As with any sport, warming up is essential to your horses wellbeing and muscles before any competition or ride, and may also affect the results achieved. There are many different exercises that can be done to suit each individual horse and rider combination to prepare them for their chosen discipline. The warm up should consist of exercises that gently prepare the horses body for competition by gradually increasing the heart rate and circulation. As a result, this will loosen the joints and increase blood flow to the muscles.
At shows, they may be a limited amount of time and space you have to warm up before your class, so you need to have a plan about what exercises you and your horse are going to do to warm up effectively. Particularly if your horse has travelled a long journey or been stood on the horse box for a while, walking and stretching are essential to loosen muscles and tension, and to allow your horse to relax. This is also important in preventing injury and can be done by hacking round the show ground or allowing your horse to stretch their topline in the warm up arena.
The paces can then be built up by incorporating both trot and canter work too, putting your horse through all of the paces that may be used in the ring. Transitions test your horse's responsiveness to your aids and can make them slightly sharper. This can also improve both upward and downward transitions in the ring and may result in more controlled, yet energised paces. This allows you to have more influence on your horse in the ring through transitions, so may allow it all to run more smoothly.
Circles are also very good at getting your horse to turn and balance, just be wary of any other riders in the arena with you and be sure not to get in the way. Varying sizes of circles also keeps your horse their toes and can be useful at shortening and lengthening stride too. If warming up for jumping, cross poles are always a good starter warm up jump, as they are low in the centre, encouraging your horse to jump in the middle. Ensure to work on balance and rhythm, as well as placing your horse different strides to get them thinking. Fences can then be built into uprights and oxers, depending on the height that suits your horse and what height you will be jumping on the day. Ensure that you do not over jump in the warm up, and allow your horse some breathing periods between exercises. They should be warm and listening, but not tired to the point they may feel fatigued in the ring. I usually warm up, allow my horse some breathing time by walking or trotting around and jump a single fence before going in the ring.
Cool downs are as essential as warming up- ensure to give your horse a pat and allow them to stretch after their round, walking them until they catch their breath once again and their heart rate becomes lower. I hope you find this useful and I wish you all the best of luck in your coming shows or riding!
P.S. from Eqclusive - well done Grace on being featured in Horse Magazine