In partnership with Equisafety

A spooky, tense horse can ruin the fun of a hack and quickly knock a rider’s confidence. Enjoying yourself, feeling confident and building a strong partnership with your horse or pony is at the core of #Hack1000Miles, so we’ve compiled these top our tips to help you both relax and enjoy clocking up the miles together.

1 Relax and breathe

It may sound simple, but the next time you ride out, make a conscious effort to relax — and breathe. If you’re tense, you can bet your horse will be too, as he’s tuned in to your every movement.

When you tense, your horse will sense there’s something to worry about and start looking for it. Instead, relax your shoulders, arms and legs and take some deep breaths — in through your nose and out through your mouth.

Make sure the out-breath is a few seconds longer than the in-breath. This is surprisingly effective, not least because it takes your attention off what is worrying you and focuses it on your breathing. So do give this super-easy but often underestimated confidence-boosting technique a try the next time you’re riding.

2 Sing your favourite song

Singing can help too — yes, really! Singing helps to release tension in your jaw and upper body, because your mouth has to move rather than staying tightly shut, gritting your teeth, which you probably do when you’re worried, even without realising it. So sing your favourite song to your heart’s content — you may notice your horse’s ears flicking backwards and forwards listening to you, showing that he or she is really in tune with what you’re doing, and it will instantly help you to feel happier and more confident too.

3 Watch your language

When we’re worried or feeling nervous, it’s easy for the little voice in our head to start using negative words and sentences. For example, if your horse starts to spook at a log and you start to think “I can’t do this”, you’re setting yourself up to fail. Train that little voice — and even better, say it out loud — to be positive and constructive. For example, “I can do this and we will get past the log OK”.

There are hypnotic phrases that can help keep anxiety at bay. Learn a few and use them if you find yourself struggling with confidence next time you’re riding.

4 Direct your gaze away from the spooky object

When you feel your horse starting to get spooky or jumpy, direct your own gaze as far away as possible from what it is he’s taking umbrage with, and stay relaxed as you do it.

Look into the far distance and imagine riding positively over the horizon towards that point. Don’t take your eyes off your marker. This will make you keep riding forwards and, more importantly, your horse will pick up on your body language and sense that you aren’t remotely interested in the scary monster, so maybe he shouldn’t be either.

5 Practise shoulder-in

Shoulder-in can be a really useful anti-spooking technique. Use it to help you get your horse past things he’s finding particularly scary. Turning his shoulders, neck and head away from the object makes it physically difficult for your horse to spin round and run. A soft and round outline will also make it easier for you to keep his attention and maintain control.

Shoulder-in is a particularly useful tool to have to hand when you’re riding on the road and your horse starts to spook at a plastic bag flapping in the hedge while traffic is passing, for example. By having control over when you place the front of your horse’s body and their back end, you’re more likely to be able to avoid them stepping into the traffic.

6 Check your chosen route before you ride it

If your horse is particularly spooky and you worry about what you may meet on a hack, why not walk or drive it first? This way you can suss out what your horse may look at, what the unknown quantities might be and decide up front how you’re going to manage the situation safely. Yes, it may be a bit time consuming, but it could make the difference between enjoying a hack and not. Having this information in your head before you leave the yard will help you to feel in control and you will gain confidence from that.

7 Invest time in building your confidence

If your horse’s spooking is knocking your confidence, then you’re on a downwards spiral as he will pick up on your wobbles, making him more nervous. It really is a vicious circle.

Taking steps to boost your confidence will really help you start to enjoy hacking again. Hacking out on a more reliable horse can serve as a reminder that hacking is fun, and lessons on a schoolmaster in an arena with a sympathetic instructor will work wonders for developing a secure seat and helping you take back control.

It’s easy for riders to say “I only hack”, but there are still plenty of useful skills to be learned and honed with correct training in the arena which will set you and your horse up to get the most out of every single mile you hack.

At the same time, why not get a “really don’t care, spook all you like” rider onboard your horse for a few hacks? This will help your horse gain confidence until you’re ready to take over again.

8 Hack out with a confident friend on a more experienced horse

An older, wiser horse placed alongside your own while on a hack (on the outside if you’re in traffic) will help your horse learn about the hazards of hacking while taking confidence from a steady pal. You’ll also learn how your horse reacts to certain sights, sounds and smells and how to manage their behaviour with the security of a wingman to help and advise you. Eventually, you and your horse should feel confident enough to take the lead rather than follow, and when you’re ready you can go it alone.

9 Get off

This may seem like strange advice, but if your horse is having a big tantrum about something they’ll be looking to you to take the lead — just like they would look to the leader of their herd to take them to safety if danger is approaching. If you can’t be that confident leader, don’t put yourself at risk of an accident or a total loss of confidence — dismount and lead them past instead.

There’s nothing wrong with giving your horse a bit of help from the ground. In fact, this can even make your horse trust you more. Just make sure it’s safe to dismount and that you have a way to get back on.

10 School first

Sometimes, a horse who hasn’t been ridden for a few days can feel unusually tense and spooky because they’re excited to get back out. A good tactic can be to work your horse before you head out to take the edge off their keenness. A short lunge or schooling session can do wonders (but bear in mind your horse’s fitness levels and don’t overdo it) and they are less likely to have the energy for spooking.

11 Do more hacking

It sounds obvious, but sometimes the problem is as simple as you don’t hack your horse out very often and because it’s so much fun, your horse is excited when you do. So hack a lot: the more you go out and show your horse the world, the calmer, more confident and relaxed they will get — and so will you. Ultimately, your goal is to enjoy it — that is why we own and ride horses, after all!

This content is brought to you in partnership with Equisafety, the performance equine reflective clothing brand and proud supporter of #Hack1000Miles.

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