Warming up Your Horse to Prevent Injuries

Date Published: 02/04/2019

Warming up your horse is critical to achieving optimal athletic performance as it initiates physiological changes and reduces the risk of soft tissue injury, according to Dr. Erica Mckenzie from Oregon State in The Practitioner. Although warm up for different events will not be the same, there are some general guidelines to follow.  Warm up activity should be done before all directed work in training and in competition and should be built into to the daily exercise regimen to enhance compliance.  It must be convenient, practical and designed to prepare the relevant muscles and tendons for the impending exercise. 

As warm up increases body temperature, the muscle, tendon and ligament flexibility are increased; so are muscle fiber, nerve conduction velocity and muscle relaxation rate, which aids in coordination.  Increased body temperature with exercise also promotes more rapid release of oxygen molecules and therefore the horses will have increased energy while delaying fatigue. 

There are also some non-temperature related effects, including increased blood flow and oxygen supply to the muscles, due to increased heart and respiratory rates, splenic contraction and increased muscle power.  Greater force is required to injure a warmer muscle due to greater pliability of the muscle and greater range of motion.  Active warmup includes gentle exercise stress that increases in intensity. Evidence suggests that active warm up can reduce total heat accumulation during intense exercise. which is important in hot climates. 

The period of warm up will vary. Ten minutes should be the minimum and may be enough in warm weather.  However, in cold weather, warm up may require 40 minutes.  In a high-level jumping competition in which warm up times were assessed, the average time was about 20 minutes.  The warm up should be divided into specific phases such as flat work and jumping phases or slow work and fast work phases, depending on the event.

Ideally, the warm up should consist of some portion of the activity similar to the competition so if it is a jumping event, warm up should include some low jumps increasing to higher jumps to prepare the horse’s backs and limbs.  Horses expected to perform hard work in training or competition should have some degree of hard work at the end of the warm up, prior to competition, as this has been shown to influence subsequent oxygen delivery to the tissues being exercised immediately after warm up.  Now, these high intensity exercises should be very short in duration so you do not deplete energy and reduce power prior to the competition.  And if you are in a competition that has breaks in the performance, rewarm up is recommended before every event, which could be continuous low-grade activity or a period of rest and then rewarming up with your same initial warm up routine.  Rewarm up may not require as much time as the initial warm up, but this depends on the time between events and how hot or cold it is.

 

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