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.
Let’s talk about expectations!
There have been many days which a hack, a show ring experience, a dressage test (the list is endless) has not gone quite to plan. Sometimes, life doesn’t go as planned! The horse spooked, you forgot test, the weather was bad, and so on. That’s fine, we should take the positives and move on.
However, sometimes, moving on is quite difficult to do! I have, before, been disappointed with myself for not getting a Charlotte Dujardin score, in my Prelim test, even though I forgot my test half way around. This is not productive. I thought to myself, “I need to manage my expectations! I am only human. So, before I talk about our wonderful horses, just bear in mind that, alike your four-legged friend, you can only do your best. Some days are better than others, that’s just life!
Onto the most important bit, in my opinion! Our horses. I want us to manage our expectations of our , not just ourselves. Again, we have such high expectations of our horses. We expect them to do the most difficult and challenging things for us, and seldom stop to think why they are doing it. We need to remember that horses are NOT machines! They are animals with their own ‘culture’ – they have totally different natural behaviours than most domestic animals which we are accustomed to. We must consider this, in all aspects of handling, riding, and owning horses. We need to think about what we are asking of them, and we need to think why they may respond in certain ways.
My point is, it is our decision to domesticate horses, not theirs. It is therefore, our responsibility to manage our expectations of them. I have created list of a few scenarios which I think we should consider next time we feel frustrated or annoyed with our horses:
Reality: Horses are herd animals. They rely on each other for safety and comfort. Taking them away from their herd, for a hack or a run around the XC phase, distorts their herd/hierarchical mentality and, often, induces stress and confusion.
Reality: Horses are prey animals. They are built with lengthy and strong limbs to enable them to RUN. This is how they escape predation. This is how they survive. Shying at a crisp packet may be a little OTT in some cases, but it is good to remember where this instinct comes from. It is there for a reason.
Reality: So, this is a little more complicated. Aside from horses with actual anxiety issues, caused by trauma, traumatic weaning etc. (a longer topic for another day!), most horses DO pair bond. Again, this is their instinct. Being herd animals, they rely on each other for protection, warning of predators and for herd behaviours. Pair bonding and herd bonding is vital for hierarchical relationships and the success of their functioning herd.
behave in these ways for genuine reasons.
Reality: As aforementioned, horses are animals, not machines. As most of us are frightened of spiders, most horses are frightened of clippers! This is not because the arachnid and clipper device share ‘scary’ qualities, it is a result of how differently we and the horse are ‘conditioned’. A bit of psychology for you, but in short terms, it is just how we approach things and how our cultures/upbringings affect our fears. You can’t really compare us to a horse, likewise, you can’t really compare fears.
Since when have we stopped helping each other? When has it been easier to pull someone down, than build them up? I feel that this applies in everyday life and situations, but today, I am going to focus on the equine industry.
I won’t bore you with statistics or facts, but it is important to consider the sheer volume of abhorrence and bullying which occurs both online and in-life within the industry. Whether this is some troll commenting ‘you ride awfully’ on an Instagram post, or a livery-yard acquaintance telling you that you aren’t looking after your horse properly. Everyone has an opinion, and someone always ‘knows better’. I have certainly been victim of this – I am sure you have, too? There have been so many times when I have sat and cried in the corner of my stable, or have been too nervous to get out of my car at the livery yard, because of things that other people have said to or about me.
I am not going to profess that this blog will help anyone ‘cope’ with these situations, as there really is nothing worse than someone else making you feel worthless as a result of their own insecurities or mindset. All that I can offer you, is that you know yourself and your horse, truly, and you must weigh up how much the opinions of those matter to you.
What I will do, however, is target this post to everyone. Anyone who has upset another, or has been upset by someone. Anyone who has said or thought something hurtful, or has been on the receiving end of it. I am not going to shame anyone, because everyone can change. Everyone makes mistakes - that is how we learn.
So, to learn from these mistakes, I follow these three simple steps…
1. Ask yourself, do I need support?
You’ve got to start somewhere. Jealousy and hurtful comments towards other people usually stems from one’s own lack in self-confidence. I have certainly been in this position – but I know that this comes from my own insecurities. I know that people who have been hurtful to me have done so for the same reason.
So, let’s turn this around. Why not ask the person whom you are jealous of, to help you? Ask them how they jump 1.20m? Ask them to show you.
Think to yourself, how can I turn this around to be productive, not counterproductive? How can this thought help me and other people, not the opposite? – Because, let’s face it, not only do these thoughts and comments hurt those to whom they are directed, but they hurt you, too. Be grateful for the things you do, the people and horses you have in your life, and the achievements you have. Build on them!
2. Ask your friends, do they need support?
Honestly, what have you got to lose? Be nice! Although this should be altruistic, you will get something back from it; whether this is a good feeling inside, the joy of seeing someone else happy, or returned support.
You can’t give someone a leg up with one hand; literally and theoretically. You have to mean it, and be invested. That means, in terms of the aforementioned analogy, you have got to believe what you are saying! If you don’t believe what you are saying, neither will anyone else.
