Hacking should be a deeply relaxing, pleasurably activity to do with your horse. Enjoying the beautiful countryside in the company of your four-legged friend can be the perfect way to start or end your day, or indeed spend your whole weekend doing! It conjures up feelings of freedom and unity with your horse. It removes us from the trials of everyday life – the bills, your boss, your housework!
However, as with everything, hacking comes with a price. Other than the very fortunate amongst us, we will all invariably have to venture onto the roads in order to access the delights of off-road hacking. The problem with the roads is to do with speed. Everything has become faster, our phones, our computers, our cars…Barely a day goes by without some horror story in the press of accidents involving horses on the road. If we read them all we would never put a foot in the stirrup!
So what should we do? Never hack? Resign ourselves to the arena? The problem with this is, hacking is brilliant for both our own and our horses’ mental states, even top class competition yards regularly hack their horses to allow them a chance to unwind. You may not want to simply trot in a circle for 30 minutes after a whole day sat in the office. However if you take sensible precautions hacking can still be relaxing and rewarding.
Top five tips for hacking:
1: Be sensible. Riding is risky, but you can reduce the risk by making sensible decisions. Should you hack your 4 year old alone on a windy evening? – no, wait till the conditions are right and you have an older horse to go hacking with.
2: Make sure your horse will follow basic commands. Ensure your horse will stand when asked, will move easily forwards and will take a few steps sideways. If you are unsure how to teach your horse to move sideways ask your instructor. A few lateral steps can move you quickly from the middle of the road to the side.
3: Teach your horse to stand while you mount and dismount. If your horse is nappy, or scared, it can be safer to simply dismount and lead your horse past the obstacle. This is not allowing the horse to win, it is teaching the horse that you are to be trusted. Please make sure you can find somewhere safe to remount once you have passed the obstacle.
4: Stay alert. Do not use your mobile phone while riding. Do not ride on the buckle. Listen to the traffic, you can often hear how fast a car is coming long before you can see it. Wear hi-viz gear to ensure you are highly visible to other road users.
5: Be courteous. If someone slows down for you make the effort to thank them. A smile and a nod of the head is all it takes. If you don’t that car driver will remember that the next time they meet a horse and could be less likely to slow down. We all use the roads, we cannot expect courtesy from others if we do not behave accordingly.
Stay safe and make the most of the British Summer!