As each day grows longer and colder, and our equine friends get fuzzier, we can no longer deny that winter will soon be approaching. The crisper air serves as a gentle reminder that for each ride, we need to start thinking of how to warm up and cool down our horses.
Why should we warm up / cool down?
Why shouldn't we just jump on our horses and ride off into the sunset or run a barrel pattern? A horse is an athlete, and if all of a sudden he is asked to go from grazing leisurely in the paddock to galloping at a full run, we are putting the horse in danger of pulling or straining a muscle, tendon, and/or ligament or possibly even breaking a bone. In addition, the horse's lungs and heart also need time to increase in its production. Making sure the heart and lungs are properly warmed up is especially important the colder it is.
When should we warm up / cool down?
It is always important, no matter what type of riding you are doing, to incorporate a warm up and cool down into your riding routine. Depending on what you do with your horse, this may mean different things. The more strenuous the activity is, the longer your warm up/cool down period should be. For example, sports that require a lot of physical activity (such as barrel racing, jumping, dressage, competitive endurance riding) would need a longer warm up/cool down period before and after the strenuous activity. It is also important to remember that the colder it is, the longer the horse will need to warm up to work, and also the longer the horse will need to recover from the workout with a cool down period.
How do I warm up my horse?
When warming up your horse, slow and steady is the key. In the beginning, slowly increase the speed and work up to more difficult movements. Start with easy transitions, straight lines, and big circles. As the warm up progresses, increase the level of difficulty (ie lateral work), speed, and smaller circles. The warm up should begin by walking straight on a looser rein, working towards cantering/loping, smaller circles, and a more connected rein. Remember, you want to SLOWLY bring the horse's heart rate and respiration rate from resting to working.
How do I cool down my horse?
When cooling down a horse you want to do everything you did in the warm up, but at the reverse. You do not want to go from a full gallop to a dead stop. Slowly decrease the speed (canter, to trot, to walk), increase circle size, and decrease the level of difficulty of the maneuvers you are asking of the horse. After you dismount, slowly loosen your girth and eventually take off the saddle. You can use brushes and curries to separate the hair to help the horse dry off. Coolers (often wool or fleece) are good tools to help dry the horse, as well as to warm him up slowly. Remember, you want to SLOWLY bring the horse's heart rate and respiration rate down from working to resting.
We want to keep our horses happy and healthy, by incorporating a proper warm up and cool down into our riding program, our horses will be able to preform better. Please check with your vet for additional information.