In partnership with Equisafety
There’s a lot you can encounter whilst out on a hack, so it’s best to be prepared for what may lay ahead. Whether you’re going for a gentle ride around a village, a quiet trek along a bridleway or enjoying a new route on a fun ride, chances are you’ll come across something that may challenge you and your horse.
Being prepared for the unexpected (as far as you can) will help both you and your horse to stay calm and feel confident, even when encountering something new. No horse is immune to a spook or two, especially if something startles them. By introducing them to new situations in a controlled way, you can improve your confidence so you don’t have to worry when you’re hacking out.
If you have an incident or near miss (with a vehicle or dog, for example) whilst hacking out, remember to report it to the BHS online or using the ‘Horse i’ app.
If you use the roads, you’ll be more than familiar with passing cars, lorries, vans and motorbikes. It can be daunting to share the road with other users, so preparing your horse will go a long way to feeling safer.
Try riding out with another horse who is confident around traffic and can act as a nanny if you or your horse are nervous. If you are really struggling, practise riding around parked cars on the yard first, and build up from here.
You could also ride in an arena with a vehicle in there or in the field close to a tractor. Exposing your horse to these sights and sounds in a controlled way such as this helps to build their confidence.
Some riders are understandably unnerved by almost silent electric vehicles, as these could catch your horse unaware and cause them to spook. However, new research has found that horses can detect the low-level noises produced by electric vehicles, and they can be aware of them before the rider.
Wearing as much high vis as you can to make you as visible as possible will give other road users more time to spot you and slow down.
If you’re tallying up 1,000 miles, it’s something you’ll likely come across at one point or another: gates. Stay on or get off? It’s a great debate amongst horse riders. Either way, the best thing to do is practise before you leave the yard so you know you’ll be safe either way.
If you plan to dismount, be sure you can remount afterwards or, if necessary, get on from the ground or using a bank as mounting block.
If you plan to open and close gates whilst still on board, make sure you and your horse are both confident at home. Teach your horse to turn-on-the-forehand, as this is the manoeuvre you’ll be asking him to perform as you open and close the gate.
For more help, check out our guide to opening and closing gates.
We’e all been there — the ill-timed car horn, or the loud petrol mower on the other side of the hedge that your horse knows is an equine-eating monster waiting to grab him. It can be unsettling, and while you can’t prevent every spook from sudden noises, you can desensitise him to make him less likely to turn tail and run.
At home, try introducing your horse to new sounds in a safe situation. For example, you could find a recording online of a leaf blower or power washer, and play that while he eats his dinner. Soon enough, he should become accustomed to the sound.
If you’re ready to step it up a notch, try playing different recordings during other jobs, like when you groom or are schooling when he’s used to it. If you have a friend to help and think your horse is ready, you could even try this exercise from Eloise Mayhead, stable manager at the City of London’s Mounted Branch.
The next stage is to introduce your horse to the actual sounds in their ‘safe place’. This could be a car horn, mower starting, or any other sound.
Do this whilst he eats and then gradually build up to riding. This might not stop him from jumping when there’s a sudden noise — don’t we all? — but it’ll help him keep his cool after the initial spook.