If you thought a hack was a great way to relax and bimble along without a care in the world – well, you’d be right…and wrong! Hacking is also a great place to practice some basic schooling without the formal ménage environment. Here are a few things you can do that will help improve your horse’s suppleness and obedience – and will also help you to have a productive hack into the bargain!
- Practice your halts
This is a very useful thing to be able to do well not just for the dressage arena but for hacking, too. Crossing roads and standing still for as long as you want the horse to will be of great benefit all round. Try to perform a walk to halt transition in a safe place. Aim to get him to stand still, and as squarely as possible, ideally for a count of five seconds then praise him and ask him to move on. You can then increase the amount of time he stands for you as you progress your training.
- Vary your canter speeds
It’s important that you can ask for controlled speeds at canter and can slow down or speed up as you wish rather than belt along flat out! Pick a quiet edge of a field or bridlepath where you can see well ahead and ask him to open up and then come back to you at your command. You can also practice your trot to canter transitions asking him to strike off 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.
- Practice your up and down transitions
A great way to do this is pick a long, straight road that’s quiet traffic wise and pick out some waypoint such as a tree, or a gap in a hedge, or a gate, at each point along the way, make a transition up or down as you wish. This will encourage your horse to respond to your leg and pay attention to your aids. Don’t let him slack though – he should be as attentive and responsive as he is in the school. You can also drop in a few halts as well – just to keep him on his toes and keep changing the pace to keep his attention!
In this movement your horse’s body should remain straight with a slight bend from the poll in the opposite direction to the one you are moving towards moving laterally on two tracks. This is great to do on a quiet lane or drive where you can see well ahead – just make sure there’s no traffic coming whilst you are on the wrong side of the road.
- Try a spot of shoulder-in
In shoulder-in your horse moves forward in a straight line, but is bent slightly around your inside leg, looking away from the direction he’s travelling. This is something you can practice as you hack along a quiet road, similar to the leg-yield.
- Make use of natural objects
Try jumping the odd log and ditch, or cross through fords to encourage your horse to get used to water – all these are very handy when you are faced with them on a cross-country course – put the work in now and it will definitely pay dividends later.
Finally – the key thing when out hacking and schooling is to make sure you remain aware of what’s going on around you and your horse. Don’t get so engrossed that you don’t notice that car coming up behind you, or that cyclist trying to get past.