How to get the best out of your Dressage warm up

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The British Eventing season in now officially in full swing in most of the UK and the excitement is building up here in the North with Scotland’s first event of the season happening this weekend.
I do a lot of planning for each event ahead of time including writing down my aims for the day and a very precise timeline which I document on the notes in my phone. This includes what time I’m getting up, when I’m leaving the stables, walking the course, tacking up for each phase, etc. etc.  
I thought I would share some of the tips I have for achieving maximum enjoyment of a days Eventing and in today’s blog I’m going to start at the beginning of the competition and focus on how to get the most out of your Dressage warm up. This sets the tone for the entire day, so you want it to be a pleasurable experience for both you and your horse.

1.    However long you think you need to warm up, add another 5-10 mins. This will give you time to take a relaxing walk to the warm up, check in with your steward and familiarise your horse with the area before you get down to business.

2.    Ask your steward which arena you are in, what colour of car it is and if the judge is using a bell or a horn to start you. I also ask how many horses there are to go in front of me and keep an eye on this, this way you won’t end up in a mad panic if they are not running in exact number order.


3. Double check you've learned the correct test before you start to warm up. Spend a couple of minutes watching the horse in your arena so that you are confident you are both doing the same test. If by some horror you have learned the wrong one (yes I have done this before) then you still have time to learn the correct one at this stage. 

4.    Don’t ride in massive circles. Work on ten and twenty metre circles to get your horse used to the area it will be confined to within the boards. Try doing some squares to practice riding into those corners as differentiating a circle and a corner can get you those extra little marks that make all the difference.


5.    Do lots of transitions. Don’t just trot aimlessly around, get your horse listening and underneath you so that he is active and engaged before he begins his test. I also like to do some shoulder in and counter centre to really make sure he is active behind and listening.

6.    As soon as the competitor before you begins their final journey down the centre line, get yourself trotted over there. This will guarantee you a good couple of laps of the arena to familiarise him with those oh-so-spooky flower pots before the judge rings the bell. And remember: your designated Dressage time is the time you should be trotting down the centre line, NOT when you should be wondering over from the warm up. I never think it wise to keep judges waiting!


7.    I always give the judges a smile and a nod if I catch their eye while riding past, even if my horse is spooking and pulling my arms out of my sockets – the happier I look up there the better the whole picture looks so release your inner actress, darling.

8.    Always say well done to the competitor before you and good luck to the one after you because us Eventers stick together and it’s nice to be nice.


So, there you have it: my recipe for the perfect Dressage warm up.
Good luck to everyone out competing this weekend.
Sarah x


Photography by Dave Cameron Photography

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