Is It The Warm Up? My Trepidation About The Trot

I've written many times about my concern with Rogo's trot. It takes him forever to track up and get any impulsion and when we start trot work after walk he often literally braces back against my leg. His saddle fits, he's fine in other gaits and he is fine in trot by the end of a ride, so I don't think it's a saddle fitting or physical issue. He hasn't liked trotting since he was started on the longe line as a three year old. We had to reward him with carrots for taking two or three trot step in order to teach him to trot!
I posted on a Stephan Peters clinic video that helped, and I know Rogo has back tracked a bit in trot as we added things and now I have to build it up again, but I also feel sure there is more I could be doing to help him.
I've become very interested in the warm up. I notice Rogo is going much better at the end of every ride than even in the middle of the ride. By the end of an hour he is forward in every gait, responsive, soft, etc. and also really focused and concentrating on our work. One of our best rides ever was when we were riding outside in the moon light and stayed at it for an hour and a half. I didn't realize until I went back inside, but he worked hard and at the end of 90 minutes he was going sooo well, so laziness isn't the problem (research indicates the average warm up at a competition at all levels is 30 minutes - slightly less at lower levels and slightly more at higher levels).
On the other hand, at the beginning of a ride, he is slow to respond and doesn't want to trot, even if we walk and do walk exercises for 30 minutes. I know most horses have a better trot after they canter, but Rogo is very pronounced in this trait.
Cheryl (one of my teachers) says he has to get his trot correct in each ride before he canters, but I can't help thinking that not every horse is the same and maybe for him, after a long, lose walk, it's okay to canter.
TBDancer was kind enough to leave me this comment in a previous post:
"I have an OTTB and he warms up way better in canter. After a long slow walk on the buckle, we canter for awhile (doing circles, shallow weaves and then deeper ones on the same canter lead, speeding up, then coming back--all at canter both directions). Afterward, his trot is fantastic. No "sewing machine" trot, but some "hover" in the trot and lots of overtracking."

There were a couple of similar comments in recent weeks and of course I can't find them right now, but they got me thinking that maybe I'll try a warm up with canter after walk, just to see how it goes.
I notice that much of what's written about dressage from an instructional point of view focuses on the 'new work' part of the ride, and skims over the warm up, but the warm up is really the key to everything, especially for a horse like Rogo. He comes out relaxed (the first step on the training scale), so I'm thankful for that. Now, how do I help him turn on the engine without making him resentful?
I thought I'd start by googling dressage warm up, and I came up with some good articles and a video which I've provided links to below:

2. Betsy Steiner's Thirty Minute Dressage Warm-Up

What I found interesting about this one is that it said to warm up in either trot or canter after walk, which ever the horse finds easiest. I've always thought I 'had' to get a decent trot before cantering. It would sure be a lot easier to get a good trot if I cantered first, as he's more willing to canter than trot initially.

3.  Dressage Warm Up With Hubertus Schmidt

Both this one and the previous direct trot canter trot transitions on a 20 M circle. I'm going to incorporate this.

4. Dressage Warm Up With Debbie  McDonald and Brentina

5. Video: Dressage Warm Up With Mary Flood

 Comments on video:

But like everything else, this isn't the only way to warm up a horse. You MUST know your horse well. I have ridden many horses that the 10-20 min walk on loose rein or trail ride are the perfect warm up. But I have also ridden many who warmed up better in the canter. My last WB needed you to walk around the arena about 2x and then canter for about 10-15 mins. It you spent too much time walking his mind would get to him and you'd be in trouble. But the canter was his gait! You could canter around for 10min and then come back to the walking exercises, trotting, etc.

As you can see, there is a mixed opinion regarding cantering after walk in the warm up, but there are some very knowledgeable people who do it and suggest using whichever, trot or canter, is easiest for your horse at that stage. So, I'm in - it's canter after walk for me in our next warm up.
Ironically cantering after walk may be the way to go for people with a more forward horse too. In addition to the comment at the beginning I've noticed the comment from other OTTB owners.
Just a final note on this topic - I received a subscription to  for Christmas and I LOVE it (more in a future post), but I see these young horses coming out for their clinic lesson doing trots that look more medium than working and I think "wtf, is my horse trot challenged or what???". Sorry for the expletive, but it's descriptive in this case :)
Hope everyone is enjoying the holidays. I can't wait to try my new routine tomorrow!



