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Dressage Debunked


Dressage warm-up

Introducing Dressage Debunked! In this series you’ll find nine blogs and videos explaining how to do key dressage moves from perfecting the warm-up and leg yielding to half pass and finessing flying changes. International dressage rider, trainer and judge Steph Croxford has helped us put this series together and we can’t wait to share it with you. In the first blog of the series, Steph discusses the dressage warm up.

We'll look at how to warm up your horse and why it is an important part of any ridden session. 

How to Warm Up Your Horse

If like us, you were left mouth wide open and amazed after watching the amazing Dressage Horses at the Olympics in Tokyo did you find yourself asking “How do they train horses to do that?”

Well before you leap onto your horse and try and get them to Piaffe (it looks like they are trotting on the spot – although there is much more to it than that) there are a few important things to know first!

The Dressage Warm-Up

Is it important to warm up my horse?

You wouldn't think of stepping into the gym or starting an aerobics class without warming up first – a muscle tear or similar injury could easily be the result, and your gym wouldn't let you. So here is an explanation about why it’s important to warm up your horse.

The warm-up's very important because you've got to remember that you are riding an athlete and any athlete needs to get his muscles and his biomechanics working.

Steph Croxford – International Dressage Rider explains how she warms her horses up.

Think about your warm-up routine and find a level that is right for you and your horse, just remember a good ten minutes of walking and stretching will help to warm up your horses’ body ready for the work to come. When the days are cooler why not use the Protechmasta quarter rug over your horse's back to warm up their muscles.

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How long should I warm-up my horse?

The purpose of the warm-up: Steph Croxford explains why the warm-up is so important and so is the cool down at the end of the ride, Steph explains “The warm-up's very important because you've got to remember that you are riding an athlete and any athlete needs to get his muscles and his biomechanics working.”

Failing to warm your horse up before any active exercise could result in a build-up of lactic acid, muscle strain or tendon injury.

Watch and listen as Steph Croxford talks about the all-important dressage warm-up:

You should spend 10 mins warming up your horse in walk and an easy trot. Changing the rein and throwing in some 20-meter circles. Steph’s horses are advanced dressage horses competing and training at the highest levels of dressage and she explains her warm-up routine.

“I like to do a good five to ten minutes of walking, but in that walking, I will do lots of things like shoulder-in, travers, very large walk pirouettes, changing angles and directions. I like to do a little bit of halt and rein back, always five steps because five steps are what you have in Grand Prix. I like to move the neck, do a little bit of flexion, counter flexion, dropping the neck down, and be able to put the neck where you want it when you want it. Like I say I just generally do that at a walk and once we are nicely warmed up, we are ready for the action ahead.”

Where to warm-up your horse:

As it’s the warm-up, you can do this anywhere. Go for a 10 min hack first, walk around the fields or use the arena. Just remember to keep the warm-up a warm-up and don’t be tempted to go for a full-on gallop if you are in big open space. Remember to warm up your horse’s muscles first and get the blood flowing and oxygen moving through their system.

What does Carl Hester say about warming up at competitions?

“The biggest mistake I see is not riding in the warm-up how you ride at home. Keep it calm, simple and follow your normal routine.”

How many times per week should I school my horse?

Steph explains her horses' weekly schedule and how this routine helps to keep them fit and well. “They hack a day, they school a day, they have a day off. And when I'm schooling them, I don't school them probably for more than 40 minutes and then they're back in getting ready to go back in the field or they're back in a stable.”

Dressage Debunked

Learn more from Steph Croxford with Dressage Debunked by reading our next post, How to Leg Yield.

How long does it take to train a dressage horse?

How long is a piece of string – it really depends on the horse, the rider, and of course to what level of dressage the horse is being trained to. The highest-level dressage is called Grand Prix, to get to this level you need a talented horse, a talented rider, lots of luck, time and hard work. If you have all these ingredients it can take four to six years. Most of the horses that you see "dancing" at the Olympics are aged 12 – 16 years old. So, it doesn’t happen overnight – it takes years!

Top-tips to train a dressage horse

When you and your horse are having an “off day”, when things just aren’t going well with your training, we love Steph Croxford’s advice.

“Leave it, park it - tomorrow's another day. If I'm missing my flying changes, it’s tempting to go over and over and over them again but I'm just making the situation worse. A lot of dressage riders are a bit like that, they want to get it perfect all the time and sometimes you can't. You'll have good days and sometimes you have bad days, there's sometimes you'll get it all right, I have days when I can get my one-time changes the first time, and the next time I can't even string two or three times changes together. So, you just have to park it, it's really hard to do, but just leave it, park it – tomorrow is another day."

How to structure your dressage training sessions

Remember to keep your training session to 40 – 45 mins and out of that, 10 minutes is warming up and you should also keep at least five minutes at the end to stretch your horse down and cool him off. Remember your horse is an athlete. The Protechmasta Cooler rug is the perfect rug for after work. It can assist circulation and ease any muscle tension.

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So that leaves you 30 mins to do some training. Steph explains that she doesn’t go out to train on one specific movement.

“I don't focus on one particular thing - I don't go into the school and think right today I am going to do half pass! I do a bit of everything to keep the training session interesting for both me and my horse. If we are out on a hack, we will have a canter in fields or tracks as the ground is undulating and it's good for your horse to be able to work on different surfaces. You don't need to have an arena to practise your dressage movements!”

So, there you go, that’s how Steph Croxford – International Dressage Rider, trainer and judge trains her dressage horses. For more dressage training tips from Steph check out the next blog in the Dressage Debunked series. 

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