Think about what you say and the way you say it. I am not professing that we must rehearse every line in our head before speaking, but the phrase ‘think before you speak’ comes to mind. People do have feelings, especially about their ‘pride and joy’ horses. Support the people who surround you, whether these are friends, livery yard associates, other riders at a show - make them feel how you would want to feel. So what, some people only jump 50cm? So what, the successful dressage horse in the box next to you is ‘just a cob’? Does this really affect you? No. Does this affect your horse? No.
3. Look at the bigger picture.
We never know the full story. We can never assume it. All we can do is be approachable and friendly, and give our support to those who need it.
If we all just made a promise to say at least one nice thing to another rider, even just once in a day, I believe that it would make a huge difference. Think of all of the happiness that we would be spreading. I think our horses would appreciate it – we are of much more use to them as happy owners than those sat crying in the corner of the stable!
We need to cheer each other on.
Does my horse ‘listen’ to me?
Whilst horses cannot ‘talk’, or speak our language, it is suggested that they are able to understand many of our communicative techniques. Wathan et al (2016) found that horses are able to analyse facial expression of conspecifics, to gain social information. More recently, Proops et al (2018) found evidence of this analysis being used by horses to gain information on heterospecifics; in particular, humans. This study suggests that horses remember human emotional expressions, and associate the memory to the specific face from which they saw it displayed.
One of the most distressing things I that had read when researching this topic is how negative facial stimuli affects horses. Smith et al (2016) measured stress parameters against photographic stimuli; finding increased heart rate to be amongst the most expressed when negative stimuli, such as a frowning face, is presented. Perhaps bear this is mind when you are around your horse?
So… horses are great listeners. But do we listen to them?
In light of this, another phrase comes to my mind… a Winnie-the-Pooh (A. A Milne) quote, of course.
This quote makes me feel so sad, because it really is so true. While horses clearly ‘listen’ to us, we don’t always listen back. They spend time to monitor our emotions, yet do we do the same?
The reason that I am bringing this quote up is because this is something I held onto when I lost Rakker. I think it is easy for us, as owners, to stop paying attention. I don’t mean ignore your horse - I mean, get so wrapped up in worry and paranoia that you forget to ‘listen’ to them. I hold my hand up and admit this. Having a sick horse is not easy, and becoming over-focused on keeping them ‘well’ can cloud communication between you both.
When I had the decision to make, I thought about this quote. I thought “What is Rakker saying?” “What does he want me to do?”
Sadly, a genie didn’t fly out of a lamp at this point and give Rakker the magical powers of speech. Instead, I realised that I was being so selfish. I thought I wanted him alive because I would miss him too much if he went. I didn’t stop to think about what he wanted – I wasn’t listening to him.
By ‘listening’ to Rakker, I made my decision, and, as you’ll know, it was his anniversary was on Tuesday. I let Rakker sleep on the 2nd July 2018. I decided to take him to my local vets practice as he had been there many times before – he expected needles and vets. I didn’t want to stress him out by doing it at home, as he was always such an anxious horse when his home routine was disturbed. My vet, who Rakker knew well and trusted, sat with me, as we let him sleep. Rakker’s head was in my arms, as my tears rolled down his cheek. I still get upset with myself for crying because I so badly didn’t want to upset him. But he wasn’t upset. It was honestly like he knew. He was calm and he looked happy. He was led looking at me and he just drifted off, in my arms. He went peacefully.
I have honestly never cried like that in my life. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve known your horse, losing them is the hardest thing you’ll ever go through as an owner. Whether you’ve known them for one month or ten years, the pain and overwhelming feeling of loss still applies to you. Don’t let anyone tell you that you shouldn’t grieve for the horse you’ve known for one month; only you know what you had with that horse. Only you know what you went through and the times you spend together.
Despite all, what I do keep in mind is this:
By letting him go, I listened to him. I let him talk to me, and I listened. I didn’t let my own words overwhelm his.
It is so easy to get wrapped up in life. We can become so focused on the little things, forgetting about the bigger picture. Many of us have goals. Whether it is competing at BE100, or gaining >70% in a dressage test, these aims can cloud us; overcoming the joy of owning a horse.
I have been that person who has sobbed next to their horse at a competition when the test sheet came back with a low score. I have been that person who sits in the stable, moping, wondering why things didn’t go better in the show-ring. I have been there. I think we all have? At the time, you can’t understand why your horse refused the jump; why the perfectly good dressage test resulted in a low score; or why, no matter how hard you try, you just don’t seem to be winning. These feelings can overcome you. They can jeopardise the relationship which you have spent so long to build with your horse; removing the reason why we get up at such unholy hours every day to see them!
1. Just pause when you feel like this. Think to yourself… “Am I actually going to remember losing this class in 10 years’ time?” Try and remember what it felt like BEFORE you got that score sheet, or it all went ‘wrong’.
