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Equestrian Advice & Guides Beginners Advice
During winter our bodies and muscles, as well as our horses', are naturally colder so it's important to give your horse a lot of time to warm up, gradually increasing their body temperature. Typically, horses feel very tight when it's cold so I normally warm up Bailey for a lot longer, allowing him a lot of time to walk and gently stretch laterally before asking any work from him. I aim to do both directions at the same time, bending him both ways to encourage equal muscle development. If I do find that he's slightly tighter on one rein I can give this side ever so slightly longer.
A warm up should be progressive with lots of time spent feeling how your horse is responding - every horse will respond differently, straight lines and gentle bends are initially handled better by the horse. The time I spend in 'walking warm up' during the winter is a lot longer than summer, averaging around 10-15 minutes using the whole school/field space provided. I also do trot work for around 10 minutes to continue the warm up process before I begin to ask more of Bailey, including expecting him to work in an “outline”. I find that if you've given a horse long enough to get their body circulation going, you'll start to feel the horse soften up beneath you.
I’ve made the mistake of riding Bailey without giving him long enough to warm up and found that he goes tense or hollow. This is a big indicator that he's not ready for the work asked and I need to do more warming up. Some horses may need a lot longer than others.
Cooling down works much the same. You want to bring the horse’s body temperature down gradually, so it's important to ensure you are cooling down their muscles before jumping off and untacking to put them in the stable. Cooling them off correctly helps their blood circulation remove any lactic acid that has built up in the muscles, which in turn helps prevent the horse from becoming stiff overnight. You'll also want to watch the horse's respiratory rate, as a lower rate is an indication that the horse has fully cooled down.