Is hacking your horse a pleasurable or a painful experience?!
Do you hold on for dear life in fear of something spooking your horse? Worry about meeting certain vehicles, bikes or dogs? Struggle to get your horse off the yard? Does your horse behave differently hacking with and without company? Do you blanche at the thought of cantering across an open field?
These are all very common issues that my clients have. Most boil down to having a lack of confidence out hacking.
At our recent Hacking Camp, I tried to think of my top hacking tips. But, instead I came up with “PPE for Hacking” (very appropriate as we are coming out of Covid lockdown restrictions!).
P – Preparation, P – Planning, E – Experience
Preparation for Hacking
There are so many ways to prepare for a good hacking experience. Most importantly, you need to ensure that your cues and controls are in place. Does your horse step forward when you use your cue? Can you move your horse left and right? Can you step your horse sideways? It might sounds simple and obvious but these are key to your safety.
Next, can you control your horse if they get spooked and they go to flight? The one rein turn and stop are key. However, it is worth teaching these in a safe environment so you can slow them down and regain control by turning your horse off slightly to the side, rather than a whole circle. This is because you don’t always have the room or the footing to do a one rein stop.
Do you have a plan if you horse does get too excited? Or if you meet an obstacle that you are having trouble going past, over or under? You may not have the time, space or footing to safely negotiate these issues on the road. But, there is only point in getting off your horse if you have the groundwork training in place to solve the issue from the ground. I would really recommend going back over the leading with a whip module and lunging for control module before heading out for a hack.
Lastly, have you traffic trained your horse? Introduce your horse to cars, trucks, walkers and bicycles in a safe, controlled environment on your yard, arena or driveway wherever possible. If your horse remains worried about certain things, when you meet them on a hack, ask them to stop whilst you ride to the nearest lay-by, driveway or verge so you can give your horse room and let them face the vehicle.
Planning for Hacking
How much do you plan for your hack? if you want to head out of the yard with confidence, planning is key. I would recommend checking out a route on foot, on a bike or in a car first. Pick out lay-bys and big driveways that will give you opportunities to get off the road if you meet a big or “scary” vehicle. Take note of things that may cause issues, such as dogs in gardens, crossing main roads and roadworks.
I like a circular route, so your horse doesn’t realise he’s “heading home”. However, if you do need to go home the same way, never turn them on their hindquarters or in a tight circle. This will encourage your horse to start spinning and napping towards home. Instead, choose a triangular green, a tree or a road sign to ride around, or failing that, just ride a big semicircle to change direction!
Once you have chosen your route think about when you are going to go. Avoid rush hour, school pick ups and poor weather forecasts! Think about whether you are going to go alone or in company. If you are hacking out with another horse and rider, chose them wisely!
Always wear reflective clothing and take a phone with you. Other handy things to have with you are a medical card, hoof pick and schooling whip (to back up forward leg cue and for groundwork). There are some great apps out there that send messages to contacts in emergencies. If I am going for a longer hack off the roads, I may put a bridle rope on my horse and take a 12′ lead with me (or ride in split reins), so I can get off and diffuse situations with groundwork.
Now, it’s time to gain experience out hacking! Nothing is going to make your horse better out hacking than actually doing it! Have realistic expectations and start within your comfort zone with short, easy routes and a confident, steady hacking buddy. Ride alongside, in front and behind and as soon as you are ready, go out on your own. By mixing things up like this, your horse won’t become a horse “that only hacks in company”, or has to be in front”!
Once you are confidently hacking out on your own and with a friend, you can start going out in larger groups. You can also start planning some trips out to bridleway networks and sponsored rides. And don’t forget one of my Dad’s favourite sayings, “Wet saddle blankets make good horses!” In other words, give your horse enough work and miles on the clock to make them sweat a little under their saddle cloth, and you will have a settled horse that wants to work for you!