We all know that our horses tend to be a little more forward when we hack out, than in the school. So why not make the most of this and school while you hack? Schooling whilst hacking is something your horse can benefit from and it keeps their attention switched on to their rider which can help reduce silly spooks and stops as you head out down the road. Another plus is that regular schooling of course makes for a well behaved, well educated horse who pays attention to his rider and is responsive to both leg and hand aids.
Please do make sure that all exercises are ridden in safe places with full awareness of the road or bridleway layout, and of course traffic and pedestrian flow. Don’t concentrate so much on your exercise that you fail to notice the cars piling up behind you or the dog walker tucked in the hedge!
Here are Selwood Equine’s ‘Fab 5’ ways to school your horse whilst out hacking…
1. MAKING A TRANSITION
Start from the halt and work upwards. It is paramount that your horse is obedient to the halt; at junctions for example. Make regular transitions from walk to halt and then to walk again. You can count 10 strides of walk then halt and then 12 strides and halt and increase/decrease this and so on to mix it up. You can also practice halting on the verge, count to 10 and then move off again. This is great for when a large or heavy load has to pass and you need to move to the side.
In the walk and trot you can ride some transitions within the pace – lengthening and shortening. Also some direct transitions can mix this exercise up as well; trot to halt for example. This pattern can be repeated when you start some canter work off road as well. It is important that the horse understands he only moves forwards to canter when asked and that this is not always from a trot, it can be from a walk as well.
You don’t need to always be on a circle to bend your horse and you certainly don’t always need to be in a school either! A great bending and suppleness exercise is riding shoulder in or leg yield. You can do this on the road or on a bridleway – somewhere where you have a nice clear straight line ahead of you. For SHOULDER IN you want to have the horse bending around your inside leg so that the horses inside hind leg and outside foreleg travel forwards on the same line. This is also a great exercise for engaging the hind quarters and improving balance.
For LEG YIELD the horse should be moving both forwards and sideways on two tracks. You can ride leg yield towards the middle of the road and then back again to the verge. Obviously do this when there is no traffic!!
3. TURNS ON & ABOUT THE FOREHAND
Again, an exercise commonly ridden in the school around poles or at letters, this can also be used out hacking and can prove very useful if ever you have to open and close gates on your ride. Asking the horse to move their hindquarters around their front legs and turning as they go. Straw bales in a field or a fallen tree for example can be used for turn on the forehand – asking the horse to move around it laterally. Once you have completed the turn ask the horse to move forwards and straight in the walk with positivity. If you have to turn around on your hack at any point to head home, why not try using a 180 degree turn on the forehand to change direction.
4. BACKING UP
Rein back can also be useful when out hacking and you can school your horse with this exercise whilst out and about. You never know when you may have to back up to give way to something else. You can mix this up with your walk and halt transitions and always make sure that once you have ridden a few good strides of rein back that you send your horse forwards in walk positively and with a soft but steady contact. Remember rein back is not the act of you pulling the horse backwards from the hand but rather asking for movement from your leg that the hand then prevents from going forward, with the energy then transferring to a backwards movement.
Asking your horse to take a stretch forwards and extend his outline is not just a rewarding exercise but one that is great for his muscles too as well as adding some swing and extension to his pace. Releasing the length of rein and encouraging a stretch does not mean dropping the contact. Keep a contact and encourage the horse forwards into the stretch with a giving hand and a supporting leg, maintaining the lightness and connection. This is not the rider encouraging the horse onto the forehand but encouraging the horse to stretch through the length of their frame. Great in walk and trot and it can be ridden in canter but be aware of this in an open space of course! You can vary between stretches and a more collected outline – again keeping the horses focus on you and what you will be asking of them next.
All of these exercises are incredibly beneficial to your horse and will certainly train him that although hacking can be a nice break from the arena, there is still a work ethic and you as the rider remain in charge. Teaching your horse to be obedient to your aids will result in a pleasurable ride. Of course there is always room for a little down time and a slightly relaxed pace and maybe even a chat! But this has to be at your discretion and not at your horses!!!