At a show recently, I was watching my friend warm up for her first level test 3 class. Her horse, an OTTB, was being very tense and anxious with all the other horses. Her trainer took her to an outside, very quiet arena and told her to ‘just trot big’. She let the horse go very long and low in a pretty big trot doing circles and figure 8s. As the ride time got closer, they gathered and did a couple of trot to canter transitions. They really did not school any test movements. She actually scored high enough for a wild card invite to Nationals.
Should I consider warming up my horse like this?
BILL— Sounds like a wise trainer who understood her student and the student’s horse. Her solution suited the horse’s needs. She was not trying to teach either of them anything new, rather to clear the horse’s mind of distractions and allow him to go out and execute things comfortably in his skill set. Regaining the horse’s attention and creating relaxation were the keys to success here.
In a similar circumstance this approach might work for you.… Or it might not. Think of it as one more tool to add to your repertoire if your horse needs to settle down and concentrate.
As has been pointed out many times, horses are not like machines. There are a multitude of factors at play all the time. Even among off the track thoroughbreds some horses will be soothed by repetitions and others made more nervous. Some riders themselves need the repetitions in the last warm up to find their own timing or build their own confidence. And if it is a horse of a different temperament—one who is both anxious and behind the leg or hard to get round-–you may have to actively put him on the aids with transitions or lateral work in order to get any place at all.
You can learn a lot by watching other riders and trainers (in some cases just not what not to do). In the category of “Don’t panic. Sometimes less equals more,” this is a nice approach to keep in the back of your mind.