Hacking – for happy and healthy horses!
As the days get longer and the sun finally starts to make an appearance, it feels like we are finally moving away from the dark days of winter! One of the things that excites me the most about keeping horses is the long summer evenings spent riding across the countryside. Many people often fail to understand the benefits of hacking, for both horse and rider.
Hacking out need not be just for pleasure - incorporated thoughtfully into a strict training regime, hacking can be physiologically and psychologically beneficial for both horse and rider.
When you are next out hacking, think about incorporating some basic schooling exercises within your ride. Leg yielding across the path or to avoid objects is a really good way of improving the horse’s suppleness and response to the rider’s aids. For the young or disobedient horse, where safe to do so, try asking them to wait at road crossings until you are ready to proceed. It only has to be a few seconds to begin with and then gradually build up to asking them to halt for a little longer. It is these type of exercises which will help to improve the obedience and submission which is needed when riding a dressage test.
Provided care is taken, the variation in ground type and gradient is a brilliant form of fitness training. Tree roots and a slight camber to the ground act as natural proprioception training. Research suggests altering the surfaces every 3-6 meters stimulates the firing of the sensory and proprioceptive fibers to a greater degree than on an unchanging surface (Paulekas and Haussler, 2009).
Whatever age or type of horse, it would benefit from a decent hack from time to time. For the dressage horse, getting them out of the arenas four walls and offering them some variety within their work tends to “freshen them up”, meaning an improved attitude to work within the next training session.
Additionally, hill work is an excellent way to build stamina and develop the horse’s muscles, especially the essential back, abdominal and hind limb muscles (Clayton, 1991). It is these muscles which are vital for the power and collection demanded of the horse within modern disciplines such as dressage.
Hacking the young horse within a controlled environment is absolutely essential, offering the opportunity for the horse to “see the world” as such – experiencing sights and sounds out of their everyday environment.
And finally for the rider, hacking can offer the opportunity to relax and unwind after a long or stressful day. For us students here at Writtle College we are lucky enough to be able to hack around the perimeter of the College’s land and down to the halls of residence! This offers the opportunity to take a break from our studies, and then go back to it after with a fresh mind and clear head.
Hacking can also be used alongside other exercise. Many top riders use a short hack as a way of warming up or cooling the horse down thoroughly after a schooling session. It is vital the horse is cooled down correctly after being worked hard as failure to do so could result in; a buildup of harmful toxins within the muscle groups, an increase in the prevalence of injury and an increased risk of azoturia.
The moral of the story is to grab your reflectives and get out and about and enjoy the countryside this summer – it will benefit both you and your horse!
Third year BSc (Hons) Equine Studies and Business Management at Writtle College
Clayton, H. M. (1991). Conditioning Sports Horses. Mason: Sports Horse Publications.
Paulekas, R. and Haussler, K., (2009), ‘Principles and Practice of Therapeutic Exercise for Horses’, Clinical Techniques, 29, (12), P870-893.