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Looking to buy a horse but feeling overwhelmed by the number of breeds and disciplines that they're best suited for? Let us help you to make an informed decision by breaking down one of the most popular, beginner-friendly disciplines that there is - Hacking!

What is Hacking?

Hacking is a horse riding discipline that describes a popular form of horse riding done for leisure and exercise, and is also used as a training method for young or inexperienced horses as well as riders. It generally involves riding over relatively short distances at a relaxed pace, and is often done on horseback trails or roads rather than in a showing arena. 

Hacking comes with many physical and mental benefits for both rider and horse, making it a popular choice for horseback riders of all levels. 


What are the benefits of hacking?

For your horse...
On the horse's end, hacking provides an opportunity to get some exercise without having to compete or perform at a high level. It's a great way for young or inexperienced horses to get used to being ridden, and can also help build up their confidence and stamina  and endurance abilities. Regularly taking your horse hacking will also allow you to see improvements in their cardiovascular fitness, as well as a physical change in terms of muscle tone and definition. 
Mentally, hacking can benefit your horse as it will reduce boredom they may feel, as well as promote and encourage confidence in themselves and their abilities to perform and understand what it is you are asking of them. In line with this, hacking is a great discipline for developing a stronger level of trust between horse and rider. 
It is encouraged that you vary your hacking routes if you are able, as this will ensure that your horse doesn't get bored during their hack, or create bad habits due to over familiarity with the route you are taking them on. Taking your horse hacking on a variety of surfaces will help them to further develop their muscle strength and suppleness, as well as improve coordination and balance, increasing their overall performance and muscle memory. Exploring carefully controlled road work and walking or trotting smoothly on these surfaces will strengthen your horses tendons and ligaments, while riding over varied terrain throughout the day may help to enhance balance and the level of concentration your horse experiences.
For the rider...
For riders, hacking is a great way to unwind and enjoy some time out in nature with your horse, including soaking up some wonderful scenery depending on your choice of route. It's a low-impact form of exercise, which means it is suitable for riders of all levels of fitness, and can be done as a gentle form of cardio exercise. Hacking is also a great opportunity to work on your horseback riding skills and techniques away from the pressures of a competition or showing spaces. Both yourself and your horse will be able to grow more at ease by getting more familiar with a variety of situations and locations, which can help your horse feel less scared about new encounters. 


Things to consider before you go Hacking

You should consider wearing the most appropriate and comfy clothing before you go on your journey. To guarantee that you are as safe as possible, include helmets and high-visibility clothing. It is well worth pre-planning your route to ensure that you are realistic about your journey and are fully prepared for potential obstacles that you may come across during your ride. 

It is advisable that you try to avoid hours with heavy traffic, as well as coming home in the dark if riding with less light makes you feel unsafe or as though you have less control. You may inspire yourself by establishing a goal for distance travelled as well as milestones to help you to recognise the miles you've covered on your journey. If you're hacking out alone, it can be a great failsafe to tell somebody you trust where you'll be, as well as take a mobile phone so that you are able to contact someone if you require to do so.


Things to consider during your hack

To help your horse's muscles warm up, start your ride in a controlled stroll. If you're hacking in a group, make sure you stay with the person ahead of you at a comfortable distance. Make sure you know the rules of the road or route you'll be taking so that you may ride safely. 

With any horse that becomes scared during your journey, be patient yet firm. Allow them to face what appears to worry them while still offering them gentle pats to calm their nerves. Before venturing into open country, remain vigilant and ensure that you are in control of your horse. Try riding uphill for the first time; your horse will be less likely to run away with you, and it will help to build muscle tone. After a heavy downpour, you should never canter on hard ground because the terrain will be slippery and it may be hazardous. Avoid allowing your horse to nibble on grass or shrubbery whilst out, as this can become a very difficult habit to break when not encouraged to stop early.
If hacking sounds like your kind of discipline, why not take a look at our 'Happy Hackers' category to discover hundreds of wonderful horses waiting to be discovered!
If you're looking for more hacking related content why not take a look at 'Safety and confidence whilst hacking' from blog contributor Dr Tracey Cole
Alix Burchell - Horsemart
Horsemart Content Team
Published on 14-07-2022
Alix is the marketing manager for Horsemart. She'll keep you up to date with all the latest industry news and provide you with helpful guides and advice.