Q: Could you give me a few exercises for the warm-up? I am a First Level rider, schooling Second Level, and I would like to make the warm-up a bit more exciting. —Name withheld by request
A: From your question, I assume you are asking for information regarding warming up for a First Level test. The best place to start when determining what you should include in your warm-up is to look up the requirements of the test/level you are planning to compete in. In addition to the test/level, you should know what both you and your horse need to prepare and perform optimally. For example, if you have a horse who tends to become mentally excited and nervous when sharing warm-up arena space with many other horses, it would be best to find an area with the least amount of interference from others. On the other hand, if you have a horse who takes time to get his motor running, you will need to plan more time on getting that type of horse moving. Those are strategies you should familiarize yourself with in your home setting or by trial and error at less expensive/stressful schooling shows or local outings.
Which specific exercises need be incorporated into the warm-up should be determined by what is required in the actual test to be performed. At First Level, you should be aware of the movements/gaits required as well as their placement in the test. It would be ideal to perform, on at least a limited basis, the efforts the horse will be expected to show in the test. You should also spend some time at the beginning of the warm-up slowly and progressively loosening yourself and your horse to put forth the physical effort needed. Exercises that would be appropriate for warming up for First Level would be spiral circles, square corners, transitions on the 20-meter circle as well as leg yields.
As far as making the warm-up more exciting, I would caution you that the class is won in the show ring, not the warm-up arena. Save the excitement for the judge’s eye. It should be your goal to focus on what helps you and your mount perform at your very best. As above, if your particular horse is triggered mentally and tends to act out emotionally, it would be wise to focus on a warm-up that avoids precipitating those responses as this will only carry over into the show ring and spoil your efforts. This type of horse may benefit from taking several breaks to settle or, vice versa, he may need to work continuously and then head immediately into the ring. The physically lazy horse may need a progressive warm-up interrupted by a short break five minutes or so before your ride time to make last-minute touch-ups, remove any wraps or boots and put on your coat. Then return to the final warm-up to get your horse forward and focused to enter immediately at your ride time.
Remember to always bring everything you will need to the warm-up area. This should include your show number, a towel, fly spray, tail brush, test booklet, a bottle of water for yourself and maybe your coat if it is too hot to wear during the warm-up. Always follow the rules/etiquette of the warm-up arena. Never be inconsiderate of your fellow competitors (especially if you are only schooling and not preparing to compete), come poorly prepared or act in an unsportsmanlike or inhumane manner.
Lisa El-Ramey Hyslop is a USEF senior “S” dressage judge and a USDF bronze, silver and gold medalist. An accomplished competitor at the national and FEI levels, her achievements include multiple national champion titles along with breed division awards. She operates Oak Hammock Farm in Loxahatchee, Florida.