Horses have been recorded to naturally travel around 8.1-28.3km per day; with recent studies documenting horses travelling for 12-hours to water and food resources (Hampson et al. 2010). Yes, our domestic horses need not travel 55km to the water bowl that sits in front of them, but, horses are designed to roam. They have slow fermenting hind guts to provide warmth and fuel for the continuous roughage they graze, and distances they travel. Horses have long, strong limb structures, to accommodate hours of continuous walking and running. Even with turnout, domestic horses only travel around 7.2km/day, compared to the documented 17.9km average of a feral horse (Hampson et al. 2010). Incorporating hacking into our horse’s routine would surely improve this figure?
Not only does hacking offer parallel to a horse’s natural lifestyle of roaming, it also mentally stimulates them. Feral horses observe various sceneries and terrains on a regular occurrence, so it is not to my surprise when I read studies which suggest that the domestic horse lacks mental stimulation (Horseman et al. 2016). Despite the lack of research, many riders remark on the positive mental impact which hacking makes on their horses. Many magazine, blog and official organisation sites are also advocates for hacking; reporting that the activity mentally ‘engages’, ‘boosts confidence’ and ‘pleases’ the horse (Moore, 2018; FEI, 2018).
With this in mind, I am always shocked at the amount of people who do not want to hack, purely because they ‘find it boring’, or ‘it doesn’t fit into the horse’s routine’. But seriously, who actually enjoys riding in circles 6-days per week? I don’t – and I can imagine, neither do our horses? I always look at the riders at the top of their sport, and see what routine they have their horses in, as these horses must be thriving in their routine to be so successful.
Carl Hester, for example. A dressage rider, with over national titles, and Olympic Team Gold winner, he must spend every day riding circles, right? To my surprise, Carl regularly incorporates hacking into the weekly routines of his horses, including his Olympic competitors! If hacking is good enough for top riders, it is good enough for us mere mortals, surely?!
Despite its benefits, it doesn’t come to my surprise that hacking is a declining activity. It seems that the roads are becoming faster, and more dangerous, every day. According to the BHS (2019), a survey reported 3,737 road incidents involving horses between November 2010 and March 2019 – that’s 415 accidents per year, and almost 4 accidents per day. It is frightening to think that only 1 in 10 incidents are reported to the BHS, so the reported numbers are likely to be higher; including the 315 horses killed as a result of road accidents.
I used to really enjoy hacking, but, nowadays, the roads frighten me. I am incredibly lucky that Phoebe is un-phased by traffic, but after having a traffic accident with my late horse, I am always so worried. I hear the car coming, and my heart stops for a second. I remember the accident that I had, which left my horse so frightened that we had to make the decision to euthanize him. The aforementioned BHS (2019) survey found that 73% of incidents were caused as a result of cars passing too close, and 31% were a result of cars passing too fast. When I had my accident, the car passed us too close; he didn’t wait, and he pushed past. Sound familiar?
We need to tackle the sides of hacking which are under-supported and underrated.
Seems simple doesn’t it? We need more road awareness to drivers, we need more bridleways (and make those currently available more accessible), and we need greater opportunity to avoid the roads. So, this is what we need, but how do we get it?
- Document your hacking! HatCams are a great way to slow drivers down (they soon go down a gear when they see you are recording!), and are also great in evidence should an incident occur;
- Share your experiences – good and bad. Entice other riders to hack and show us all how much you and your horse enjoy it! Equally, don’t forget to report any bad experiences. Traffic accidents/poor driving can be reported to the BHS or the Police (111), and badly kept bridleways can be reported to your local council.
- Approach your local farmers. You would be surprised that many are open to the idea of seasonal riding passes, especially if you can contribute to its use.
- Petitions? Should we start petitioning for more bridleways or changing use of footpaths? I have seen many have been attempted and rejected – but perhaps if worded correctly and strategized, we might stand a chance? Is this something you all could get on board with?
I would love to hear your thoughts and ideas. Please comment or share them with the equine community to help us combat the problems we face with hacking.