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A Beginner’s Guide to Horse Hacking

When researching the best ways to spend time with your horse outside of the yard and their paddock, you may have come across information relating to horse hacking. However, you may not be familiar with the term, or what the activity involves. 

This is why we have set out a professional guide for beginners, covering an explanation of what horse hacking is, what benefits you’ll receive from it, and some tips and advice that you may wish to follow for your first hack.

What is Hacking in Horse Riding?

The term “hack” can either be used as a noun or a verb when discussing a subject within equestrianism. When used as a noun, it is referring to a breed of horse (a Hackney, or Hack) that is commonly used for riding out at ordinary speeds over roads and trails, or for pulling carriages. When it is used as a verb, it is describing the act of riding a horse for leisure and light exercise.

What is the Difference Between Hacking and Trekking?

The activity of horse hacking is often confused with the apparently similar activity of trekking, though there are a number of differences that more experienced riders should be able to distinguish.

Trekking is horse riding for anyone of any amount of riding experience. If you go to a riding school for lessons or for a day’s trek, you will be matched with a horse or pony and you will set off from there. The animal you are paired with should follow the one in front, know where they are going to walk, trot, canter, or even sometimes gallop, and you and the horse or pony should stay together throughout the ride. 

Horse hacking is riding for those with a bit more experience and who know how to keep control of their horse. The rider will know how to hold the reins correctly and should be able to stop and steer. They should also have reasonable balance, be able to maintain a good rising trot, and be able to canter or gallop with the correct seat and balance (though we should also note that cantering is not an essential part of hacking as an activity).

What are the Benefits of Horse Hacking?

Hacking offers a wonderful variety of benefits, both to riders and their horses:

Physical Benefits of Horse Hacking

The first physical benefit that you might notice coming from horse hacking is that it aids in your horse’s fitness and improves their stamina. This will even vary depending on the trail you choose for your ride, and it’s highly recommended that you do switch your routes around to ensure your horse doesn’t get bored (or even so familiar with the pace that they start to take liberties, such as napping). 

For instance, carefully controlled road work and walking and trotting steadily on these surfaces will help to strengthen their tendons and ligaments, while choosing to ride on a range of surfaces over the course of one hack can help to improve balance and coordination. Open spaces may also allow you to work on balance at faster gaits, while narrow tracks can improve leg-to-hand coordination for you as a rider and balance concentration for your horse.

Mental Health Benefits of Horse Hacking

Hacking is one of the best ways to de-stress and take in new scenery, both for riders and for horses. It allows you both time to relax, unwind, and just spend time together out in the fields or on the road. You will also both be able to gain greater confidence by becoming more familiar with different scenarios and surroundings, which may help your horse to feel less nervous when approaching new situations.

Depending on the age or experience level of your horse, you may wish to instil more confidence in them by going hacking for the first few times with a more experienced friend. 

Tips and Advice When Preparing for Horse Hacking

a group hacking horses along a woodland path

Whenever you decide to go horse hacking for the first time, there are a few things you can do to ensure you are ready and fully prepared. Below, we have set out some tips and bits of advice you should always bear in mind before setting out on your hack and during the ride itself:

Before the Ride

  • Always dress for safety and comfort in the appropriate gear (including helmets and hi-vis jackets).
  • Plot your route well; think of it in sections and use these as milestones to aim for as you ride. Avoid hours with heavy traffic and coming home in the dark if this makes you uneasy.
  • Motivate yourself by setting an achievable goal for distance walked.
  • If going alone, tell someone where you are going and how long you expect to be.
  • Take a fully charged mobile phone with you.
  • Carefully check over your horse’s tack before setting off.
  • Attach tags with identifying information and emergency contact numbers to your saddle bridle.
  • If your horse seems excitable or has not ridden in a while, walk them around the yard for a few minutes to help them relax.

During the Ride

  • Begin your ride in a controlled walk to help your horse’s muscles warm up.
  • If you are hacking in a group, make sure you are keeping up with the person in front of you at a reasonable distance. This means you should be at least one horse’s length away from any rider in front of you, or one pony’s width between you and the next nearest person if riding abreast.
  • Ensure you know the rules of the road.
  • Be patient but firm with any horse that becomes afraid during your ride. Let them see what is frightening them while offering them reassuring pats to help soothe their nerves.
  • Stay alert and make sure you are in control of your horse before venturing into open countryside.
  • Try your first canter uphill, as your horse will be unlikely to run away with you and it helps to build muscle tone.
  • Go downhill at a walk until you are a more experienced rider.
  • Never canter on hard ground after heavy rainfall, as the conditions will be slippery and it could be dangerous.
  • Try not to let your horse nibble on grass or shrubbery while out, as this can be a hard habit to break.

Supplying You and Your Horse

Whether you’re out on a leisurely walk with your favourite animal companion or taking care of them at home in their stable, you’ll naturally want what’s best for them. Prime Stables’ online shop has everything you need to take care of your horse as any loving owner should, from grooming products and cleaning tools, to tack room equipment and hi-vis jackets for those early evening treks and hacks. You’ll be as safe as possible, no matter what time you decide to go horse riding!

We’ll also be happy to answer any questions you may have about larger products or structures that you might need to make sure your horse stays as happy and healthy as he or she can be. No matter if it’s beautiful stables, dry and durable hay barns, or something else entirely, all you will need to do is contact us and one of our friendly members of staff will be ready and waiting to discuss specifications and help you place an order for the stable that will suit your horse best.

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