Maria Eilberg on perfecting your warm-up

Maria Eilberg on perfecting your warm-up

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Top professionals often say that the test is won in the warm-up, so how should you be spending this valuable time before the bell rings? 

Courtesy of her sponsor, retailer Shadow Horse, International dressage rider Maria Eilberg gives her expert advice in this feature. 

My first tip is to allow yourself plenty of time including your travel time. Check the travel reports before leaving the yard but also allow extra time for any problems enroute or issues when you arrive at the venue. Rushing yourself and your horse when you arrive at the show won’t make for a lovely relaxed test and more importantly a hurried warm-up.

Once you arrive at the show, check the classes are running to time before you get on board then if they are, get your horse and yourself ready and head for the warm-up.

I try and keep my warm-up similar to the sessions I do at home, so it gives the horses a sense of familiarity in a strange place. Obviously, if they are spooky or fresh I will adapt the warm-up to suit them. Your warm-up really relies on you as the rider assessing the situation, how your horse is feeling and using your warm-up at home as a framework with changes to suit. 

I always start off in walk and allow the horse to warm up his muscles properly, however if he is being silly, then I will pop him up into trot and get him moving forward and listening to my aids as oppose to looking at everything else which is going on! Lots of changes in direction and even a little leg yield is better at the start then an unexploded bomb and after 10 minutes you may well be able to take a short walk break and work on softness and relaxation. Remember, some horses just don’t suit a 15 minute walk warm-up, so don’t try and force an excited or nervous horse into an outline and attempt to ask for walk as this could get you in trouble! 

Once you have trotted or walked for at least 15 minutes, then you should start thinking about getting a soft supple and elastic contact and encourage the horse to work over his back and travel forward.

Use the entire school, unless you can see another rider having issues with their horse (In which case, stay away!) and work on straightness, ensuring that your horse is listening to your aids.

Once your horse has warmed up in both trot and canter, you can think about picking up the contact and asking for more engagement from the hind leg. I use transitions and lots of them! 

From walk-trot-walk, trot-canter-trot, transitions within the canter are good for suppling and relaxation whereas halt-trot-halt are good for bringing the horse together, you want to ensure that your horse really springs up into the upward transitions and doesn’t drop you when he comes into the down transition. 

Use your lateral work to help keep your horse supple and connected and work through segments of your test, so if you are going to be asking for a medium trot in the test, then practice a few in the warm-up so that your horse is prepared. 

Allow your horse a walk break within your warm-up and 5-10 minutes before the test, remove your boots and bandages and coat and continue working in so that you have his attention still before you walk across to the arena. 

Good luck with your test and remember concentrating on a good warm-up really can make a difference to your final placing!  

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