Dressage: How to do the best warm up at shows (with safety stirrup advice)

Going to a dressage show is an exciting opportunity for you and your horse. Most riders feel a bit nervous when entering a show, and horses are always more alert when they are in new surroundings. Being out of your element can make your dressage warm up harder or you might need to even warm up differently than you would at home.

In this article, we will look at some useful advice and tips for how you can warm up your horse and yourself effectively at dressage shows. 

Why is a proper warm up essential for you and your horse?

A proper warm up is essential always, no matter if you ride at home or at shows. However, warming up at home versus warming up at shows is usually different, as the horses tend to tense up at shows and may need either a longer or a shorter warm up. 

When you warm up your horse, you obviously want to warm up their joints and muscles, but there is another aspect to warming up at shows as well: a good warm up will relax your horse and get him ready for the test ahead. 

A proper warm up increases the blood flow in the muscles, gets your horse's heart pumping, lubricates the joints, relaxes the horse, and gets him to focus. Also, the warm up is the time to communicate with your horse and to get on the same page.

Best warm up tips for your horse

When you enter a dressage show, you have to warm up yourself and your horse. Obviously, warming up your horse is going to take longer and you have to plan the warm up accordingly. 

Plan the timing right

When you ride at home, you have all the time in the world to warm up your horse and you can warm him up as much or little as you need to. However, at shows you will face a factor that will alter the way you warm up: time. 

Every rider has a starting time at shows and they need to plan tacking up their horse and warming up right before it's time to enter the arena and start the test. If you have too much down time between the warm up and the test, your horse might get our of focus or even get tired. 

On the other hand, if you don't have enough time to warm up, your horse will not perform at their best. 

It's also essential to know what your horse needs at shows. For instance, some horses may need a longer warm up at shows in order to relax and get ready, whereas others need a shorter one than they would need at home. 

Figure out what your horse needs

Every horse is different and they will need a different warm up. For instance, a slow and lazy horse will need a lot of transitions and waking up. On the other hand, a tense and sparky horse might need some circles, bending, half-passes, or something else. 

The best way to figure out what your horse needs is simply trial and error. You might figure out a great warm up that works for you at home, but then you enter a show and realize that the horse underneath you is acting completely differently and you will need to adapt accordingly.

The more shows you attend, the easier it will be for you to figure out what your horse needs. 

Good exercises to do during your warm up

You should always consult your trainer and even ask if they can come with you to shows at least once or twice, so you can get valuable advice. However, in the video below, you will find some great tips for warming up at dressage shows or at home.

Some excellent exercises to do during your dressage warm up at shows are, for instance, the following:

  • Riding long and low to stretch your horse's back and neck and prepare them for collecting.
  • Transitions between gaits to get your horse to focus and listen.
  • Transitions within gaits to start collecting and lifting your horse up. 
  • Half-passes to stretch your horse and to make them more supple.
  • Halts to get your horse to wake up and to make sure you will get that first halt right.
  • You should also practice some exercises you have in your test, such as lead changes, extended trot, or others.

Remember a blanket

Having a blanket with you at dressage shows even if it is warm outside might be a good idea. Throwing the blanket on your horse before a warm up, keeping it on during, and even putting it on if you have down time between your warm up and your test can help you to keep your horse's muscles warm.

Utilizing the blanket is especially important when it's cold outside, as the horse's muscles will cool down fast if it's raining, windy, or the weather is cool. 

Also, using a light blanket after the test is done will allow your horse's muscles to cool down slowly, which can decrease the chance of sore muscles.

Don't forget your own warm up

You might be so wrapped up in warming up your horse that you might forget you need to warm up, too. If you are stiff, cold, and not ready for the ride, you will be uncomfortable, your posture and balance will suffer, and you might even experience aches and pains. 

Get moving

Before getting on the horse, you might want to do a couple of jumping jacks or walk around just to get your blood flowing and your nervous system ready for the ride. Warming up your muscles before hopping on the horse will help you to feel more comfortable and ready to ride.

Remember to stretch

Stretching before your ride can have a huge impact on your balance and posture. It can also affect the positioning of your leg, which in turn affects how you signal your horse. 

Stretching your quadricepts, hamstrings, sides, back, and calves can help you to sit better and be more relaxed. As we all know, the judges will also judge your seat and posture, so you want to make sure you will not lose any extra points there. 

You should also stretch a bit while you are on the horse, if your horse is calm enough for you to do so. 

For instance, take your safety stirrups off and ride without stirrups for a few minutes. This will help you to relax your leg and lengthen it so that it will be easier for you to press your heels down and find the correct spot for your lower leg.

Dress accordingly

Your horse might need a blanket for the warm up, and for the same reason, you might need a good jacket. If your muscles are not warm enough, your reaction time will be longer and the whole ride will become much more uncomfortable. 

So, if it is cold outside, wear a warm jacket over your show clothes and remove it right before entering the arena. On the other hand, if it is very hot, you have to take it into account and drink enough water so that your muscles will not suffer from dehydration.

Ophena A is a highly rated safety stirrup for dressage riders

When preparing for shows, there are multiple things you have to take into account. For instance, you have to make sure you have the right kind of tack with you. 

Ophena has designed a safety stirrup that is perfect for dressage riders. Ophena A is the newest addition to our product family and it has gotten excellent reviews. 

Ophena A is a safety stirrup for all disciplines

Ophena A is a safety stirrup that features patent-pending technology. It has been appoved for all disciplines and can be used at dressage and showjumping shows as well as in eventing. 

In the video below, you will see how Ophena A works:

Want to get your own Ophena A for dressage shows?

Ophena A is exclusively available at Ophena.com. You can order your own Ophena stirrups from us like this:

  1. Choose Ophena A from our shop
  2. Choose the color (silver or black)
  3. Decide if you would like your stirrups engraved
  4. Fill in your details

Your Ophena A stirrups will arrive quickly and you will have a 60-day money-back guarantee as well. That's how much we believe that you will love your new stirrups.

Magnetic safety stirrups for showjumpers

If you also dabble with showjumping, you might want to take a peek at our magnetic safety stirrups, too. Ophena S and Ophena S Pro are magnetic safety stirrups designed specifically showjumpers and hunters in mind. 

The magnetic connection and open design work together to create an innovative combination of safety and practicality. 

You can even read our stirrup reviews to find out more about what our happy customers say.

Would you like to know more? Get in touch with us and check out our social media channels!