Our Show Warmup

I realized that while I love giving you all a blow-by-blow of our shows, I tend to gloss over the way that we warm up for our rounds. Not that it’s particularly exciting, but every horse is a bit different and it seems that we all have slightly different approaches to the way we prepare to enter the ring.


The main title of our approach is: Conserve All Energy. That is really our goal behind all showing decisions, but it especially comes into play in the warmup ring.

What this means in practice is as short of a warmup as I can reasonably get away with, while still making sure my horse’s muscles are stretched and ready to go.

To go into a bit more detail, I tend to mount at our stall and use the walk to the warmup ring to set the tone of  “we move forward off the leg when it’s time to work.” By the time we get to the ring, I may do a lap or so at the walk depending on timing, but we get to work pretty quickly.

Stretchies on a loose rein to get us goin’. PC – A. Frye

At this point it’s just about loosening up. I’ll do a couple laps each direction at the trot and then the canter to get the blood flowing and start really reinforcing the GO button. Light contact and a supportive leg to reassure him in a new environment but not asking for much yet.

Once we’re all on board with the forward motion, I’ll do a few lengthenings/shortenings within the gaits to tune him into my seat and make sure he’s fully paying attention. Maybe a few little shoulder-ins to help move his body a bit more. At this point I start picking up more of a feel as he starts lighting up a little.

And that’s my flat warmup. Short, simple, to the point. Francis is luckily well-behaved and attentive in busy rings, so we do not use this as a schooling opportunity – it is simply a warmup in the purest sense of the word: we warm up our muscles. We may throw in a few extra shoulder-ins on the rare occasion that he takes offense to a wheelbarrow by the rail, or we may do a few more transitions if he’s feeling antsy, but by and large I simply use this chance to make sure we’re paying attention to each other and are ready to jump. I very much want to save his energy for the jumping efforts.

Which we also try to limit before we go in. We’ll pop over a vertical a couple times, going up in height every time. We’ll then move to an oxer and do that 2-3 times. By that point we should be up to full competition height. We’ll then usually reset to a vertical and go up a bit over competition height to remind Frankie to pick up his feetsies. If there’s a particularly tough turn on course we’ll end practicing that turn – for example, if I know that there’s a point in my course where we have to land and immediately turn right, I’ll practice coming off a short approach and immediately turn. It sets the tone for him that he needs to be asking where we’re going at all times rather than assuming.

Always always, the emphasis is on forward and straight to the base to encourage a good effort. PC – A. Frye

That’s pretty much it. We limit our flatwork to what we need to prepare to jump, and we limit our jumps to get us up to height and ready to turn. I like to head over to the ring when I’m 1 or 2 out which gives us a brief break to walk and relax before picking up the reins and heading in.

I like to take this chance to let him relax and reset mentally so he feels fresh going into the ring.

That’s our warmup in a nutshell! It tends to be shorter than many others that I see, but over the years we’ve found that it works best for us. I have a fairly lazy horse, we often compete in the heat, and I like him to exit the show ring still feeling like he has plenty of gas in the tank.

I know warmups look very different for everyone, especially across disciplines – how do you approach warming up at shows?


6 thoughts on “Our Show Warmup

  1. Lynn 10/09/2019 / 9:40 am

    I ride in the adult amateur hunters and my warm-up is pretty much the same each time. If he’s quiet, we will usually w/t/c both directions on a loose rein and then I will begin to put him together and ask for a little bit more with circles, transitions, leg yields, and backing up to get him a little lighter up front and ensure he’s moving off my leg. If he’s a little fresh, we do this same warm-up, just for a little longer, and I might begin to ask for transitions and leg yields etc sooner to get him paying attention to me.

    After I flat, I might pop over a small vertical once or twice and if they allow schooling, my goal is to get in, jump the jumps and see how the lines ride, and get out of the ring ASAP. If no schooling is allowed, my trainer will put up the fences to competition height after a few low jumps to get him warmed up.

    Then, same as you, I like to let him chill and reset while we wait!


  2. carey 10/09/2019 / 12:04 pm

    Interesting! I have never really put our show warmup into words, but now that you made think about it, here it is: Forward. Mo is usually pretty amped by the time we get to the warm up ring. He is a professional show horse, after all – he knows why he’s here.

    We pick up a canter, with or without some head tosses for good measure, and canter a couple laps each way. Sometimes I try to remind him I’m in charge and he should maybe collect for a few strides, just to see how he feels about it. Sometimes there is a bit of flare if we pass another red horse.

    Then we start over some verticals. As many as it takes me to figure out how much hand I need to today to get. him. to. the. base. Sometimes it’s just 4 jumps, alternating leads and pushing the poles up as we go. I imagine it will be a bit more when we put them up to 1m, just to really reinforce in my mind to ride forward to the base.

    We walk over to the ring and see how long we have to wait for our turn (usually they can fit us in within 1-3 rides). We sit quietly and then trot into the ring, pick up a canter and then back to a walk. Pick up the canter, give a quick smack with the crop and forward to our first jump!


  3. Tracy 10/10/2019 / 9:57 am

    My warm-ups are also very short and sweet… honestly I think they’re even shorter than yours! I typically handwalk up to the ring, mount and walk maybe half a lap — sometimes I’ll almost go to a halt during the walk if Niko is tense and forward to ensure he’s listening to my half-halts. Then we trot probably a lap each direction (although typically I’m doing circles and changing direction a lot, so not just going around the outside). For our canter, we go a lap in each direction with some lengthening and collecting and then on to jumping. I probably jump 2-3 jumps total in warm-up — a vertical or two and then an oxer. As long as those are decent, I go on that!


  4. Nicole C 10/10/2019 / 12:11 pm

    I also like to try to save as much energy as I can for the ring, but since my horse is older and we’re usually showjumping after he’s been in a stall for two days (we’re eventers), I try to get him out pretty early and have a long walk warmup to get him loosened up. If I can get him to stretch at the trot I’ll do some of that too, but once we canter a bit it’s usually down to business, pop over a couple jumps and then walk around on a loose rein until it’s our turn in the ring.


  5. Stacie Seidman 10/10/2019 / 3:09 pm

    I always aim for the shortest warm up possible too. We’re not there to learn how to do things, just get the parts moving! We usually start with a small oxer, it goes up a few times, then it’s a vertical that we may jump once or twice, and that’s it! Obviously, the number of jumps kind of depends on what we’re showing in. If I’m doing 2’6″ to 3′ classes, it’s less jumps than if we’re getting ready for the a/o’s.


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