Improve your ride with just a few minutes of warmup.

By Debbie Rodriguez and Natalie DeFee Mendik

Whether you’re tight with show nerves, sluggish from sitting in the office all day, or you just put in a 45-minute commute to the barn, a quick warmup prior to getting in the saddle is in order. All you need is a spot in the tack room or barn aisle to get moving and limber. Active stretching that activates your muscles and increases blood flow is the most productive type of warmup. Both your body and your horse will appreciate the benefits. Mix up your routine with three different warmup options designed to help you loosen up with active range-of-motion movements. Bonus: there are no floor exercises to get hay in your hair or dirt on your riding pants!

Warm Up One

Active Marching: Kick things off with one minute of high-knee marching with swinging arms. Standing tall with your feet hip-width apart, your arms at your sides and your elbows bent, march with your arms swinging by your sides, keeping your core engaged and stable. Raise your knees as high as you can with each step.

Door Openers: Standing squarely, raise one knee to hip height. Bring your knee outward, opening your hip joint. Let your leg slowly drop back to the floor. Repeat 15 times on each side. Imagine that you are opening the door with your knee while carrying your saddle. You can place your hand on the wall for balance if necessary.

Standing Side Crunches: Standing with feet hip-width apart, knees slightly bent, and bent arms raised, bring your knee up towards your opposite elbow. You should feel your abs engage. Repeat 15 times on each side.

Figure-Four Stretch: Open your hips and relieve tension in your lower back by standing squarely and crossing one leg over the other, resting your ankle on your opposite knee. Slowly squat, feeling the stretch through your piriformis muscles (deep within your hips/buttocks). Keeping a slow controlled movement, repeat twice on each leg. Place a hand on the wall for balance if needed.

Warm Up Two

Open-Chest active Marching: Get moving with one minute of active marching, arms open and elbows bent. With feet hip-width apart, actively stepping, feel the stretch through your chest and shoulders. Put some energy into the march to really get the major muscle groups warmed up and active.

Standing Side Crunches: See Warm Up One.

Good Mornings: With feet hip-width apart, elbows out, and hands by your head, bend forward at the waist. Press your hips back to feel a hamstring stretch. Keep your feet flat on the ground and knees softly bent. Repeat 10 times.

Side Lunges: With your hands on your hips, step out to the side with one leg, bending at the knee while keeping the opposite leg straight. Keep your abs engaged and chest open. Push off your bent leg to come back up into standing position. Repeat 10 times on each side.

Bicep and Tricep Curls: With arms at your sides and closed hand facing upwards, bring your fist up towards your shoulder. Repeat 7 times.

Then, with outstretched arms bent at the elbow, bring your closed fist toward your shoulder again. Repeat 7 times.

Finally, with elbows by your ears, raise your closed fist from behind your shoulder straight up. Repeat 7 times.

Be sure to engage your biceps and triceps as if you are holding weights to get the full benefit of this exercise. You should be able to clearly feel which muscle is engaged for each part of this routine.

Warm Up Three

Top-to-Bottom Wood Choppers: For top-to-bottom woodchoppers, start with feet a bit wider than shoulder-width apart and arms stretched above your head with clasped hands. Swing your arms downward, bending at the waist with bent knees, until your head and shoulders hang toward the ground and your clasped hands are between your legs. Control your core from start to finish of the movement. Repeat 15 times.

Diagonal Wood Choppers: Next, for diagonal woodchoppers, bring clasped hands to one side of your head, and chop downward towards the opposite side of your body, squatting slightly with the motion. Engage your body and core as if you are pulling a rope or as if you are actually chopping wood. It is amazing how much pressure mental focus can add to a movement. Repeat 15 times for each diagonal.

Squats into Single-Leg Press: With arms at your sides, elbows bent and feet hip-width apart, squat with knees staying in alignment over your toes, bringing thighs as close to parallel to the ground as possible. Keep your chest open and eyes up. As you press back into standing position, raise one leg out to the side while pressing both arms straight up. Come back into the starting position with arms bent at your sides and feet hip-width apart. Repeat 10 times on each leg.

Arm Circles: Standing with feet hip-width apart, raise your arms straight out to the side at shoulder height. First make 10 small controlled circles forward, then 10 small controlled circles backward, then 10 medium size circles forward and 10 backward. Finish with 10 large slow controlled circles backward, opening up your chest and releasing any tension in your shoulders.

Five minutes or less is all it takes to set yourself up for a solid start to your ride with these simple, no-equipment warmups that can be done at the barn. Now go ride!

Debbie Rodriguez is an International Sports Sciences Association certified personal fitness coach, Grand Prix dressage rider and USDF Gold Medalist, USEF ‘S’ Dressage Judge, ‘R’ Eventing Judge, and creator of Success in the Saddle rider fitness DVDs.

Natalie DeFee Mendik is an award-winning journalist specializing in equine media. Visit her online at

This article originally appeared in the April 2018 issue of Horse Illustrated magazine. Click here to subscribe!

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