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.
A woman ended up in hospital with horrific facial injuries after her horse fell into a pothole on a country road.
Sherrie Hopwood was left with nasty cuts to her lips, nose and forehead after the fall near Daisy Nook Country Park in Oldham, Greater Manchester.
The 57-year-old had taken her horse Jay for a ride around the Daisy Nook bridal path when it stepped into the pothole on Crime Lane, which was full of water.
Businesswoman Sherrie said the horse's knees gave way and it fell, sending her crashing face first into the ground.
'I managed to force myself up to get up. I was very lucky because Jay didn't panic. If she had, she could have killed me.'
Three-time Olympic medallist and Surrey Hills resident Pippa Funnell launched a series of new hacking trails in the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty as part of its 60th birthday celebrations.
She said: "We are so lucky to live and work in the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, a wonderful asset and so close to London.
"The hills are perfect for keeping our horses fit and the variety of terrain keeps them mentally alert, which is important on the eventing circuit. I feel proud to live in such a beautiful part of the country."
Two years ago the Surrey Hills Board established an equestrian working group to promote horse riding opportunities in the Surrey Hills, and also to educate every user on the importance of sharing the landscape with care... READ MORE
Dragged across a road by her horse after he was spooked by mindless dirt bikers, teenager Megan Hill feels lucky to be alive.
What should have been a pleasant daily ride turned into a nightmare for the 17-year-old who ended up being dragged semi conscious behind horse Sox.
The teenager told how idiot bikers frightened the seven year old gelding which bolted, leaving Megan with a shattered ankle, bruised pelvis and other injuries.
“They don’t have any common sense. Before when I’ve been on that track, riders have been coming towards us.
“Some have no respect and come flying up from behind us.”
Mum, Kelly added: “We could understand if these riders didn’t see them, but they’ve come back at them again - it’s unbelievable.
“They need to think of the consequences of what could have happened.” READ MORE
There's no doubt that taking our horses out for a hack is not only beneficial to us as riders, but to our horses too. This year, doing just that so has also raised a massive £20,000 for animal welfare charity, Brooke.
#MyHackathon challenged equestrians to ride 100 miles in 100 days and raise £100 for the charity’s campaign, How The Other Horse Lives, which highlighted the differences between the lives of well-kept horses in the U.K, and those working in developing countries.
Some famous faces leant their support to the cause, including Charlotte Dujardin, Richard Waygood and Anthea Turner.
Over 400 people signed up for MyHackathon and the majority of sign ups came through Facebook, so Brooke also set up the Myhackathon Facebook group, where people could share stories and riding tips. Many people of different ages and skill levels took part.
Brooke’s Senior Community Fundraising Officer Louise Cooke said:
“I’m so thrilled with the success of MyHackathon.
"The public really got behind us and it was great to see how the campaign really brought people together from all over the country as they shared their stories with each other on social media."
"It’s fantastic that our UK horses are doing their bit to help the less fortunate working equines overseas and the huge amount of money they helped raise will support Brooke’s vital work."
Brooke plans to relaunch MyHackathon in 2018 to tie in with its new campaign, Every Horse Remembered, which highlights the struggle of horses past and present, remembering the war horses and mules of the First World War.
It always saddens me that even though there are a couple of busy livery yards very close to where I live, I hardly ever see any of the horses being hacked out. If the owners ride their horses at all, even if they are surrounded by beautiful countryside, they would rather do it in what they regard as the safer environment of the school. Unfortunately the area outside of the yard has become a forbidden zone of spooks and trolls where no rider fears to tread astride a horse!
But this is such a shame, as going out for a hack can be so beneficial to both horses and riders. So, if you're someone who is nervous about hacking out, then I'm not proposing the following is a solution to all problems, but simply suggest you give it a try….. ride out as if your horse isn't there and you're just going for a walk, on your own two legs! I know, it sounds stupid doesn't it, but actually I propose you choose the route you're thinking of riding, and actually walk it first, either on your own or with the dog.
The problem is that as humans we often anticipate problems. For instance, when riding we think, 'there's a tractor ahead, or there's a plastic bag flapping in the hedge, my horse won't like that', and guess what, because we communicate this thought to the horse through our breath and tension in our bodies, when he gets to that tractor, no he damn well doesn't like it! Our fear then becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy. I'm not saying of course that some horses aren't scared of tractors or flapping bags, but I can tell you one thing for certain, if you weren't on a horse you certainly wouldn't be scared of them. So, when you go for that walk notice everything about you; the pile of logs, that pheasant that suddenly gets up out of the grass, or the squirrel running up a tree. And notice how you react. The thing is, you don't, in fact your thoughts are more likely to be, 'ooh, aren't pheasants beautiful', or 'look at that cheeky little fella!.' So pay attention to how relaxed you feel out walking and then keep hold of that feeling. Then, when you go for your hack, try and ride like you're just going for that nice relaxing walk where you don't overreact to the merest rustle or look at things as potential problems. And, if your horse does react to something he sees, then recall that feeling of how you felt as a human walking on two legs and you'll find it much easier to convince your horse that it's ok. In fact when riding past a tractor on the road, if I know the farmer I will often stop to thank him and have a chat. Just being normal, and talking to someone in a friendly manner who has a vehicle that is unsettling your horse, makes you breathe, smiling makes you relax, and then the horse thinks, oh well, it's not quite so scary after all!
Anyway, give it a go and happy hacking!!