It's Safety Saturday! Today we're going to discuss the importance of a healthy warmup for your horse.
First, it's important to consider your horse's fitness level. If your horse is out of shape, he or she will most likely require a more low-intensity warmup than a horse in peak physical condition.
A warmup should occur at the beginning of the ride. Research shows that the most effective workouts consist of primarily walking for about 10 minutes, with short and low-intensity bursts of trot after the 10 minute mark until 15 minutes. This warmup schedule allows maximum oxygen delivery to the lungs during the following workout, and minimizes the buildup of lactate in the muscles.
The buildup of lactate is also why it is important to NOT STRETCH your horse before mounting up. While stretching before riding is all the rage recently, it actually causes a release of lactate into the muscles, which can make exercise harder for your horse, and make them more lethargic.
If you want to do something with your horse to allow them some warmup before hopping on, a brief lunge or Liberty session can help. Remember that this is still a warmup, so don't send them out for a 10 minute trot and a 10 minute canter, then expect to get on and have a fresh and ready-to-work horse.
As a final note, warming up is exactly what it sounds like: you are warming the horse's muscles to prepare him for heavy exercise. In hotter weather, this can take as little as 10 minutes total, whereas in cold weather it may take up to 25. The goal is to allow the horse to loosen and warm up without contributing much to fatigue or overall body heat.