I have written quite a few articles on training, and thought with cooler weather around the corner( I hope), I should get back to the basics. We will talk a little bit about properly warming up your horse before you start to train.
Keep in mind I did mention this is before you train or work you horse, and that I do not feel that this is really training, yet a very essential part of your program. You can over do this and end up with a horse that eventually starts to hide his face or have a horse that guides like a wet noodle between your reins. The purpose for flexing and warming your horse up is the same reason why the gym teacher in school had us stretch before we started running or playing a sport. It was to prevent injuries to our muscles and tendons.
I will give you a basic overview of my routine, that by the way I vary quite often as to keep them from thinking that it is a routine. I like to start them off with some flexing and asking them to move off the bit and follow their nose. I don’t want for them to put their nose to my foot right off the bat. If they do this, I know that it has become a routine and not a stretch. I will also ask them to move out at a walk, while at the same time I am asking them to bend and flex at the neck. This allows me to get a deeper stretch, which helps me loosen the shoulders. As they progress in training I want to be able to get this kind of bend and softness at a trot and a lope. You should do this one side at a time, and slowly progress into their training so that the horse can softly go from far left to far right with out a pause or hesitation in the middle. This will help them later with guiding and eventually with lead changes.
Before I trot them off and get their legs loose, I like to make them move off my legs at the shoulder and the hip. I start with the inside leg and move to the outside leg. Once I have done this the fresh has diminished, and they are ready to move out a little and stretch the legs. I prefer to start with a slow and supple trot moving into a long trot. How long I stay at a slow trot depends on the horse. If it is a horse with a bit of a motor I will spend a little more time on the soft trot. The long trot is something that I have found to be a very important part of my routine. This allows the horse to really stretch out the muscles and tendons in his legs before we go to work.
O.K. now for the time frame. This is something that depends on where the horse is at in training. On young horses that have just started in training I will spend quite a bit of time here, because they are still learning how to give to the bit and move off of my legs. For them this is training too. So I will spend about 15 minutes here maybe 20 if the horse is in his first 90 days of training, and that depends on how fast he is picking things up. Now, if he has been ridden for quite some time, then I will spend 5 to maybe 10 minutes depending on the horses muscle mass. The thicker the horse the more time and the slower I ask for the bend, because there is more muscle to flex.
The important thing to keep in mind is that if you start out on your horse and begin to ask for him to flex and bend to the right, and he automatically puts his nose to your boot, then you have probably done a little bit of overkill. You will probably need to spend some time sending them out forward at a long trot and work on going straight for a while. If not it will effect your guide when you try to work one handed. Just remember, flexing and stretching is something you do before you exercise and work, it is not the actual work it self.