Are nerves preventing you leaving the yard with your horse — or perhaps you're not enjoying hacking as much as you should be? All of us at Your Horse HQ love to hack (so much so that we've relaunched our #hack1000miles challenge for a second year), but how much fun you have exploring the local countryside on horseback is intrinsically linked to feeling confident.
Read on for 14 tips that will help you find your way...
1. Plot your route and split it into sections
Thinking of your route in sections has several benefits. Firstly, it breaks it into manageable chunks and gives you milestones to aim for as you ride.
Secondly, you always have an idea of how far you’ve ridden, plus you know how far is left to go. You’re effectively ticking sections off the list as you go so you're always making progress.
2. Go around in a circle
Pick a route that goes around in a loop, so you don’t have to turn around to come home. This may not be possible every day so, when it’s not, avoid turning around in the same place as before. This helps avoid your horse learning to nap.
3. Hack with a friend
They say two’s company and it’s true. You and your horse will gain confidence from an experienced hacking buddy.
It’s perfect practice ahead of going out alone, especially if your horse is new to you, young, inexperienced or he’s been out of work. Even just having someone with you on a bike or on foot will be a great support.
4. Ask a more experienced rider to hack your horse out first
Horses look to us to be their leader and they gain confidence and trust from that. If you’re feeling uneasy, it’s likely your horse will sense that and become nervous too.
Turn to someone you know who will confidently take your horse out for a hack. It could be a friend, family member, instructor — anyone you know well and can trust.
5. Avoid rush hour
If you feel unnerved by traffic but you can’t avoid going on the road, pick the time of day you ride wisely.
Avoid rush hour in the mornings and evenings, and make sure you have enough daylight to get home without having to rush.
Understanding road signs, hand signals and knowing how to communicate with traffic will ease your mind too. Check out the British Horse Society's Riding & Road Safety test.
6. Fresh horse? Lunge him first
Save yourself the risk of being bucked off or riding a spooking horse on the road by lungeing before you get on.
This is a good way to take the edge of any eagerness. It means you’ll spend less time worrying about what he might do and more time focusing on where you’re going and enjoying yourself.
7. Set yourself an achievable goal
Sign up to #hack1000miles at hack1000miles.co.uk. Everyone can do it, including you and in your own time. It gives your hacking purpose, which is great motivation to get out riding.
8. Vary your route
Avoid riding the same way every day — mix it up as much as you can. If hacking is repetitive, your horse will anticipate where you’re going and predict when he’s coming home, possibly leading to napping and other annoying behaviour.
9. Patience and familiarity are key
If it’s your horse who lacks confident on the road, find ways to expose him to traffic in a safe area first. Tractors or quad bikes passing him at the yard when he’s on the way to or from his field, or children playing on their bicycles, can work wonders.
If you have space, following a tractor or other large vehicle around an arena or field is a great way to help your horse learn there’s nothing to be afraid of.
Renowned equine behaviourist Jason Webb of Yourhorsemanship.com explains this effective technique in his latest DVD. Get it free with the June issue of Your Horse magazine (on sale 3 May).
10. Vary the pace
Don’t just walk out hacking, trot and canter where the terrain allows it too. This keeps it interesting for you and your horse — plus it’s great for their fitness. If you’re brave enough to tackle some small natural logs, ditches and banks — go for it!
Aim to walk, trot and canter in different places too. Otherwise you may find yourself leaping into canter from walk, despite not asking for it, because your horse it expects it to happen.
11. Choose your pace wisely
The first and last part of your hack should be for warming up and cooling your horse’s muscles, much like you would if you were schooling.
If your horse has a tendency to hang for home or nap, try to do your faster work heading away from home and mostly walk on the way back.
12. Tell someone where you’re going and how long you’ll be
This is your safety net. It means someone is aware where you are and can come looking for you if you’re a lot longer than expected. This will help put your mind at rest.
13. Make sure your mobile is fully charged
Don’t risk running out of battery, so you can always contact someone if you need to.
14. Attach tags to your horse’s saddle bridle
This should show your mobile number and an emergency contact name and number. If there’s room, include the name and postcode of your yard too.
Have this information easy find on you as well. Then if you are separated, help can be sought.
Consider turning off the security code on your mobile phone while hacking too, just in case someone needs to dial out on it in an emergency. Make sure your ‘In Case of Emergency’ (ICE) number is at the top of your contacts list.
Don’t miss the latest issue of Your Horse Magazine, jam-packed with training and veterinary advice, horse-care tips and the latest equestrian products available on shop shelves, on sale now. Find out what’s in the latest issue here.