Hacking out can be a joy for riders. There’s nothing like the feeling when you ride out down a bridle path, whatever the weather, the sound of the birds and the horse hooves, timeless.
It also contributes to the well-being of your horse, bringing fitness, education, and happiness. Horses that go riding hack out get to see different things every day and become more confident at coping with distractions.
A horse that has learned to deal with billowing plastic bags and can stay calm in traffic also has a greater resale value should you need to move on. A calm horse is always going to be valuable.
But with an excitable horse and a change in the air, a quiet hack can become anything but calm. With a bit of thought, worries can be minimized.
Hacking out with confidence
Are you ready to ride out?
Before you even begin to think about hacking out, it’s important to have worked on developing a bond with your horse. Horse riding confidence comes in part from knowing your horse well from the ground, and in small enclosed spaces like a school, before you even try to hack out.
When you are ready, take time before you go on a hack to find out what sort of mood your horse is in – it might save you a lot of grief in the end. Don’t be in too much of a hurry – time spent getting to know your horse is never wasted time. Put your horse on a lunge line or a rope in the school and see how she moves. Try a small jump – does she buck? A buck in the school before you go might save you one later while when you ride out.
That said, there are ways to minimize the risk and stay safe when on a hack.
On the track or bridle path
Horses tend to be calmer riding out in groups, or at least in pairs. If your horse is excitable, ride out with a friend with a reliable horse. The calm horse rides on the left, and if the nervous horse gets ahead, make small checks on the rein, taking then releasing. Pulling on the horses mouth might encourage him to run away, so concentrate on small checks. If he still barges ahead, circle round and brings him back beside the other horse. While hacking out in a group is often good for horses and riders, don’t feel pressured to do things you don’t feel ready for. If you are nervous about riding out, find someone to ride with who is calm and gives you confidence, and doesn’t push you into situations you aren’t happy with.
On the road
This is all fine on a bridle path or track, but on the road things are different. Being aware of traffic is essential. Whatever the terrain, haking out is no time for relaxed riding. Always expect the unexpected. Make sure you can be seen by wearing reflective clothing, and always give clear signals to other road users.
It is important to always acknowledge considerate drivers, showing how much you appreciate them. If you can’t take a hand off the reins to wave, always nod and smile so the next horse and rider the driver meets get similar consideration.
Accustomise young and green horses to the sounds and experiences of the livery yard before any road work. Take them near tractors, lorries, anything unusual. And then start with quiet roads. As with bridle paths and tracks, ride in pairs, with an older reliable horse if yours is inexperienced. Of course, where you hack out will always depend on where you stable your horse, but think about hiring a horsebox and go with a friend for a hack somewhere else – somewhere quiet and interesting for you and your horse like a beach or a forest, or maybe a track attached to an equestrian center that you can hire out. Trying different environments and experiences will increase your enjoyment as well as being a treat for your horse.
Chill – stay calm!
If you can, stay calm. Much easier said than done, I know. Make sure you know what it feels like to be calm riding a horse is by using the school or an enclosed field till you’re confident. If your horse becomes excitable, check your own feelings. Are you calm riding in the school, or is it just out on a hack that you become anxious? If you begin to feel tense while out hacking, concentrate on your breathing. Make sure you don’t hold your breath when stressed and always breathe out as far as you can. People often say ‘take a big breath’, but this might make you worse. It’s breathing out, all the way, that’s calming. It also tends to make your horse slow down or stop, especially if it’s something you’ve practiced before you head out on the trail.
Sounds easy – but is it?