Do you think hacking is all about relaxing? Not necessarily! When taking your horse out for a ride, there are still plenty of chances to school and train him, to help maintain his suppleness and obedience. It is very important to have a well behaved horse on the roads of today, and it is far more enjoyable for you to have an alert and responsive ride. With the following suggestions, always assess the conditions and safety of your location; quiet country lanes and bridleways are ideal.
It is a necessity that your horse halts at a road junction immediately when asked, so simple ‘walk to halt transitions’ must be practised until perfect, so the horse can be completely relied upon to stand still. If a large vehicle needs to pass, and you need to be immobile on a grass verge, it is reassuring to know your ride will follow your instructions without hesitation. At selected safe places on your hack, ask him to stand still for approx 4 – 6 seconds, which can be increased in stages until it is second nature. As he learns, responds and improves, praise the horse generously with voice and pats.
Another good exercise in responsiveness is to be able to do walk/trot and trot/walk transitions. A planned sequence is a good idea, for instance ten walk strides, ten trot strides, alternating the two paces. Tailor your routine as you please, with any amount of strides, not necessarily the same in each gait, and alter them at your will so he does not learn to anticipate. A very good thing to learn is an ‘emergency stop’, where you are able to halt from trot as this could avoid a potentially tricky situation. In all paces, you can ask for collection, medium and extended, and again these can be used in sequences.
3. A technique for suppleness
A bonus to riding on the roads/bridleways is that you will usually have long straight lines to ride along, so use them to your advantage. Shoulder-in and leg-yielding are excellent for increasing the suppleness and flexibility of your horse. Shoulder-in is a lateral movement whereby your horse bends around your inside leg. The shoulders and front legs are brought off the straight line and the inside foreleg passes in front of the outside foreleg whilst the hind legs stay straight. On the roads, it is wise to bend his head to the right so that he is able to see any on-coming traffic, and you can bend to the left when off road. Leg-yielding is when the horse moves on two tracks, forwards and sideways. His body remains straight except for a bend at his poll away from the direction in which you are going. With leg-yielding you would need to start the exercise in the middle of a quiet road and leg-yield back to the edge, only doing this when there is absolutely no traffic. Off roads, it can be done in either direction at will. Practise both these exercises at home, in a school if you can, before attempting them whilst hacking.
4. Canter work
It is very important that your horse does his canter work at different places, thus not anticipating where he speeds up. Vary your hacks as much as possible to give you different options. A sequence of trot and canter, as explained earlier with walk and trot, is excellent and will keep him tuned to your aids. Teach your horse to strike off in canter on left or right lead as you choose. If he makes a mistake, return to trot and ask again using a little more inside bend of the direction you require.
5. Use natural obstacles
If you can include natural obstacles, such as ditches and logs wherever safe and possible, your horse will enjoy the experience. A big round straw bale is wonderful to work around; using it as the centrepiece of a circle it will help you judge if your horse is falling in or falling out. Try to keep an equal distance from it on the complete circle, whatever pace you are using. If you have access to a water splash, small ford or a safe pond to cross, teach him to use it. If you encounter difficulties here on your own, ask a friend with an experienced horse to give you a lead. Allow time and have plenty of patience. The horse will learn to trust that you will only ask him to perform tasks that are safe for him and you will build a sound partnership.
It is a joy to ride a safe horse with impeccable manners, and hacking can establish and maintain this goal. It is well worthwhile spending the time required to produce such a responsive and reliable animal!