Warming up and connection/contact

We are really working on connection issues these days.
Do you find that, as your warm up develops, connection also improves? It seems the best connection develops as the ride develops…
I guess my question is, is an honest and through connection something that needs a “warm up” period, or should it be present pretty much from the start of the ride?

It depends on how you define honest and through, how you define warmup, and what problems your horse faces both physical and training/emotional.

Also how you define through.

No horse is going to be going correctly collected face on the vertical from the moment you mount. That’s why you need to warm up before a lesson and why people warm up at shows up to half an hour or even more in order to enter the ring on point.

You might only get ten minutes at the end of your ride where contact and impulsion is where you want it.

That’s why every dressage horse has a slightly different warm up routine which will vary as training progresses and even depending on the weather.

Your horse might be naturally rooting/falling on the forehand versus inverted and above the bit. Your horse might or might not roll behind the vertical. Your horse might be hot and spooky, versus sluggish and stiff. Your horse might be more or less fundamentally uneven, curved to one side or another. Your horse might have an injury chronic or accute.

Take all those factors and run the possible combinations (dumping on forehand plus hot and spooky, versus dumping on the forehand plus sucked back behind the leg etc etc) and you will see there is little chance the horse will be physically or mentally able to achieve whatever you mean by honest contact and through. Honest is a misnomer. Horse isn’t cheating. Horse just can’t do the job until you warm him up properly.

Everything in warmup should have as its goal a horse going forward lightly off the leg, accepting contact, able to move between gaits and if his training is at that point between collected and lengthened or extended gaits.

How you get there and what you prioritize is part of the art. A forward horse is easier to work with. I won’t evrn try schooling my Paint if she’s having a real sucked back day and I can’t get her forward with half an hour of trails.

So I do a lot of forward trot on a loose rein because contact doesn’t matter if horse is pissy. This horse will go above the bit until she is feeling energetic.

When I rode a really gogo senior citizen schoolmaster mare, I wanted her to work out of any age related aches and carry herself, because she dumped on the forehand if she was stiff. We did all her lateral work walk and then trot and she would be going nicely by then. When she dumped and rooted that wasn’t correct contact.

It would have been pointless to ride school master forward on a loose rein and an exercise in futility to get Paint mare doing nice lateral before she warms up. But both can go well when the warmup works right.

You need to figure out what the number one priority for your horse is at this point in time and create a warmup regime that addresses his specific needs. What do you need to do to get correct contact and carriage?


Yes absolutely! Getting my horse connected and through is 85% of our warmup!

EDIT: I’ll add more since it was touched on below. For years (maybe training - 2nd level) we just had contact, then, with training, we started to truly develop the connection. For more years (maybe 3rd through maybe 4th, sometimes feels like now), we spent the bulk of the ride developing that nice, elastic connection that comes with a horse truly lifting the base of their neck and back, and sitting. We would spend most of the riding getting “there”, then I’d figure she was too tired to do much more :grin:. So that - the warmup - was the whole ride (and would be a solid 45 min or so).

Now, we can get there sooner (though some days take longer than others), and we can actually work on movements in that nice, light, round, collected connection, versus just working on movements in the contact (she’s good enough at looking good and faking it even when not truly connected, but getting the right connection bumps our scores from mid-60s to low 70s, so it makes a big difference).

Even now, as I’m preparing for another show, my goal is to get that connection, and then just touch on each movement before we go into the ring. She can do all the movements easy peasy, and do them really well, provided I get the right connection. Without that, they are all much more difficult and inelegant.

The fun part of dressage is that, what works to get my horse connected might not be what works for yours. For instance, the 1st and 2nd level movements are great for developing the connection (a little leg yield, a little shoulder in/haunches in/renvers, transitions), but I’ve found that my horse gets there easiest through canter transitions (i.e., half-halts), both within and between gaits. She struggles to get there through the trot and it frustrates both of us. YMMV.

I suspect a lot of other horses can get “there” (i.e., connected) sooner, but the connection has always been our white whale (and I was told as much when I bought her). Sounds like yours might be in the same boat (no pun intended).


I wasnt referring to a show warmup, but rather general daily training rides. Right now, I do get about the last 10 minutes when I think the connection is the best…
Just was wondering if its “normal” for connection to be developed through out the warmup, like suppleness is… or any other factor.
Right now, it seems that 90 percent ride is nothing but developing the right connection and throughness… then I do a bit of the day’s focus (changes, developing cadence in the trot, whatever).

