Warm Up Exercises for Horses

Have not been able to ride much this winter. Wanting to start showing my horses this spring. I need tips on warming horses up before doing any Western Riding exercises.

Story originally posted by: Maggie FlowersHorseCity.com Training Director

Have not been able to ride much this winter. Wanting to start showing my horses this spring. I need tips on warming horses up before doing any Western Riding exercises.

Hello Lori,

It is refreshing to hear from someone who is concerned enough to ask about riderless warm-up exercises that can be done with limited space due to weather conditions. If you ask most of the riding public, nowadays, they seem more conscious of fitness, both in themselves and their horses. Most of them may say, that if they require that first in the morning good stretch to get them going, horses may have the same need.

When people set off to warm-up their horse and are at the mercy of the weather, they usually prefer to be riding then being afoot during the warm-up. They have the concept of the lunge line, but prefer not to be exposed to the elements, not to mention the slashing of mud and debris the horse causes. But even in good weather, most people do their warm-up via horseback, last anywhere from forty minutes to two hours in length. From just walking, which is the slowest method, to the walk to trot to lope method.

When weather is the problem, as it is for you, the alternative is to do as much manual stretching and low-key exercises that will give you a leg up in starting condition for the spring shows. What most people do is use the limited space in their barns or stalls to these toning and limbering exercises.
The back-up exercise for example is one of the best beneficial exercises in that it helps to strengthen the horses hips, legs, hocks and stifles. It helps the coordination of the hindquarter leg placement. Helps the neck in exercising the muscles that will need to be flexible by tucking and polling (vertical flexion). Polling can be done by placing two fingers at your horse’s poll and applying slight pressure. This will cause your horse to lower the head giving to the pressure. Release allow your horse to raise the head and then repeat. Do this about 6-8 times. The tuck can be done by simply applying a slight push pressure by using two fingers across the nose (you’re standing in front of your horse) causing the neck to flex inward toward the chest but not enough to make him back up. The best place to do this exercise, singularly, is in the stall with the hind quarter placed into the corner.

You can also do arcing (horizontal flexion) or side to side pulls which will help tone up and limber the neck for tuning. You can manually stretch your horse’s legs by lifting the front leg and stretching it out in a forward pulling motion and backward at the knee in a bent pushing motion. The hind legs are done by pulling the leg up and forward and then up and back. Each of the legs stretches should be held in the each stretched position for a count of 5-8 seconds.

Another you can do is to practice some of your verbal commands or cues and some of the pressure cues, to the rib area, where your leg would normally be delivering. Do these by holding the lead rope in your left hand, using your right forearm (backside)placed at the ribs, give the simulated rein pressure with the lead and at the same time apply the pressure with the arm. Have your horse give to the pressure of the cues as much as your space allows. Repeat the same to the opposite side. Do these at least 6-8 times each side.

For best results these exercises should be done at least twice times a day, until the weather begins to cooperate. If the weather does become congenial to outside exercising, try to do these manual stretches anyway, your horse will greatly benefit from them. Look at it in this manner, if a runner starts his run before his per-run stretches, chances are he will end up with a cramped muscle or worse a strained, possibly torn muscle. Do you think your horse is any different? NOT!

Maggie Flowers