her get any wiggles out before the lesson started were my goals, but I’m not sure they were really sophisticated enough. Should I have worked on bend since that was going to be the focus of the lesson? I chose to let that slide and wait for the lesson so as not to hammer it home too much but then that meant we basically did nothing but walk around and trot a bit.

It felt like the 30 minutes I “rode” prior to the lesson were basically just me sitting on my horse. Not sure it really prepared her for anything. Or was very useful. It was enjoyable though so there is that.

24 thoughts on “Finally, a Lesson!! But First..the Warm Up”

  1. I used to do the requisite few minutes of walking until P felt like he was loosening up, then a few minutes of trotting-serpentines/circles, again, until he loosened up further, then a lap or two of canter in each direction. Then Bobby rode him for the first time and, uh, I’ve been doing it wrong. He was doing lateral work, lengthenings/shortenings within each gait, etc and just really took my basic warmup x 1000. So I’ve been mimicking it as best as I can and it really does get P thinking more forward and moving more freely by the time the real work begins. P doesn’t do repetition either, he gets bored and a bored P=spooky P.


    1. I really need to speak to Trainer about this. We are working on such basic things right now and it is super easy to fry Gem’s brain and cause her to check out on me. Such a fine line, but my approach of walking and trotting a little was pretty useless. Horses. Why they have to be so hard?!


      1. That was exactly my thought with P- he was so touchy and reactive that I thought asking him to do much more in warmup would anger the beast. But it really did the opposite. Because horses. Nothing can be easy or straightforward.


  2. I think it is totally dependent on the horse in terms of what you do and how long you spend warming up. But, for me, I generally do a good bit of stretchy walk work (marching, ground covering walk, not a plod haha) to start, followed by trot (and maybe canter) in a loose, forward frame with walk breaks. Then I will pick up contact, do a bit of lateral work, and then begin whatever “work” I have planned for the ride, either introducing new concepts or working on solidifying others. Again, walk breaks throughout as needed. Then I end with a short hack around the fields or driveway (or if I am short on time just a good stretchy walk/trot cool down in the ring).


  3. Honestly I rarely warmup before my lesson and if I do it’s usually just a walk to loosen everything up. I feel like the warmup is a part of my lesson so my trainer can see where we start and to help me get from there to the end of the lesson. Some trainers prefer you to be warmed up at the walk, trot, and canter but usually that’s in a situation where they want to go straight to jumping or into more intense dressage questions and don’t want to wait 15 minutes or your lesson is only 30 minutes and you don’t want to waste half the lesson warming up. But as for how long a warmup should be I’d say between 10-15 minutes at most. In the summer 5 minutes is probably enough, depending on what you’re looking to accomplish in that ride.

    as for what to work on in your warmup getting the wiggles out is a perfect use for a warmup. That’s what I do in my warmup to make sure Chimi is listening to me. If he feels stiff one direction I’ll gently ask him to stretch his head and neck around both directions to make sure there’s no muscle soreness that would prevent him from bending. I also do a lot of long and low. But that also depends on where you are in your training. For a while getting Chimi to go long and low WAS the lesson 😂

    Hope this helps!! Also curious what other people will chime in and say 🙂 I think there’s a whole section in the pony club manual about warmup so I know trainer J can talk to you about it in a bit more specific details!


    1. Very interesting about not warming up before a lesson. I really wasn’t sure how to approach that. In my regular rides I warm up just enough to make sure she is listening and then move on but I had no clue what all to do to prepare for J. I’ll remember to ask her next time. Maybe.


  4. yea i’m with the others in saying the “warm up” is kinda a vague, not really well defined term, totally dependent on horse, rider, and the ride’s intent. like, there’s a physiological aspect of literally warming up the muscles by increasing blood flow and suppleness. this is an important part for when the ride is intended to be more physically demanding or high impact (like jumping, for instance).

    otherwise, tho, i kinda see the warm up as my opportunity to mentally and emotionally get everybody on board with the idea that ‘we are working now.’ it’s my time to test all the aids – go, whoa, turn, etc – and see if i can get them sharper or more refined. or get the horse really starting to feel like it’s thinking with me and quietly focusing on whatever i’m going to ask for next. it’s basically the period from when my horse goes from shuffling around, heavy and not super responsive, to being lighter stepping, feeling like there’s more energy in each step, and a lighter feeling to the contact – such that the horse could at any moment step into anything i might ask, whether that’s a trot or 10m circle. once i have that feeling, i know we’re “warmed up” and ready to work on whatever i want.

    for your purposes with Gem, i totally get not wanting to do too much repetition or focus too much on areas that are often contentions (bc yea that’s what i like to have a trainer on hand for too!). some of those jumping 101 ground pole exercises you’ve been working on tho seem like perfect additions to your warm up, since they’re exactly designed to get the horse more forward thinking and responsive to the aids.


    1. I’ve been enjoying the exercises and learning a lot. My biggest concern was frying my supple horse before the lesson even began because then we get nothing done and it’s just frustrating. But then I also didn’t want to enter cold either. I like your idea though of testing the aides. I could add that in without blowing a fuse.


  5. A warm up is so unique to the horse/rider/goal that it’s impossible to define. With Carmen my warm ups were all about ‘hello, can we put the hamster on the wheel and keep it there?’

