Everything Else

Warming Up to a Plan

My thought for the day is how much do we discuss the warm up with our trainers/coaches? One of the things that struck me talking to other people and observing at lots of grassroots events is that the warm up is the area that amateurs are perhaps not best equipped by their trainers. So much effort goes into the performance but perhaps not enough time and analysis is placed onto the warm up itself?

Pippa Funnell and Izzy Taylor on their way to the dressage.

I am really fortunate and I have been to the same trainer for the last ten years. I am lucky that they have put up with me and I am lucky that this trainer has such a depth of experience that as a rider I am no nearer to bottoming out on their knowledge as when I started ten years ago. During those ten years I have had a fair few different horses but an important part of our training conversation is always about the warm up.

The warm up is discussed and evaluated as much as the performance during the competition was. What went well, what did not go quite so well and the impact it had on the competition performance. Tweaks that need to be made to the warm up are discussed, as much as the next stage of training to improve the result in the ring.

The one thing I feel I have been given the tools over the last few years by my trainer is that of getting everything peaked in the warm up for getting the best result in the ring. This could be from a baby horse doing its first dressage test where the warm up may mostly consist of taking it all in and a bit of walk, trot and canter for ten minutes, to a horse at a three day which might need to be ridden three times in a day to get its best performance.

In order to get the best performance a plan is always put into place and though it might need to be adapted (horse is quieter, more lively etc.) the key elements and basis of the plan are always adhered to with key exercises designed to get the horse to perform to his best.

Screen shot 2014-10-25 at 15.44.07As a rider, I find the stresses of the warm up immense especially as I am quite often on my own. By having a distinct plan, I know what is coming up next and what I need to achieve. Sometimes it does not go to plan, the fence is not at the height I need, or the warm up is really busy but you try and stick to your plan as best possible.

A couple of weeks ago my friend was competing at Gatcombe, Festival of Eventing in the Corinthian Cup. The show jumping is the most nerve wracking part of the day for my friend as she puts herself under a lot of pressure to do well. I was going on foot to do poles in the warm up for this friend and we happen to share the same trainer. I said is there anything my friend needed to do for the warm up. The warm up became an incredibly detailed plan in order to send my friend into the arena able to perform to her best. Planning included warming up in the lorry park because the ground was flat, to how many horses she should start jumping on, how to cope with the hill in the warm up, the fences and heights she should be jumping, to not letting her stand and watch what was happening, to jumping a fence and going straight in. The entire warm up was designed to get the horse and the rider into the ring both at their optimum. For the horse is was making sure he was in front of the leg and for the rider that they were calm and just able to ride what they were capable of. They jumped a super clear round. The rider and horse are a good combination and perfectly capable but under pressure and in times of stress then having a plan is essential.

Even, cross country I have a real plan of action in the warm up depending on the horse. Sadly I learnt this one the hard way, when my inexperience and my monkey of a horse clashed to keep having stupid mistakes at relatively straightforward fences early on the course. My warm up was put under scrutiny and frankly it sucked! I meandered round, jumped a few jumps and never really had any checks in place to check the horse was awake. I had been spoilt by my old PC horse that was always on the ball even though I often was not. Now, I have a cross country warm up which involves checking the horse is awake on the flat, off the leg and ready to go. If one of the three is missing then there is now an action plan to make sure it is put into place before you start jumping. Then when you start jumping the same things are monitored. It was amazing how quickly things improved after this change in warm up.

I think I am always really surprised at how many riders seem to have no real plan when they warm up. For me it’s such an essential part of my competition planning that it’s become ingrained. Its part of being a disciplined rider and also in making sure your horse has the best chance in the ring. I admit I have learnt the hard way and even with warm up plans, horses always throw you in some way but you then discuss and come up with another plan until you have plan A, B, C and D which are all similar themes with slight variances.

A good trainer will welcome having good discussions about warm ups and it should be a large part of the conversations you have as part of your regular training in order to be able to put plans into place.

About the author


An amateur rider who produces all her own horses. I have competed at novice level and sadly never got further due to bad luck with horses but I am still ambitious to achieve a lot more. I have a riding qualification in UKCC2 and a diploma in NLP. Sports science and particularly the mental game fascinates me. For a day job I work for a large multinational brand.