You know, what I really appreciate about this forum is that as I write things out and formulate questions/answers, it really helps me understand the whole process…

and I define throughness as - “I can sit his real trot.” LOL…


I think that for most horses, throughness always takes time to develop in a ride. Very few start out loose and swinging and with consistent, soft connection. We do our best to help the horse get to that point through various exercises and movements, which can change from ride to ride, depending on how the horse is that particular day.

Some days, ten minutes at the end is a gift!


I don’t see a huge difference between a show warm up and a schooling session. In both you are aiming for the same place, loose and carrying himself. At a show you do a version of your home warmup.

Over time you should be feeling that it becomes a bit faster and a bit easier to get the horse warmed up and you should be figuring out what works for you and what sets things back.

Some horses benefit from cantering earlier in warmup, others are too hot or unbalanced to canter too soon. Some get pissy and angry if asked for too much too early. Etc.

Keeping a riding log and an eye on the clock or your watch both really help evaluate long term changes. Keep a record of how long things take.

Also never expect to go in today and pick up from the high note you ended on yesterday. You will still have to try to get there step by step.


I have a horse that can back off the connection sometimes and in general, can be very light, too light. I warm up on a fairly loose rein getting him to stretch down. This takes almost no time, he knows it. I then shorten the reins a little bit, and work on forward and back in the trot. Throughout the transitions within the gait he’s got to keep his neck in a lower than our usual working position and keep contact with the bit and take the contact forward. He catches on to this quickly. Sometimes there is a tendency to bring his head and neck up when I want him to collect a bit. Which is fine for more/higher collection, but not for this exercise, he has to stay “longer” and loose over the back and really stretch into whatever contact or rein length I dictate. This doesn’t take long, he’s smart. Then I canter a bit, and begin adjusting it. Forward and back. Then I’ll mix in some trot and canter lateral work. Both leg yield and half pass. I adjust the gait within the movement (shoulder in too). After this he’s pretty much ready for anything, adjustable, loose, and connected.


I do not know y’alls definition of “thoroughness” “connection”…(‘contact’ i get, and that’s my bugaboo)
i’m usually loathe to work any of my horses on a firm rein, a few times during each lesson my coach will tell me to go forward an inch on my reins. My mare reaches forward with her head for more contact…or so my coach tells me… I mostly ride her with my body and I feel contact in my head and in her responsiveness.
She’s not falling forward, or moving unbalanced to the fore, she is in balance, but she wants ‘more’. I hope to have with her what i once had with a couple of my horses, that she is my lower half. (is that connection?)

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I think in my experience your work on contact and through is really revealed in lateral work. I can ride my horse pretty forward and through straight. Even on a looser rein. In fact I often in lessons have my instructor tell me to loosen my rein a touch and see if my horse maintains our connection. Have you mastered shoulder In, haunches in etc. ? for me they are much easier when the horse is forward. In my hand and through.


what we are working on are lateral movements from quarterline to rail, and from quarterline to centerline, and from centerline to quarterline…all of those in both directions with the last half of the advance to be lateral. Her body straight and not bent either toward or away from direction she’s moving laterally.

We are also working on spirals with her in a banana shape, in and out in both directions.

Also working on (from stationary position)turn on the forehand, and turn on the ? (rear/aft/…forgot what she calls it lol)

Getting pretty good at all those things. Coach has not asked for us to try shoulders in and haunches in yet. My guess is we need to get the cues for lateral movement and straight body perfectly down first…(? but dunno, that’s just a guess). My also guess is that when we do do shoulders in/haunches in we will be learning it first at a walk until we get it down perfectly.

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Sounds like you are on a very correct and traditional progression with lateral work. Leg yield on and off the rail, spirals, and turn on the forehand and hind end all at the walk. Your spiral is the start of shoulder in on a circle. Later you will do shoulder in down the rail. Haunches in will come much later, as it’s a different bend, with horse bent in the direction of movement.

The only difference in sequence with the program I’m in is we do a lot of lateral work in hand. You’re meant to use a snaffle and have the horse on contact inhand, but honestly I do a lot of that with a rope halter especially on green horses. So your inhand work can be well in advance of your work under saddle.


