Hacking out on a lovely sunny day is one of the great joys of owning a horse, providing both you and your horse are confident that you can tackle any situation that might arise.
For some riders, the idea of hacking out is terrifying and equally it can prove too much for some horses, not knowing what might be lurking around the next corner.
Dressage rider and Robinson Animal Healthcare sponsored rider, Sophie Wells, includes hacking in the weekly routine of all her horses at least once or twice a week and firmly believes that breaking free from the arena is good for their brains and their bodies.
Sophie says: “Hacking gives them time outside of the arena and exposes them to wide open spaces and the natural environment where things are unpredictable and you can’t control what goes on around you, such as when a bird flies out.”
All the horses on Sophie’s yard hack alone and in company. She likes them to develop their confidence to go it alone and from a practical point; there isn’t always someone available to hack out with. They are all just as comfortable hacking in company as let’s face it, hacking with friends is much more fun!
Pinocchio, Sophie’s gold medal winning campaigner from London 2012, is now retired but is the perfect babysitter for accompanying a young horse or nervous rider out hacking.
For those that have lost their confidence out hacking, Sophie recommends going out with another sensible horse and capable rider, beginning with just a short hack around an enclosed field and gradually increasing the length of the ride and the distance from the security of the yard.
“Try moving from the arena to a more controlled environment first, such as a large paddock before hacking further afield which could involve riding on a road where you can’t guarantee people driving sensibly.”
For a competition horse there are many benefits to riding outside the safety of the arena. Getting them to relax in different environments helps them to adapt to different things that can happen on show day, as well as being ridden in changeable weather conditions. There is always much more to spook at on a windy day, than on a warm, summer day.
Sophie’s top tips for solving common hacking problems are:
- Build a strong relationship with your horse to help him trust you in a tricky situation.
- If he sees something scary, give him time to process his thoughts and don’t try to force him past.
- Ride out with a sensible horse and knowledgeable rider.
- When trying to build the confidence of a young horse, have someone walk with you on the ground.
- Build up slowly, going a little bit further on every ride.
- If your horse doesn’t like traffic, introduce vehicles in a controlled environment. Try moving farm equipment around them on the yard.
- Don’t forget to breathe! Slow deep breaths help to bring the heart rate down and relax the muscles of an anxious rider. Chatting to a riding companion also helps to relax your horse and take your mind of your own nerves.
- Could you Hack 1000 Miles? Find out more about our fun, free, achievable challenge here.
- 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 now.
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 now.