#SundaySchool: Kirstie Leightley — how to prepare a sharp horse in a showjumping warm-up

  • Young showjumper Kirstie has been based with Guy Williams in France for the past three years, competing alongside him in Europe and internationally. Partnering chestnut mare Thais D’La Verrerie, whom Kirstie has produced, she has enjoyed success in international four-star classes and earned a placing in the 2018 Hickstead Speed Derby

    The warm-up is crucial to the outcome of your performance. Every horse is different, so it’s important to tailor your warm-up to your horse and build on an effective routine for future competitions.

    My top mare, Thais D’La Verrerie, has always been incredibly sharp wherever we are, but particularly in the warm-up. Over time we have developed a really effective warm-up routine.

    For sharp horses like Thais, who are used to being turned out each morning, I will always get up early at shows to lunge her when the exercise arena is quiet. It is important for her to get out and stretch while staying relaxed away from all the other horses.

    At any show, but particularly shows where your horse is staying away from home, it is key to try to replicate his home routine as best you can. The warm-up should be a reliable and practised part of his daily management routine.

    Tackling the issue

    1. Start your warm-up with about 12 horses to go — aim to keep your horse as relaxed as possible while still being focused on the job. You don’t want to be in too early, nor do you want to be rushing. For a sharp horse, the warm-up is about focusing him on your aids and blocking out external factors.

    2. With about eight to jump, start over small verticals, coming off both reins; use a bounce pole to slow the jump and keep a level stride. Sharp horses can be spooky, so rather than applying too much pressure and forcing a flat jump, allow him to have a look. He is only trying to respect and work out the fence.

    3. Once you have jumped a few bigger fences, take your horse away from the hustle of the arena and dismount until you have one to go. As sharp horses can get their blood up quickly and lose focus, this will allow your horse time to relax before entering the ring. Use this time to watch a rider in the ring and go over your plan.

    4. Before you enter the ring, finish on a bigger vertical to back your horse off and focus his mind on the job in hand. Remember that he will feel what you feel, whatever you do as a rider, so keeping relaxed is key.

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    Consider this…

    • Concentrate on your own warm-up, don’t just follow what others are doing — all horses are different.
    • Allow yourself time so you don’t end up rushing.
    • Try using massage rugs prior to your warm-up to help reduce muscle tension.
    • Always ensure you have good help on hand during the warm-up, whether it be a trainer or groom.

    For all the latest equestrian news and reports, don’t miss Horse & Hound magazine, out every Thursday.

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