Q: Does a horse need to be warmed up before he hustles in the roundpen, or should he canter fast immediately? – Christie G.
A: Warming up and cooling down a horse before and after exercise is always a smart idea. Horses are no different than human beings – we both need to prepare our bodies for exercise. A good warm-up helps to minimize muscle stiffness in your horse and aids in preventing injury to his tendons or muscles. One of the benefits of doing groundwork with your horse on the way to the arena rather than just leading him there is that it gives him a chance to warm up before you start to seriously work him. Not only do you ensure he is in the right frame of mind (using the thinking side of his brain and focused on you) for the lesson, but you’re physically preparing his body as well.
When I get a horse in the roundpen, I always let him trot a few laps around the roundpen before asking him to canter to give him a chance to settle in and get a feel for the pen. Then I ask him to canter. Keep in mind that the goal of the round penning exercises isn’t to chase the horse around the roundpen at a high rate of speed. You certainly want to check your gas pedal and make sure he’ll speed his feet up with a “Yes, Sir!” attitude whenever you point, especially when working with a cold-blooded, lazy horse. But once your gas pedal checks out good, then you can let him relax and go slower.