How to Have an Effective Horse Show Warm-up


Preparing for a show and not sure how to work your horse in the warmup so that you can do your best in the ring? It’s a common problem, especially as horses can often be very different to ride at shows than they are at home. And unless you have nerves of steel, the pressure and anxiety can sometimes get to the riders too!

Warming up for a show needn’t be like running the gauntlet though. With a few key guidelines, you can make sure that you make the most of your warmup time at your next show.

1. Keep Things Consistent

Of course, you have to factor in your circumstances and recognize that your horse might be fresh at a show, could be spookier than normal and need extra time, or may need to walk for a little longer than usual to combat any extra tension. At the core of your warmup though, should be the things you work on at home. Don’t suddenly turn your warmup on its head unless you have a very good reason (e.g. you got lost on the way and now have ten minutes to warm up or you HAVE to trot earlier than usual because your horse is now a ticking time bomb waiting to explode if you walk any longer.)

If you always, always walk for a good ten minutes before you pick up a trot or canter then try to do that in the ring and don’t feel pressured into cantering because everybody else is doing it.

Horse and rider in show gear

If you know that some leg yields and circles are what get your horse listening and engaged, work them into your warmup at the show. If you know that the first couple of trots are a bit underpowered and your horse needs time to stretch and loosen his back, then don’t pick up the contact and expect a collected frame immediately. Keep things as consistent as possible. This also helps the horse to settle and gain confidence. 

2. Peak At The Right Time 

Learning how to time your warm up correctly is, admittedly, a bit of a fine art. The show environment can change from place to place, your optimal warm up time changes with your horse’s fitness and level of work, and sometimes unexpected things can happen and you go into the ring slightly early or late. 

However, start to take as much notice as you can of the timing of your rides at home. At what point does the work start to feel good? When in your session do you do the best 5-10 minutes of work? Does it come after you’ve had a walk break or does that just make your horse switch off? 

One of the most common mistakes you’ll see at shows is people going into the ring with a tired horse who peaked in the warm up. Knowing what works for each horse can make a big difference to getting your warm up right. Some horses might only need fifteen minutes of work so that they still have ‘oomph’ in the ring whereas others need a longer warm up. Some horses need a lunge before their proper warm up!

Horse and rider riding through a show jumping course

3. Don’t Try To Do Your Homework In The Warm Up

This one can be tempting, especially if you’re feeling nervous or are still quite inexperienced at shows. The reality is that competitions are just the results of all the work you’ve been putting in at home over the last weeks, months, and years. What they are not is the result of the work you’ve done in the last twenty minutes. 

While you need to make sure that your horse is listening to your aids as best as possible and is warmed up so that he’s soft and loose and ready to perform, you’re not going to improve his schooling immediately before the show. That crooked halt or habit of tapping poles at verticals off the right rein isn’t suddenly going to disappear because you did it 47 times in the warm up arena, unfortunately. So instead of focusing on the areas that you can’t improve immediately, just work on presenting your horse as best you can (for his level of work) on that day.  Riding the entire Dressage test or jumping enough fences to make three courses isn’t the answer! 

4. Go Back To Basics

If you feel your warm up starting to fall apart or know that you’re likely to lose focus or get nervous, remember to focus on the basics. 

Is your horse straight? Is he responsive off your leg, listening to your seat, and ready to react to your aids when you apply them? Is he keeping a consistent rhythm? Is he relaxed and attentive, or is his attention completely elsewhere?

And then, remember those handful of things your instructor is always telling you? We all have our own little “things” whether it’s not to pull the inside rein, to sit still on your approach to fences, or to look up! Those are the things to keep top of mind as you warm your horse up to the best of your abilities. 


Keep these guidelines in mind and you’ll find the warm up a breeze, so you can focus on riding at your best when you enter the ring!

What are your top warm up tips? Let us know in the comments!

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