Hacking is the time you’re supposed to be at your most relaxed, enjoying moments with your horse. But it’s not unusual for riders to be fearful of leaving the arena. Trainer and eventer Tanya Bridgeman has some tips to make your time out of the arena as fun and carefree as it should be.

There’s all sorts you might encounter in the big wide world and lots of scenarios for you (and your horse) to deal with, so it’s understandable that some riders fear leaving the security blanket of fences or walls.

But this fear can affect the way you ride. You may become tense, shorten your reins, grip with your knees, tip forward and, without meaning to, send a message to your horse that there’s a reason for everyone to be afraid – and then he’ll be on the lookout too.

“There’s only so much speed your horse can get up in a 20x40m arena, and if things do get a bit tricky, it’s relatively easy to deal with,” says Tanya. “When riding out, though, much of what happens is out of your control and this is the scary bit.”

There’s plenty you can do to nip any fear firmly in the bud, though.

1. Take small steps

Try boxing your horse to a venue nearby for a training session in a different outdoor arena. Then try working in a small paddock at home. Think of it as a progression of experiences – adding one new thing in, letting your horse cope with that, then giving him something else to think about.

2. Plan ahead

If you or your horse are nervous, going out with other sensible and friendly horses (and riders!) can be a great confidence boost. Think about your route too, if you can, try to avoid busier times on the roads. If you ride near a railway or have to cross a railway bridge, check train times. If your horse is nervous of dogs, avoid times when lots of dog walkers tend to be about.

3. Still in school

Treat your initial hacks as if you’re still in the school to keep your horse focused and listening. Ride transitions, shoulder-in, leg-yield, go from walk to halt to walk and so on. Bending to the inside then the outside before going straight is a very useful exercise if you need to get past something your horse is worrying about.

4. Dealing with distractions

Spook-proofing at home during the winter is a great way to make your horse more bomb proof when hacking. Of course horses can still lose focus at times and it pays to be ready for this. A neck strap can give a bit of extra security.

5. From safety comes confidence

If wearing a body protector helps you relax and ride more effectively, then wear one. Don’t let others pressurise you into anything different. High vis is also vital.

Meet the expert: Tanya Bridgeman BHSII is an eventer, dressage judge and produces young event horses. She coaches riders across the disciplines. 

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