In this blog, I am going to look at how to solve the three main issues riders encounter when they are out hacking, namely;
- Spooking and Traffic
- Napping and not going forward
- Jogging and Excitability, particularly on the way home!
For some general hacking tips, I can highly recommend you check out my “Top Hacking Tips” vlog. This includes how to prepare and plan for a successful hacking experience.
Traffic training is one of the most important things to consider when preparing to hack your horse. By doing your homework in a safe environment first, you will greatly reduce the chance of things going wrong out on the roads. My traffic training system can be followed with any type of vehicle, from bicycles to cars, motorcycles to trucks and tractors. It is closely linked to my desensitisation process (check out desensitisation Module in F1 Respect and Control on the Ground).
- Follow. Start by following the vehicle. Horses are prey animals and flight from a predator coming towards them. If the vehicle is moving away from them, they are unlikely to view it as a predator.
- Circle. Stand your horse whilst the vehicle circles at 20m around you, before decreasing the size of the circle. When the vehicle stops, walk to it and make contact. The driver can give the horse a rub, and the horse can investigate/ sniff the vehicle if they want to.
- Squeeze. Ride your horse along a fence, whilst the vehicle comes towards and past you at a distance where your horse does not react. Do this on both sides. Decrease the distance between the horse and vehicle and change speeds, so your horse gets used to the vehicle going past them. Once they are confident with this, you can repeat this process with the vehicle “overtaking” the horse.
- Approach. Stand whilst the vehicle comes straight towards you. If your horse moves backwards, don’t hold them still but keep them straight. The vehicle continues to move towards the horse until the horse stops. When the horse has stopped, the driver needs to stop and give the horse a rub.
Once you are out on the roads, don’t forget that you are in control, and you can communicate to traffic. If your horse is young, or is unsure about a certain vehicle, ask them to stop. When I am hacking out, I often ride my horse into laybys and let them stand and settle. Therefore, when I encounter traffic, I can ride to the nearest layby and they are happy to stand quietly facing the vehicle as it goes past. And don’t forget to always thank considerate drivers and riders!
If you can maintain control and direction when your horse is spooking in a controlled environment, you will then have the tools to do so “in the real world”. When you are out and about with your horse, not only are you unable to control events, very often, you do not have the time or room to train your horse. It is more a case of getting past/ over/ through/ under the spooky object in as safe a manner as possible. Therefore, my top tip for riding spooky horses out hacking, is to pick somewhere past the object to focus on and keep riding forward to it. Use your left rein to guide them back if they swing to the right and vice versa. Try not to “block” your horse from going forward by using both reins at the same time.
Don’t forget that you can dismount and use your groundwork to negotiate an obstacle. However, this is where preparation comes in to play once again. There is no point in dismounting if you do not have the groundwork tools and techniques in place! I can highly recommend the Leading with a Whip Module for Your Horsemanship members to swot up on.
Napping and Not Going Forward
One of the most common problems I see is horses not wanting to leave the yard, or being very reluctant to go forward as they go away from home. This can lead to a napping habit, and is treated in a similar way as you would ride a horse that is baulking at going over an object.
If you feel your horse stopping, first make sure you are allowing the horse to travel forward by giving with your hands. You need to correct any changes of direction with one rein and using your legs to support. Use your legs to ask for forward and generate energy. Use as much as necessary but as little as possible in order to get a forward step. Once you get that forward step, stop inputting the energy with your legs, but keep a forward feel through your upper body. If your horse does not respond to your leg cue, you may need to back up with rhythmical taps with a whip just behind your leg.
When I have a particularly nappy horse, I sometimes open all the gates and trot them straight off the yard. I only let them come back to a walk once I feel them loosen up and go forward freely.
Jogging and Excitability
Although this is not necessarily dangerous behaviour, it can be very frustrating! It generally happens when you are on your way home, and if uncorrected, can lead to planting, napping and spinning. The first tip I can give is to try and ride in a loop, so you don’t have to turn towards home. If this isn’t possible, always try and circle around an object, such a tree or sign, when you turn towards home. You need to avoid your horse dropping their shoulder and turning on their hindquarters to go home. This action can lead to a habit of spinning and napping. The second tip is that if you fight against your horse to try and slow them, it will exacerbate their feeling of anxiety and make things worse. Sometimes, it’s best to “embrace the jog”!
If your horse does jog and get excited on their way home, I would set up the following exercise at home in a safe environment. It works on a bit of reverse psychology. You make your horse work a bit harder if they start jogging towards home, and let them relax when they are moving away from home (or if they remain in walk). If you can learn to manage it in this way, you will have more success when you get back on the roads.
- Ride your horse away from the stables with another horse. The accompanying horse can go carry on hacking out away from the yard, whilst you turn and ride your horse back to the stables.
- Ride with a loose rein. If your horse starts to jog, push him into the contact and change direction away from the stables, making him work hard whilst doing so.
- Once you are off in the new direction (away from the stables) relax and go back to a loose rein.
- Repeat as many times as necessary until you can go towards home on a loose rein.
This exercise differs to just using a one rein turn to stop them jogging. By squeezing your horse into a contact and making them work that little bit harder when you change direction, you are telling your horse that they will have to work hard if they jog, and they get to relax when they walk.