If your horse is an inexperienced hacker or you’ve had a confidence knock, heading into the great outdoors together might feel like an insurmountable challenge. Above all else, hacking should be good fun, but if you’re concerned about what might be coming around the next corner, it’s unlikely you and your horse will have a relaxed, enjoyable experience.
Like in any kind of training, perfecting your skills in a familiar setting enables you to repeat them away from home in a confident manner. The same is true of hacking – if you nail the challenges you might face on a hack in the arena or on the yard first, you’ll be able to deal with them easily when you’re out and about.
In the arena
It might seem bizarre to run through hacking skills in the school, but trying new or challenging things in a familiar environment removes some of the pressure your horse might feel encountering them away from his comfort zone. You can use the space to introduce him to a variety of stimuli and exercises that will give you both the experience and confidence to go out on the road or a bridleway.
What’s that object?
Sometimes, encountering an unfamiliar object can be pretty scary for your horse. We often joke about horses being afraid of plastic bags, but if his propensity to spook is putting a barrier between you and hacking, it’s important to address it safely in controlled conditions.
Whether it’s a wheelie bin, an umbrella or a rather suspicious-looking log, taking the time to increase his confidence will mean hacking goes a lot more smoothly.
Your horse is likely to meet four and two-legged creatures on his travels, and there’s a high chance some of those will be dogs. Because pedestrians can use bridleways, encountering dogs and their owners is almost a certainty. Taking the time to introduce your horse to dogs from the comfort of the yard will therefore pay dividends.
Enlist the help of a friend and their horse-friendly, gentle and obedient canine for your supervised meet-up.
Take it outside
Once you’ve stepped out of the arena, you could use the yard, its driveway or quiet lanes close by to desensitise your horse to vehicles and bikes. Ask a friend to spend a few minutes steadily driving past your horse in their car, or ask if they’ll accompany you down the drive with their bike. You could even see if a second helper will reassure your horse from the ground during the desensitisation.
Find out more about how to increase your horse’s confidence and what you can do at home to prepare him for what he’ll meet out hacking in August Horse&Rider, on sale 27 June.