Mastered? Of course not … :wink: We are showing PSG so I guess we have them… and they are def. part of the warm up in w and t, and versions in canter.


Preach sister. I try every ride to perfect the SI/HI. Some days are pretty good … others are a real shit show lol I am a H/J rider who has a lovely coach that focuses half of lesson time on dressage before we move to over fences. It has given me a more supple adjustable listening horse.

PS And my original post was a direct response to @eightpondfarm’s question.

Now I will gracefully bow out of this thread.


One of the gifts (and challenge) with this forum is that anyone can respond. At PSG the conversation that you are looking to have is one that a relatively small percent of forum members can authentically engage in to a degree that is actually helpful. I am not inclined to punch above my weight but can share what I’ve observed.

Having sat ringside at many shows there are some FEI horses that seem to enter the ring looking very connected and supple and others that seem to need a much longer warm up before the quality of their gaits becomes really apparent. Sometimes there has been significant difference between horses under the same rider, which would support that it is not a rider limitation but rather responding to the individual needs of the horse.

Out of curiosity for my own learning, do you think that part of your perception may be due to having an increasingly nuanced feel and expectation for the quality of connection? The type of connection that would have seemed “good enough” a year ago now doesn’t quite meet your expectations and you’re willing to work towards that last x% of improvement.


I’m so glad to read this. Now I don’t feel like such an idiot. :laughing: My mare is the same way. I can spend the entire ride just getting her to loosen up and be ‘ready’.
I’ve been told some GP horses warm up doing piaffe/passage and tempi changes. Personally I can’t imagine coming out cold and doing something requiring that much muscle control.

I just ride the horse I’m sitting on that day and try really hard to not get exasperated by it.


I think it takes time to develop during a ride. As far as I can tell, for both my horse and me, warming up means both physically and mentally. Some days she might seem ready to work physically, but I have to get her mentally engaged, focused, and willing, other days it’s the other way around. Some days it’s both. So “warming up” the connection is very much a thing - whether it’s getting the swing from the HQ over the back (i.e., the physical component), or the submission (i.e., the mental component), it can take time in a ride and is not always there from the start.

It’s a great question though - one I used to wonder. Now I just trust my horse when she tells me she needs to warm up into the connection and that it takes time, some days only a few minutes, other days maybe the whole ride (though generally we get there faster as the years go by).


@lorilu when I was showing about the same level I kept getting scolded by my trainer and clinicians for my warm up. I had to completely change my mindset for the warm up from our “lower level” warm up to a warm up for the upper levels. The key was when my trainer said I needed to think about warming up in a Third Level “frame” rather than starting all the way at Training/First and working up to PSG+ before we were ready to work.

We always did 10+ minutes of walk first with lots of lateral work so my horse’s joints and muscles were ready.

Then the keys of the warm up were

  • Move the neck longitudinally a little bit more than I’d normally want to
  • Move the hips and shoulders
  • Change the balance and get the hind legs under more

In my 10 minute walk, I could really test the hips and shoulders and get a good reaction to my leg before moving to the trot and canter, which means I wasn’t struggling to get him moving off my leg in the warm up and we could mostly work on the balance and then lowering and raising the neck when it got a little stuck.

Find which exercises help your horse with your biggest “issues.” I always did some half steps before moving to the canter because they helped us keep better balance from the first canter. For a while, we also did a few single changes in the warm up because it seemed to help loosen his back. I always do counter canter and several t/c/t transitions each direction to help get the inside hind taking a bigger step in the canter.


bow out? why?

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Oh bless you! I hope so! COnnection has always been our issue… his BEST trot is very hard to sit, and he loves to roll over his shoulders and drop his poll… we always “got by”, but a few very shitty shows in the last 6 months have made it really apparent where my holes are. As my trainer says, “the wheels fall off every pair at some point. FOr you, its PSG. Lets fix this.”…


Yes! This. My Warm up is very different from the 3rd and below days! Yours sounds very familiar! Thanks!
and for us, after good walk work, I “test” the trot; I usually need some canter to loosen him up and get the rear in gear. A bit of “forward moving” piaffe never hurts either… then after canter, CC, and some plie, and a few changes, back to trot work, and its then that I finally feel the conx.