Warming Up to the Task

Here are a few things to keep in mind when designing a warm-up program for your horse.
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In human athletics, undertaking some type of preliminary exercise or warm-up before vigorous exercise generally is regarded as being a beneficial and important part of the overall preparation for training and competition. Although there is often considerable debate regarding the best type of warm-up protocol for different activities, it is widely held that some kind of preliminary exercise can improve subsequent athletic performance and reduce the risk of joint and muscle injury.

Do horses also benefit from warm-up before undertaking more vigorous exercise?

Most trainers and riders do put their charges through some kind of preliminary exercise before training or competition. However, there is little consensus regarding ideal warm-up practices for horses undertaking different athletic disciplines. For example, contrast the warm-up strategies undertaken by Standardbred and Thoroughbred racehorses. Although these horses perform a similar intensity of exercise during racing, there is a substantial difference in pre-race strategy.

Standardbred racehorses often undertake a warm-up of one mile or so at near-racing speed approximately five minutes before the start of a race. In addition, these horses usually receive an initial warm-up 30 to 45 minutes prior to the race. Thoroughbreds, on the other hand, typically undertake a much more limited warm-up before racing.

Which of these strategies provides the best preparation for racing?

It could be argued that the depletion of energy reserves and build-up of lactic acid associated with a heavy warm-up are detrimental to subsequent race performance. Conversely, perhaps a vigorous warm-up regimen is necessary for optimal racing performance.
In this article, we consider the rationale behind warm-up exercise and what is known regarding the effects of warm-up exercise in horses. As is so often the case in the equine world, very little research has been done to determine the merits of different warm-up strategies for horses. Therefore, we also will examine what is known concerning the effects of warm-up in human athletes

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Written by:

Ray Geor, BVSc, PhD, Dipl. ACVIM, is the pro vice-chancellor of the Massey University College of Sciences, in Palmerston North, New Zealand.

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