There’s nothing better than a jolly in the countryside with your horse in the gorgeous summer sunshine. From a good pipe-opener across the fields to a potter through the woods with a friend, there are more ways than we can count to enjoy getting off the yard. But doing so safely is essential to ensuring your ride out is an enjoyable experience for you and your horse alike.
So how can you make hacking safe and fun? Here are seven simple steps to get you started…
- Spook-proofing We’ve all suffered hair-raising hacks brought on by a spooky horse, so ensuring yours is rock-steady will go a long way towards keeping you both safe. Desensitising him to bikes, runners, dogs and traffic will work wonders – just make sure you progress slowly and don’t overload him, enlist an experienced friend with a quiet horse to help.
- Open spaces What’s better than letting loose on an empty field? While we’re sure there’s no better feeling if you’re in control, knowing your horse will come back to you when you ask is paramount to making fast work enjoyable. Practise in the fields at your yard and gradually move to open spaces out hacking, incorporating lots of transitions to ensure your horse is listening to you. Feeling confident that your brakes are in full working order will help you feel comfortable and positive about hitting the tracks.
- Lit up Even if touching the tarmac isn’t on your agenda, a healthy dose of high-vis will go a long way towards keeping you safe. It’ll help other countryside enthusiasts spot you from further away, as well as making you more visible should you part company from your horse. Always make sure you and your horse have at least one item of high-vis on in two different colours – but remember, the more the merrier, you can never wear too much.
- All the gear Appropriate safety gear is essential when getting in the saddle, even if you’re only going for a quick wander down the lane. An up-to-standard helmet is a must, and a body protector with the optional addition of an air vest can pay dividends when it comes to giving you a little more confidence. A neckstrap can be a useful aid, too, offering a little extra security. You may think you’re only going for a leisurely stroll, but horses are unpredictable and it’s far better to be safe than sorry!
- A friend in need A reliable companion is a super tool to keep you safe out hacking. While we don’t all have access to a buddy whose schedule aligns with ours, even incorporating a couple of hacks in company into your riding routine can give you and your horse a confidence boost that will transfer to your solo rides. It also offers the perfect opportunity to try out a new route or practise your spook-busting skills.
- Homework There are all sorts of ways you can practise your hacking skills from the comfort of your yard – from desensitisation to handy dressage moves, a little work can go a long way when it comes to leaving the yard. Check out the latest instalment of our Hacking from home series in the August issue of Horse&Rider for more.
- Risky business We’ve all spotted the perfect jumping log or ditch out on a hack and deliberated for days over whether to give it a crack. The rush of adrenaline after taking that leap is like nothing else, but make sure you take your time and pick the right day for giving it a go – it’s always better to come away wishing you’d tried than wishing you hadn’t. Feel positive and confident before you give it a go and you’re sure to come away feeling on top of the world.