There's nothing that beats going out for a hack with my horse providing us both with the opportunity to relax to enjoy the beautiful Cotswolds where we live. However, going for a hack can provide a lot more benefits than simple relaxation: it can also be a great way for you both to practice and test new skills and further your partnership. Although time in the school is obviously very important, going for a hack can be just as beneficial and educational and there are added health benefits.
• Riding shouldn't be all work and no play! Although having a lesson and schooling your horse regularly is a major key to success, there is no doubt that going round and round in circles in a school can get a little bit repetitive. If you’re starting to feel a bit bored of being in the same place, doing the same exercises over and over again, chances are your horse is feeling exactly the same! Preventing your horse from becoming bored is crucial because boredom, as we know, can lead to behavioural problems.
• Hacking can also be a great opportunity to further your horse’s education, especially with a youngster. Going out for a ride around your local area is the perfect opportunity to introduce your horse to spooky objects such as roadworks, cars, and sudden noises, all of which builds confidence and is key preparation for taking your horse out to new environments such as shows.
• It helps build trust. For instance, riding out in an open field can be a good opportunity to test whether you truly have control of your horse. There is nothing more exhilarating than galloping through an open field, but it's important to know you have brakes and your horse is listening to what you say! Riding out in the open can therefore be a great way to test your transitions and your control, helping your horse to learn when to go forward, and in turn, when to come back to you. It is important however that with a young or new horse you build up to this slowly, first trotting, then cantering, building up the speed carefully and gradually to ensure that you have the control you need. In time, this can be perfect practice for cross country riding or hunting, making sure your horse listens to you and does not simply gallop around everywhere like a Thelwell Pony!
• Going on a hack provides you with the chance to practice new skills you have learnt in the school under different, often distracting conditions. For example, where it is safe, you could practice leg yielding from one side of the track to the other and shoulder-in is really useful to combat shying so that you can pass scary objects safely. You can even practice turn on the forehand to open and close gates. And standing still to let a vehicle pass is definitely a skill worth having.
• Hacking out helps to keep your horse safe and sound. Riding on different surfaces helps develop your horse's muscles and bones properly as does riding up and down hills. It also makes your horse think and know where his feet are, something he may not get from being on the same flat surface in a school. Riding on slippery surfaces, on uneven ground and up and down inclines is definitely a good way to help improve your horse's balance, and yours too.
Ultimately, there is nothing better than enjoying the outdoors with your horse, and after a busy day at school or work, going for a hack is guaranteed to make everything seem better!
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