Having a happy, fit and confident horse is every rider’s dream. So how can you help get your horse to this point? Hacking and off-road riding are great places to start. Variety truly is the spice of life, so taking time out of the school to introduce your horse to different sights and sounds will do them the world of good.
Hacking is a great all-around activity for horses, covering different terrains, gradients and seeing a host of different things while out and about. All these things will help them become more confident and will improve their outlook on life, so just how often should you hack out and how can you stay safe on the roads?
How often should I hack my horse?
There is no right or wrong answer to this and it is totally up to the individual and the horse. Some horses don’t like hacking and find it too much – and that’s OK too. It’s important to listen to your horse and its needs. For horses that flourish on variety, try to alternate schooling days with hacking days.
If you’re trying to get your horse fit, a 30-minute hack at different paces and over different terrains will do more for them than 30 minutes in the arena. And if you think they’ll forget their arena craft while out hacking, think again.
Straightness, balance and engagement can all be worked on while out and about. Plus, if you have a horse that can be lazy in the school, hacking out with others should encourage them to go forward to keep up with its pals. Many horses are often more awake on a hack which can make it perfect for practising bending, leg yielding or working in an outline, especially if they often lack the motivation in the school.
Now it’s also worth mentioning here, we’re not all blessed with miles of off-road riding and many of us must contend with busy roads while riding, which brings us onto an important aspect of hacking – staying safe on the roads.
How can I stay safe riding on roads?
- Wear a Hi-Viz vest or jacket. Wearing Hi-Viz gives other roads users extra time to see you so wearing a Hi-Viz vest or jacket is a great place to start. In the colder months, it’s also worth putting a reflective blanket on your horse to make sure you stand out as much as possible.
- Always tell someone where you’re going and roughly how long you will be. It can be someone at the yard or a quick text message to your friend.
- Always take a mobile phone with you, and use the Harry Hall Riding App SafeRide feature. With SafeRide, if you fall off while riding, you’re not alone. This feature detects falls and lets nominated loved ones know where you are by sending your location via text message.
- Consider the weather. If it’s windy and raining heavily, consider whether you really need to hack out or whether a day in the school, or a day off is the safest course of action. Horses can become spookier in the wind and rain reduces visibility for other roads users – sometimes a duvet day for all concerned is the best thing to do.
Can I trot on the roads?
Hacking keeps your horse from becoming sour and switched off in his work, so getting out and about can help to keep your horse keen to work. On top of that, there are soundness benefits to be had too.
By switching up the terrain, pace, and type of riding you do, you are also developing different soft tissues and muscles, which can help to prevent injuries through strain and overuse.
Hacking, road work and off-road riding are great for fitness work. If your horse has had some time off and needs to build back up again there is no better way to get them fit. As a general rule, we recommend walking on hard roads for around 6 weeks before you introduce any trot work. This will help their tendons and ligaments harden up to the terrain and prepare them for harder work in the coming months. If the foundations are there and your horse has built up stamina on the roads trotting on different terrains will help increase their fitness.
If you have any concerns about trotting your horse on the road, speak to your vet for advice.
Working horses uphill
Walking uphill is a great exercise to increase muscle tone and strength and it will help to increase your horse’s cardiovascular fitness too. Just think how tiring it is to run on an incline on the treadmill! Asking your horse to go up hills in walk encourages them to engage their hindquarters and step underneath themselves. You'll also start to see the back muscles and top-line developing as the horse engages their core while going uphill.
What goes up must come down. Going down hills is also great for the horse as it teaches them how to balance. If your horse is new to downhill gradients, start on gentle slopes rather than on steep gradients and start in walk, building up to trot and canter when you both feel confident enough.
Find out why Badminton winner and international event rider Piggy March enjoys taking her horse's off-road riding.
Is hacking good for young horses?
We’re big fans of hacking for young horses, in short, it helps them see the world! A top tip is to find an experienced hacking partner for them to go out with, an older horse who knows the ropes and will help guide them past scary objects or monsters in bushes. Here’s why we’re big fans of hacking for young horses:
- It builds up their confidence and can be a great way to improve their way of going – they learn to be more forward and move off in a straight line.
- Hacking teaches young horses how to cross different types of terrain, pop little ditches, go through narrow gateways – all good skills when it comes to tackling cross country courses later in their career.
- Riding over different terrain will help them find their natural balance.
- Hacking for most riders is a relaxing time to enjoy their horse and stop worrying about everything else in the world. With a youngster, hacking is a great opportunity to build a partnership without any pressure.
Share your hacking photos with us on the Harry Hall One Club Facebook Group.
Want to take your horse on a hacking holiday?
Cholsey Farm Riding is based in the beautiful Chilterns, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). It is the perfect location for you to enjoy hacking your own horse around their farm, along beautiful bridleways and quiet country lanes. They have over 15 different circular rides direct from their farm, wind through lovely villages, through stunning scenery and past country pubs or cafe's where you might want to stop for a coffee or lunch. Or simply ride around the wide grass margins on our farm.