HomeExpert AdviceArticleThe great outdoors

The great outdoors

Posted in Hacking

Enjoying your horse isn’t only about competing. Fizz Tickridge-Marshall says getting out and about with your horse can be as much fun and just as rewarding

Does it feel like competing is the be-all and end-all for everyone around you? If so, it can be easy to put pressure on yourself to do the same – I’m here to help you listen to your inner voice and find satisfaction in doing the things that you enjoy with your horse. 

There are many ways to get pleasure from your riding without ever setting foot in a competition arena. One of them is to get out and exploring with your horse. Once you change your focus and venture forth, you’ll find hacking will fuel your sense of adventure and can give you as much fun and satisfaction as competing does for others.

Reclaim the fun

When you think about it, horses are inherently exciting. Even the steadiest of steeds is going to weigh in at 500kg (or more), and he has his own mind and feelings about the world. This, of course, is the joy of working with horses. They’re not machines and that’s what makes your relationship with your own animal all the more rewarding, but sometimes that life can seem more like hard work than pleasure. It’s time to take back the fun.

Out and about

It’s easy to see hacking as ticking another box in your horse’s weekly work routine, but getting out and about on your horse can be so much more than that.

Even if you’re restricted to hacking at the weekend, making the effort to seek out new routes will be beneficial to you and your horse, not only physically but also mentally. 

For example, exploring new routes will mean you both have to deal with the different terrains and stimuli you encounter along the way.

If you’re heading off somewhere new, there are apps and websites you can use to map your route. These will also give an approximate duration so you’ll also know roughly how long it should take. To avoid being caught out by patchy signal, download offline versions of the maps you’re using. It’s worth investing in gloves with touch screen fingers so you can use your phone with them on – there’s nothing more annoying that taking off your glove only to drop it, then spend 10 minutes searching for a log to remount from!

Top tip

Your warm up out hacking is just as important as for schooling sessions, especially if you’re planning some fast work, so don’t scrimp on it.

Work and play

Hacking brings the joy and freedom of being out on your horse, and also provides a good opportunity to build his fitness by incorporating hillwork, or adding a little schooling to the mix. Small lanes and tracks are great places to practise lateral work, for instance. 

Top tip

There are a digital tools to help you find new routes, such as footpathmap.co.uk, which shows byways, green lanes and bridleways in your chosen location. Or check out your local horsey Facebook group

Think safety

When you go out hacking, either at home or further afield, it’s a good idea to follow some basic safety precautions.

  1. Let someone know where you’re going and when you think you’ll be back.
  2. Take a charged mobile phone with you.
  3. High-vis clothing is advisable – ideally at least one item for you and one for your horse. It’ll make you more visible to others, as well as easier to find in the event of an accident.
  4. Pop a foldable hoof pick in your pocket in case your horse gets something lodged in his hoof.
  5. Check the weather forecast – you don’t want to be caught in a storm or fog.

Open spaces

You probably have lanes and bridleways to hack along, but access to open grassland is often less common. If there are no local bridlepaths that cross fields, ask around for the names of any local farmers who might let you ride on their land or on field margins. If you do strike lucky, always shut gates, be mindful of crops and livestock, and be considerate of the footing to avoid causing damage. 

Friends together

While riding your horse in the school is, in effect, a solo activity, hacking in company is much more sociable. Of course, sometimes you want time alone with your horse to clear your head but, alternatively, hacking with other people is a great way to make new friends or put the world to rights with old ones.

Hacking in company is also good for injecting a confidence boost. Having someone to take the lead if you come across anything your horse is unsure about can make the whole experience much more enjoyable – and positive – for you, as well as for your horse.

Woodland wanders

Hacking in woodland offers an altogether different experience from fields. Riding through woods can be great fun due to different types of obstacles you’re likely to come across.

If you come across water – in the form of puddles or streams – after checking the footing carefully why not make the most of it as an informal way of introducing your horse to or refamiliarising him with getting his feet wet?

Be on the lookout for small logs and ditches you can pop over (again, with safe footing on the approach and getaway). Jumping as you go in this way is a great way of building your horse’s confidence, so have fun, be positive in your riding and he’ll soon be taking it all in his stride – quite literally.

Top tip

Look out for protruding tree roots, especially when you’re stepping up the pace – they can easily cause a stumble.

Grand day out

It may be that you don’t have any off-road hacking within easy reach. For many people, this means boxing up if they’re to ride their horse away from roads. If this is the case, do your research in advance regarding any permits you may need to ride at your intended destination, plus check that any designated or recommended parking areas have sufficient safe space for you parking and manoeuvring your horsebox or trailer. 

Pubs and picnics

Going on a pub ride, heading to the river with your horse, or even simply taking a picnic with you is something you might dream of doing – and it’s easier than you might think. Many pubs welcome riders, and some even have bells on the wall outside at mounted height that makes it easier to order a drink! 

If you do head off to the pub or for a picnic on horseback with your friends – or even alone – take a headcollar and lead rope (or have the headcollar over your horse’s bridle) so you can tie him up or graze him in-hand when you stop for your break.

Bonus points

The nice thing about going off adventuring on your horse, apart from it being fun, is that there will be so many gains for your horse, too. Crossing different types of country – uphill and downhill – at different speeds will help improve your horse’s balance, co-ordination, core strength and overall fitness – and you’ll achieve all this without ever setting foot in the arena or a competition ring. Now, that has to be a win! 

Our expert: Fizz Tickridge-Marshall has worked with all types of horses in her six years as Centre Manager at the Equine Therapy Centre at Hartpury College in Gloucestershire. More recently she’s managed racehorses for Jonjo O’Neill and been Yard Manager for Carl Hester.


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