Monday, July 2, 2018

Warming Up a Horse Before you Ride?

I recently went back and forth on e-mail with a friend of mine living up North who attended a horsemanship clinic where she was lunging her horse on a lead line and the clinician brought that up to the group as an example saying "you shouldn't need to warm a horse up before you ride him." My friend thought what the clinician said wasn't necessarily true all the time and wanted my opinion, and this is pretty much what we discussed.

I hope that what the clinician wanted to convey was that you are not going to get bad behavior out of a horse just by lunging him before you ride him. The old saying that you can't get the buck out of a horse by lunging him beforehand is pretty much true. But then again there certainly are cold backed horses who can wind down mentally by lunging, checking on the extent he's with you, and otherwise benefit by warming him up before you ride.

For the last several years, I seldom leave my house without a cup of coffee and going through a stretching routine. It makes walking and climbing onto a horse less painful. I think it may be the same for an older horse - get him moving without a load on (a rider in the saddle) so he can get the blood circulating, warming the muscles up and getting the joints to move more freer, making it easier for him to carry a load. If you wouldn't saddle a horse then immediately gallop him for fear of injury, why wouldn't you warm him up first before mounting?

So what are you really doing when lunging a horse before you ride him? For one thing, you are moving his feet at your direction re-establishing that leader to horse relationship, especially through changing directions. Moving the horse also lets you look at his gait to detect any problems and gets the muscles warmed up, reducing chances of injury. A couple days ago I was preparing to ride with my wife and I asked her to look at my horse's rear left fetlock because it looks just a bit swollen to me, she concurred, so I palpitated it getting no reaction from my horse such as a flinch or tail swishing, so I lead him forward at a trot to see if he was giving to it, and he wasn't, so after I mounted, I walked him for over a mile before I dismounted stretched him out, made sure he was good, then mounted again and felt better about it when I asked him to trot and lope. So again I ask, why wouldn't you warm him up?

In fact, once I mount a horse, unless I'm in a hurry to catch the Ice Cream truck before he leaves the area, I'll also do what I describe as a pre-ride check. Ask my horse to get soft and give me vertical and lateral flexion; back up; move the front end over independently from the back end and vice versa. It's like saying "Okay, it's time for business, just checking to make sure you're with me."

At my age now, I'm never going to get someone to cajole or harass me into riding a horse that I don't think I can likely get a safe ride out of - for him or me. And, I suggest that if you think you and your horse would benefit from warming up, whether it's on a lead or lunge line, or doing something else, by all means do it. No matter what a visiting clinician or anybody else thinks. Because after they leave, it's going to be just you and your horse.

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