Nature of warm-up affects showjumping performance, researchers find

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Beezie Madden and Cortes C on their way to winning the Longines King George V Gold Cup at CSIO5* Hickstead.
Leading US rider Beezie Madden and Cortes C. Research has revealed that female riders warm up their horses for longer, but their warm-up jumps are not as high as that of male riders. © Paul Harding @lewishardingimages.com

Researchers have linked a fall-off in showjumping performance to higher intensity warm-ups.

The study team from the University of Life Sciences in Lublin in Poland found that the intensity of a warm-up was associated with the final competition score, with several factors having a bearing.

More jumps and higher obstacles during the warm-up decreased competition performance, as measured by the final scores achieved in the ring.

However, the length of the total warm-up time did not affect the scores, Anna Stachurska and her colleagues reported in the journal Ciência Rural.

The researchers set out to discover whether there is a correlation between the intensity of warm-ups and scores in jumping competitions, and which factors affected the warm-up regime.

They targeted three international competitions at the Baltica Equestrian Summer Tour in Poland, at heights of 120cm, 130cm, and 135cm. The competitions were completed by 82 competitors in all.

New European Jumping Champions Peder Fredricson and All In. © FEI/Richard Juilliart
Peder Fredricson and All In. © FEI/Richard Juilliart

Warm-up intensity was measured by the time spent in the schooling area, the number of practice jumping efforts, and a calculation based on the coefficient of the practice obstacle height. All warm-ups were monitored and filmed.

They used the official final scores in the competitions, penalty points in the round, and final placings (turned into a coefficient that took into account the number of competitors) as outcome measures.

The rider’s sex, place of origin, and their horse’s sex, age, and competitive level were also considered.

The researchers found that female riders warmed up their horses longer but jumped lower fences than male riders.

The link between penalty points and the total number of practice jumping efforts was clear, with more practice jumps correlating with more penalty points.

Riders, they found, did not make any changes to their warm-up regime based on their horse’s sex, but did factor in its age, with the 9 to 10-year-olds treated as being at the top of their career.

The warm-up intensity did not increase with competitive level. In fact, the riders at 135cm generally warmed up their horses less intensively than those at the intermediate level, which may be connected with the increasing experience and enhanced performance of the horses and riders.

“It is likely that the riders at this competitive level believe their horses do not need a heavy warm-up.”

The study team said equestrian sports involved horses and riders warming up as part of the physical and mental preparation for the competition effort.

Ireland's Capt. Geoff Curran and Shannondale Rahona.
Ireland’s Capt. Geoff Curran and Shannondale Rahona. © Jumpinaction.net

This pre-competition exercise, in both horses and humans, results in marked increases in oxygen supply and use, with 2005 research suggesting it may improve subsequent severe exercise performance by 2-3%.

Warm-ups have also been shown to cause an increase in stride length and improve the range of motion in the horse’s stifle joint.

The relationship between pre-competitive riders’ arousal and perception of their horses’ temperament also plays an important role in performance.

The most important issue, they said, was how to optimize the warm-up intensity.

Discussing their findings, the study team said the correlations show that the intensity of warm-ups measured with the number of practice jumping efforts and the heights of the practice obstacles are associated with penalty points and final performance score.

“Opposite to athletes’ usual expectation, an intensive warm-up decreased the performance.

“The more frequently a competitor jumped during the warm-up, the more penalty points were obtained during the round in a competition, and the higher practice obstacles were jumped, the further the placing.”

The length of the warm-up did not affect the final results. “Hence, it can be suggested that at this level of competition, riders and, particularly, horses do not need an intensive warm-up.

“Exercise prior to a round should be actually warming up and not schooling, which is sometimes performed.

“It is difficult to state where the threshold is when the warm-up begins to reduce the performance,” they added.

They said the tendency toward a negative effect from an intensive warm-up found in the study was based on differentiated data and resulted from many factors.

The fact that women warmed up their horses longer than men and jumped lower obstacles seemed to be due to psychological differences between male and female riders, earlier research has suggested.

The study team comprised Anna Stachurska, Iwona Janczarek, Izabela Wilk, Katarzyna Jaworska, Michał Pluta and Ryszard Kolstrung.

Effect of warm-up intensity on horse-rider dyad’s performance in jumping
Anna Stachurska, Iwona Janczarek, Izabela Wilk, Katarzyna Jaworska, Michał Pluta and Ryszard Kolstrung.
Cienc. Rural vol.48 no.2 Santa Maria 2018 Epub Feb 08, 2018
http://dx.doi.org/10.1590/0103-8478cr20170638

The study, published under a Creative Commons License, can be read here

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