I don’t think I am breaking news when I say that horses cannot read test sheets, or jumping penalty scores. All they know is that they tried their hardest for you and had a wonderful day out. They can’t understand why you are upset with them for, let’s say, getting a tad expressive in the canter transition, when all they were just doing their best Valegro impression, to wow the other horses (!). Sometimes it’s rider error, too! I can openly admit that there have been days which I have not given 100%; days which stress and fear of other things in my life have overcome me. I cannot expect my horses to be perfect all of the time, if I am not?
Horses also have bad days, too. They have their own stresses and fears in everyday life, just like us. These, we may not even recognise, because they can’t tell us! Phoebe can’t tell me if she had a really stressful night because the wind was rustling leaves on the stable roof. She can’t tell me that this has made her on-edge for our competition, so I won’t judge her for it. So, when you come first or last in that show class, make them KNOW that they have won, to you. They have won your heart, at the end of the day. Remind them of this. Regardless if you and your horse won the class, or not. Think of small victories. Remind yourself of the positives.
2. Don't compare yourself to others (easier said than done, eh?)
- because, everyone is different. Just because someone else has the same age horse, is the same age rider, and trains at the same level, doesn't make you the same. Everyone copes differently at competitions, everyone has different strategies of training. It certainly doesn't mean that one way is better, or right, over another, it just means that you just have to find the strategy which works for you and your horse. If all horses and riders were the same, everyone would be at 'top' level!
3. Remember you are only human, and your horse is a only a horse!
I think it is quite easy to forget that horses aren’t humans. They are so emotional and intelligent, it makes us forget that they have only been domesticated for ~6,000 years. But, it is vital to remember that they ARE horses. They are herd animals, prey animals. They rely on numbers for safety. Naturally, horses are routine animals, and as we know, stay in the same herd for most of their life. Our domestic routine totally disrupts their natural behaviour. Just remember this when you ask your horse to go for a hack, or around the cross country course at an event. Even just bringing them in from their field for a groom, you are asking them to leave their ‘safe-place’ and their herd, making themselves vulnerable. For you. Horses get nothing from going out competing. The only thing they have, is that they are with you, so, make this the best experience for them. You deserve to be happy as a rider – after all, you are already among the privileged few to own a horse. Likewise, they deserve to be happy as a horse – they don’t owe you anything. They do what they do because they know it makes you happy (and a few treats certainly won’t go amiss!).
Equally, you are only a mere human. So what? You forgot the test movement? You almost flew off when your horse took a stride out? So what? Your horse doesn't care! Your horse is just happy that you are in their life, to feed and look after them. They don't mind if you only want to hack, or if you just want to bring them in for a cuddle tonight. Don't beat yourself up, you are doing great!
4. Remember this...
A TEENAGER who was born with dwarfism is fulfilling her dream of becoming a professional horse rider and says it has helped her accept her disability. Megan Gregory, from Croydon, was born with Achondroplasia – a type of dwarfism that affects the growth of arms and other long bones. In addition to this, Megan has a frontal bossing on the top of her head and ‘trident' hands, meaning they all measure to the same size.The 19-year-old spent her school years being bullied but after taking up horse riding and started to compete two years ago, she has new-found confidence. Megan lives a normal life despite her disability, admitting she has “always liked a challenge”.
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.'
There are plenty of things that we say and do which I’m sure our horses think are totally ridiculous. I sometimes imagine I can hear Archie sighing “Ohh Mother” in a similar tone to how a bored teenager would express their exasperation to an embarrassing parent. For example…
• We insist on an excessive amount kisses and hugs. A hello one, a goodbye one, one when you’ve had to tell them off and now feel guilty…
• We fight the eternal battle against mud and stable stains when quite frankly a roll appears to be the preferred activity at all times.
• We get hyped up about a competition for which we spend month preparing and then approximately 10 minutes actually showing what we can do.
• We turn up with fancy colour coordinated kit and exclaim at how much they must love it when in fact their eyesight has pretty limited colour vision.
• We put words in their mouths (a prime example being the title of this blog!) when in reality all they probably care about is who is delivering the next meal.
At Trot On HQ recently, someone used the term 'get off your high horse!' Along with terms such as 'needs reining in' or 'had a leg up' it's a term used in everyday conversation that comes from mans long association with horses. Anyway, it started a discussion on why the idea of being 'on a high horse' still has relevance for equestrians today and whether it comes saddled with negative consequences.
When you accuse someone of being on their high horse, it means you're accusing them of acting in a superior manner, usually a moral one. And being actually mounted on a high horse not only puts you physically above others but also can make other people feel that 'you' think you are above them in status. Let's face it, because of the horse's historic association with the rich and powerful, lots of people still hold the opinion that anyone who owns a horse is rich, stuck up, and thinks 'they are better than the rest of us!' When of course we all know that the majority of us certainly aren't wealthy and scrimp and scrape to plough all of our hard-earned cash into our beloved horse.
Is it for instance, one of the reasons why other road users can be so aggressive towards horse and riders on the road? And whilst there are anti-hunt protesters who genuinely don't want to see any animal harmed, there are those who are more people haters rather than animal lovers because they regard riders as part of the upper classes who think they are 'above the rest.'
What do you think?
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