Proper warm up and cool down in your horse’s exercise routine promotes both strength and flexibility for your horse just like in humans. Increases in agility, protection of the horse’s muscles, and increased comfort are all benefits of taking the time to warm up your horse and cool it down.
As we move into the warmer months, there are some precautions to take when warming up and cooling down in the Mid-South this summer. When it’s hot this summer, a warm up can start with grooming. Not just for cleaning, a thorough grooming can double as a massage and get your horse’s muscle fibers prepared for movement. Use a curry comb or even a massage tool to prepare your horse for riding. Working against the grain of your horse’s muscles can increase circulation and warm up its muscle fibers. Another added bonus of beginning a warm up with grooming is the bonding it promotes between you and your horse.
Once groomed, continue your hot weather warm up by adding movement. On a humid Mid-South day, consider 10-15 minutes of hand walking instead of lunging. If you do choose to lunge as part of your warm up, perhaps you let your horse walk more and trot and canter less. Walking will still elevate your horse’s heart rate, stretch its muscles, and increase blood flow as you prepare to ride.
The cool down is equally as important after a ride on a hot day. Touch your horse’s chest, shoulders, and legs. You want its chest and shoulders to feel like the same temperature by touch. This can be achieved by walking your horse down. Just like the warm-up, on a hot day, consider walking your horse by hand, instead of under saddle, as a cool down. Untacking before you hand walk your horse will also help it to cool down more quickly. Once its chest and shoulders feel like a similar temperature, feel its legs; if you can still feel the warmth radiating from them consider wrapping up your cool down in the wash rack with the hose and cold water. Remove any excess water with a sweat scraper.
Michele Burgess, former co-owner of Burgess Equestrian Services, suggests riding either early in the morning or later in the evening in order to avoid the hottest parts of the day this summer. As far as cooling down in the heat goes, she suggests cold hosing your horse. Once you’ve walked your horse down and its respiration rate has returned to normal, spraying the equine down with cold water is a good way to cool it off, literally. Michele advises you to start hosing on the horse’s legs and gradually work up to avoid giving it “a jolt of cold.” Cold hosing will draw the heat away from your horse’s legs and reduce the chance of any swelling after a ride on a hot day. If you plan to stall your horse after it has been hosed down, she also suggests keeping a fan on it in the barn to dry.