Winter warming up and cooling down

A longer warm up and cool down is especially important during the winter period

A proper warm-up and cool-down are especially important over the winter period. Low temperatures mean your horse’s body needs longer than usual to warm up to a working temperature. Warming up and cooling down should be gradual. Intensive training when a horse is not properly warmed up could cause severe stiffness, spasms in the muscles, or serious injury to the tendons, ligaments or joints.

In this month’s winter guide, we cover correct warming up and cooling down, so that you and your horse can still enjoy productive schooling sessions.

Warming up

A typical warm-up is 10 to 15 minutes and consists of mainly trotting and cantering. If you’re riding during the warmer parts of the day (10am to 2pm), your warm-up can be stretched to about 20 minutes. If you’re riding during the early morning or late afternoon, and if you’re situated in a colder South African region, your warm-up could take as long as 25 minutes if done correctly. Keep the warm-up as gradual as possible so that you don’t ‘shock’ the tendons, ligaments or joints by going straight into strenuous work.


The key to a safe and correct warm-up during winter is to do so gradually. Walking is a very important component of the horse’s warm-up and should make up a good 10 minutes of it. If you find the inside of an arena too boring, take your horse for a short hack down the road and let him walk briskly. If you opt to walk in the arena, allow some time for the horse to walk in a long and low frame, stretching over his back and neck. Stretch him laterally to the left and right by asking for some short leg yields and shoulder-in and haunches-in movements. Walk in both directions and so encourage equal muscle development. The cold weather could reflect his responsiveness, and there is no need to get upset if he’s a little more sluggish than usual. Once you’ve spent 10 minutes warming up in the walk, test his responsiveness by asking for some upward and downward transitions between the walk and halt, and movements such as turn-on-the-forehand and turn-on-the-hindquarters.


Warm up

Allow him to canter on a light contact in your final stages of warming up.

Once your horse is feeling relaxed and looser under saddle, you can move up to a slow trot. Start with a few large circles on a light contact, allowing him to stretch down and out if he wants to. Slowly start taking up a contact and increase the trot to a working trot. Ride lots of big circles and change your rein a few times across the diagonal, allowing him to move a bit more forward. Practise some transitions between collected trot and working trot to get his hind end more engaged. Ride some lateral movements in a slow trot to encourage suppleness and reinforce relaxation in the horse’s body. Work in the trot for 10 minutes and keep testing his responsiveness to the aids. He should start becoming quite warm at the end of the trotting period.


Once you feel that your horse is working as normal in the trot, you can do about five minutes of canter work. Pop him into canter, sit light and let him canter on a light contact, again allowing him to stretch in the canter if he wants. Ride big circles on both reins to start (making use of a flying change), and practise some walk-to-canter and canter-to-walk transitions. Gradually take up the reins, sit in the saddle and get your horse underneath you. Practise some spiralling in the canter on both reins to encourage the horse to step under, and make sure to keep a slight inside bend and flexion in the neck. You can also ride a few circles of counter-canter to get him balanced and straight.

After five minutes in the canter, you will have completed a 25-minute warm-up and your horse should be responsive and ready for some proper schooling!

The full article appears in the Winter Guide issue of HQ (June 123) > Shop now