Barbara said…
I think a lot of horses warm up better in canter, if they prefer it, why not? It is called a warm up for a reason.
Another little trick that sometimes works with horses that take forever (or a brisk canter) to get a decent trot is to walk 5 steps, trot 5 steps, walk 5 steps, trot 5 steps. Count 'em and repeat until the engine gets going.
Oak Creek Ranch said…
You know Rogo best. I vote for you trying different things and seeing what works best for him. It's not about those clinic horses (don't torture yourself), it's about your journey with Rogo. I may try the canter warm up too. Jackson just doesn't seem to be able to focus until he has cantered and, like you, I've been in a mindset of trot then canter.
Sarah said…
Happy Holidays Carol!!

Honestly, Rogo sounds SO much like Miles. I'm still experimenting with what works best for him, but almost always in the winter he is working at his best towards the end of our ride (after about 40 minutes or so). He may be better off working at the canter for his warm up, but his arthritis is so much more pronounced in the cold I'm hesitant to do this undersaddle just yet. We do canter, I just wait to do it when he's loose and supple at the end.
We are also dealing with a number of other factors I won't bore you with, but I just wanted to pop in and say follow your gut. Listen to your horse and he will tell you what routine works best:)
50+ Horses said…
Hi Carol - I agree with the three comments above. Trust your inner instincts and go with what feels right to you and Rogo. Looking forward to hearing the outcome. Best wishes to you and your family in 2011!
Anonymous said…
I'm a big believer in listening to the horse and finding ways to make thing easier for the horse - if he warms up better with cantering, then that's the way to go. My mare Maisie, when she was in work, much preferred to canter for a while after her walk warm up - it seemed to help her loosen up and regain her impulsion - then the trot work was easy. There isn't one way to do things - every horse is different.
juliette said…
Definitely do what works for Rogo. He is the one who knows what feels right to him. Again, I don't mean to keep talking about running, but when you start out on a run the first 5 - 10 minutes feel horrible and that is true no matter how long you walk first. Walking loosens you up but it does nothing for oxygen intake. The first minutes of running (trotting for horses) feels slow and icky. Then, suddenly there is this burst of energy. This is the body going into the Kreb's cycle and moving from the anaerobic to aerobic. I bet when Rogo canters, he gets the aerobic started faster and it feels so much better - more oxygen.
TBDancer said…
To expand a bit about my OTTB's warmup at canter: Several trainers have told me Thoroughbreds are born to run and trot isn't their preferred gait. They breeze (canter) and race (gallop) so cantering works well for warmup when they begin another discipline. Canter speeds the "warming up" because the horse is working harder--heart pumping and all that. The only caveat is if the horse gets more excited when it canters and becomes anxious. To be honest, the only trainer who told me NOT to canter in warmup because MY horse got "more anxious" was a woman who proved later (by word AND deed) that she was clueless about everything. During the time I knew her, she went from horse to horse, making each one an idiot with tongue issues, among other things, by First Level. My guy KNOWS canter and he doesn't get anxious at all. He has this new job (with this new jockey ;o) and this is just part of his new duties. No racing, no silks, no competition ;o)

The other point about my horse is, he has a slight roach back, he has reared up and fallen backward several times (never with a rider), and those incidents have created a back that is always "tight." Cantering and working "long and low" (the "terminal stretchy circle" at canter AND trot ;o) help unkink and warm up that back and add to his fluidity.

Again, whatever works for Rogo is what you should try--and mix it up a bit ;o) Varying the routine is much better than the lock-step "walk, trot, canter" warmup that we seem to see at those endless clinics (and I've audited a zillion of 'em ;o)
Karen said…
I agree - if Rogo warms up better in the canter, go for it!
Warming up should be tuned to the individual horse and the level of training. It's a dynamic thing, not "one size fits all". There are many factors that go into an individual warm up: level of training, level of fitness, environment (a warm up will be different on a cold day than a hot day, it will be different at a show than at home), how the horse feels that day, etc. You have to choose the warm up that fits your horse best right now and expect that it will change over time as his training progresses. Oh, and don't over think it ;)!
Cindy said…
Steffan Peters said in the May 2009 clinic that canter improves the trot...and he also said that different horses need different warm ups. I often have to go into canter early to get Roxy revved up and her muscles stretched and the blood pumping..trot gets boring for her and she gets sleepy and remains stiff..does not put her heart into it.Rather than pick at her with the whip to get some energy I prefer to canter and let her lossen up naturally. She likes canter.
Carol said…
Thanks so much for all of the feedback. You've really given me some good information and I feel more confident about trying the canter warm up hearing how many of you are using it. Also, between getting to know my horse more and hearing what all of you are doing I think I can begin to trust my instincts a little more.
Juliette, the running comparisons are perfect. Keep them coming!
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