“I’m riding a different horse”
When you’ve owned your horse for a number of years, hacking out with him can feel a bit like sitting in your favourite armchair. It’s understandable that suddenly having to ride something different, maybe because you’ve bought a new horse or you’re exercising one for a friend, can throw you off-balance.
The most important thing is to stay calm. Horses can pick up on anxiety, so if you’re relaxed and positive, then this will transmit to the new horse when you’re riding. Take your time to get to know him, bonding with him back at the yard so that you begin to trust each other. Most horses thrive on physical contact, and this is how they form bonds in a herd, so try giving him a lengthy grooming session to mimic this behaviour. Don’t forget that you’re as new to him as he is to you, so you aren’t the only one who will need time to adjust to the partnership.
Five ways to improve it…
1. Find out as much as you can
Talk to the person who normally rides the horse or, if you’ve just bought him for yourself, his previous owner. Find out as much as you can about what he’s like to hack, both alone and in company, and what sort of things might cause him to spook, such as livestock or large vehicles. They may also have some tips or tricks to help you get the best out of him when you’re hacking – there’s no such thing as too much information.
2. Get used to each other in a safe space
Before you leave for your hack, take some time to get to know the new horse in a safe, enclosed space, such as a manège or small paddock. Have a go at walk, trot and canter, and do lots of transitions to make sure he’s listening to you. This warm-up will also help him get rid of any excess energy before you leave the yard.
3.Hack with a companion
Horses are usually happier and more relaxed going out for a hack with a buddy, so ask a friend with a calm, sensible horse to accompany you for your first hack. Choose a day when there isn’t too much wind, which could make him more spooky, and agree a plan of action with your friend about where you’re going to go and what paces you feel comfortable doing.
4. Confidence, not complacency
Just because your old horse walked past a flapping washing line without any problems, doesn’t mean that the new horse will, too. As you ride along, keep an eye out for any potential hazards that may worry him. It’s important not to get tense or anxious, though – ride forward confidently and he’ll pick up on your positive attitude.
5. Keep your route short and simple
Think carefully about the route you’re planning to take. Start off with a short hack with as few potentially tricky situations as possible. It’s impossible to completely eliminate anything that might scare him, but don’t be too ambitious – taking him out on a rubbish collection day, for example, is asking for trouble. As you get used to each other, you can expand your horizons and venture further afield.
For ways to manage strong horses, riding in open spaces, and coping in traffic, get your copy of September Horse&Rider, on sale 28 July.