Warm-up Trends for Dressage Tests

How much time do the top-level dressage riders spend on warming up their horses before riding in a competition? How do the experts compare with novices? And does the amount of warm-up time really matter anyway?

To answer these questions, British researchers timed the warm-up routines of nearly 270 riders.

The riders had all entered competitions sanctioned by British Dressage, Britain's governing body for the sport. The study looked at a full range of levels, from competitors riding at the novice level to Prix Georges and Grand Prix tests. The investigators observed local, regional and national championship events.

The study found that at the novice and Prix St Georges levels, the more time a horse and rider spent warming up, the better the final scores they achieved on their dressage tests. The average time all horse-rider pairs rode for warm-up was 30 minutes.

dressage riders warm-up their horses before competition

Dressage riders typically spend half an hour warming up their horse before competition.

The warm-up time did vary though, depending upon the difficulty of the dressage test being ridden. Those at higher levels spent more time riding before their test. Novice-level competitors averaged 25 minutes on warm-up, whereas the Grand Prix riders worked an average of 34 minutes in the warm-up ring.

Compared with local and regional events, the national level competitions also spurred riders to spend more time warming up. Surprisingly, though, averages were the same for riders of different skill levels about to ride the same level of test. For instance, both experienced and beginning horse riders spent similar amounts of time warming up for the novice-level dressage tests.

The study also collected some interesting data on how much time during warm-up was spent in each gait. Medium-level participants averaged the most warm-up time walking, at 44 percent, while the other levels spent 39 % of their time at a walk. The proportion of warm-up done at a trot was highest for novice entries, at 40 %, while averaging around 32 % for the other levels. Cantering took anywhere from 20 % of a novice's warm-up session to 30% of a Prix St Georges competitor's session.


Rachel C. Murray, Sarah Mann and Tim D.H. Parkin. 2006. Warm-up in dressage competitions: association with level, competition type and final score. Equine and Comparative Exercise Physiology. 3: 185-189.

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