    Now they are more of an initial check ‘hello hamster? You good? Great!’ and then I look to getting her soft over the back and flowing forward. Is the walk forward and relaxed? If I ask for a trot is it there? I do changes of bend and shapes – starting with circles, to figure 8’s to serpentine. I will do a leg yield or two. If I’m not in a lesson this helps me to to figure out what we need to work on. If it’s before a lesson it gives me info to pass along to Shanea (e.g,. ‘she feels really sluggish in her transitions’ or ‘I can’t get a bend to save my life’ or ‘have you seen my hamster- I think it ran off’). This is triggering all sorts of ideas that I might blog about if you don’t mind.


  6. I’m yet another person that agrees the warm-up will depend on the horse, the rider, the goals for the day…*and the horse that shows up to play on that day*. In other words: I don’t have a set warmup: it completely depends on how the horse underneath me is feeling. Ex: on some days Lily is super soft and immediately willing to lift her back and engage within 5 minutes of walking once in each direction and trotting once in each direction, on others she is stiff as a board and needs a much longer warmup (think 30+ minutes.)

    For lessons I would get on, walk animatedly (forward walk like you would want on the endurance trail, not a snail walk) on a loose rein once in each direction around the arena, then pick up a trot still with a loose rein and let the horse move out at whatever speed they chose. If they wanted to plod along at the trot or trot strung out, that was fine: I just wanted to get the blood pumping, which I find especially important with older horses (I owned a 17 yo QH with hock arthritis. It was very important to let him move out however he needed to initially before asking him for more or he’d stay stiff and “bracey” throughout the entire workout). I’d do this once or twice in each direction. THEN I would gather up the reins and ask for more: if the horse was moving out already, I’d ask for a little collection or engagement and get them organized in their way of moving. If their trot was slow, I’d ask for more extension and lifting of the withers. There would be lots of changes of direction across the diagonal and circles of varying sizes, starting out with 20m and then working down to 10m to get the horse bending. Usually this would take me average ~15-20 minutes. This is still my basic warm-up for both of my current horses.

    If Lily feels stiff, we move from the basic warm-up into a more prolonged warm-up where we work on lots of transitions. One of my favorites is the 10-10-10 from 101 Dressage Exercises: 10 strides trot, 10 strides canter, 10 strides walk, then mix the order up. I’ll mix up the number of strides too so the horse doesn’t stop anticipating. Sometimes I’ll throw in a canter-halt-reinback transition in there too. This is usually enough to get Lily engaged and ready for lateral work (which is usually the ultimate goal of our workouts.) Gracie’s prolonged warmup is completely different with her being gaited, arthritic and with a Spanish horse-type uphill build, so warm-ups really will vary depending on the horse.

    I’d definitely ask your trainer to see if she wants you to do anything specific. 🙂 With group jump lessons specifically, my trainer would want us to have already done w/t/c *before* he walked into the arena so we could go straight to jumping. For private lessons, he’d take us through the more prolonged, detailed warm-up after we did the basica warmup I described above. Same thing with my dressage trainer later on re: doing the prolonged warm-up with her. I’m curious to hear what your trainer says! 😀


    1. This is eye opening because what you describe as your warm up constitute my entire ride. Seriously. My rides are typically 20-30 minutes in length working on just a few things at a time and stopping once her effort is good and right before her brain melts out of her head and I lose her. You are just starting your real work and I’m done with my entire ride. Perhaps I need to re evaluate that as well.


  7. For me, I really like my warmup to be part of my lesson- I prefer to flail under my trainer’s eye so she can tell me how to fix it! I’ll walk around for a while and maybe start trotting on a looser rein just to get our muscles moving, but on lesson days we save anything else for the lesson itself. The early parts of our lessons are usually structured to give us the chance to “test the buttons”- lots of lengthening and collecting, transitions, figures, so we can see what kind of horse we have under us. For the people with their own horse or a little more expertise, we have more leeway to work on specific things. I tend to throw in more lateral work than some of the other students just because I know that really helps Frankie engage mentally.


  8. LOL you tease!! I wanted to hear about the lesson! 🙂 BUT ANYWAY! Warm up for me is a very hard row to hoe! HA. Remus can run out of steam SO fast (Esp if it is warmer temps) that i have to be tricky with him. Depending on the instructor and venue (Dressage vs Jumping) i have two warm up plans. Neither last more than 5-10 minutes btw! LOL If it is dressage i do some stretchy walk and circles and making sure Remus is in tune to me and being in contact. We might trot a bit as well or we might just start the lesson as Emily can usually spot issues faster than me anyway! If it is the Jumping lesson with Sally, she literally talks to her last student while i lope around the ring both ways. Just to get him moving. I dont bother even trotting most times since again REMUS gets bored and lazy so easily. I usually stop before Sally is done with the previous lesson and she gets that he needs very little warm up. Interesting responses and great topic…now about that lesson? Tapping toe…HA!


  9. At this point, my rides are only lasting around the 30 minute mark unless I have a lesson, so I generally walk for five or so minutes, focusing on his response to my aids, turning etc. and then popping into trot when he feels ready and listening.


  10. I think it’s very subjective. My warm-up is getting Scarlet to see all of the arena at all three gaits each way. The arena is spooky differently at each gait so that tends to get most of the spooky out for when we do actual work. I’ll throw in some serpentines and circles as I think he needs it in order to stretch. But I see a warm up as whatever a horse needs to be ready and responsive for the work to come.


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