The why and how of walking to warm up your horse
Many of us know walking is an important part of our warm up but when time is of the essence we don’t spend the time on this critical component of the ride. Research has shown that 20 minutes of walking is correlated with injury prevention. If you have a eurociser or walking treadmill, congratulations you can start to prepare your horse before you ride.
For many of us a walking lap or two is about all we have the time and patience to do. So why is walking so important? Walking is the single gait that elicits mobility throughout the equine skeleton without causing a stiffening response through the spine for stability. Walking causes gentle mobility through the vertebrae from head to tail, warms up the nuchal and supraspinous ligaments from head to haunches. Through walking we lubricate the horse’s joints and allow our horses to move through active range of motion for joint health.
Enhance your walking warm up:
Cavaletti’s – Walking over poles and cavalettis increases joint motion through your horse’s legs and engages your horse’s abdominal musculature. Walking over cavalettis actively engages the thoracic sling and abdominal muscles opening the space between the vertebrae to reduce impingement from kissing spines and decrease stiffness associated with arthritis.
Head Carriage – Allow your horse to walk with a long low head and neck carriage to elongate the epaxial (top of back) muscles and stretch through the neck and pole. Horses carry tension through their neck and pole which is relaxed when walking with a long low head carriage.
Impulsion – Walking with impulsion engages the haunches which causes the hind legs to track up and increases pelvic mobility in preparation for cantering, jumping, dressage, and more. Walking with impulsion activates the iliopsoas muscle which is the primary force for hind end engagement and propulsion.
Lateral Flexibility – Lateral flexibility is best achieved at the walk due to the orientation of the thoracic vertebrae which become fixed and rigid at the trot. Performing serpentines, circles, and spiral patterns at the walk will achieve the greatest amount of lateral flexibility through the spine from head to tail. The walk warm up is the optimal time to correct stiffness to one side. If your horse is tight to one side as seen by over flexion from pole to hip make sure you circle away from that side to stretch the muscles that have tightened over time.
Use a Chute for Straightness – If you ride a horse who tracks with his haunches and shoulder on a different path you can set up a narrow chute by placing poles on the ground. Use your seat and leg to encourage straight tracking down the narrow path.
Happy Trails! – Dr. Robyn