So what IS a good Hacking Horse?

It is a lovely sunny day out there — when our minds turn to riding off across the fields — so I thought it would be a good day to post a note I wrote some time ago, about what a good hacking horse is actually like…..

As many of you know, I run courses on Hacking with Confidence and, on these courses people are often surprised at what I consider are the prerequisites for hacking out on a horse.  Some of these prerequisites are for the human and some are for the horse. We often end up having long conversations about what a good hacking horse would actually be like.

So here is my idea of a good hacking horse.

The easiest way to share this with you is to tell you about a recent ride I had on Evie, who is, as some of you know, a very good hacking horse.

I arrived at her field in the lorry, parking in the gateway and opening the ramp.  She looked up as I arrived and by the time I was opening the gate, halter in hand, she was already strolling over to meet me.  She offered her head softly for the halter, and followed me to the gateway, where she went through ahead of me on request, then turned and faced me while still on a loose lead rope so I could come through, keeping the other horses back, and safely close the gate.

She graciously accepted a treat for being so good as to come over to me, then on my invitation, walked into the lorry and loaded herself, waiting patiently for me to close partitions and doors before heading off.

On the short journey to the starting point of our ride, she travelled quietly and calmly – just giving one short sharp kick when I braked too sharply for her liking.  Helping me improve my driving LOL.

At the car park, she whickered when I opened the doors and her eyes lit up when she realised we were ready to go on a hack.  As I tacked her up she stood as quietly as she could, with a few excited steps which I smiled to see!

With Evie tacked up and the lorry locked up, I set off on foot, walking next to the saddle, checking out her mindset and mood.  As we walked from the car park onto the track leading up to the Ridgeway, Evie sighed, lowered her neck – and purposefully walked to the first gateway. Here, she lined herself up alongside the gate and looked at me with a clear message: get on!

I checked the tack and myself – and gracefully hopped onto her back (well ok, I clambered up the gate and managed to haul myself into the saddle LOL).

She stood still. Waited for me to sort stirrups and sticks out.  Waited for us both to make sure that standing still was possible.  Then, on a thought and a life of my energy, set off in a walk towards the Ridgeway.

Following my focus to turn right onto the right of way, I lifted my energy and, the rein still totally loose on her neck, she softly moved up into a trot.

We trotted for two miles.

She took care of where she put her feet, choosing a safe route. Occasionally she would slow to an almost walk, pick her way through some stones or puddles – then immediately pick up the trot again and relax into it.  Once when a deer startled past us, she turned her head back to me – when I didn’t react she relaxed and carried on trotting on her loose rein.

All I had to do was focus on the direction, and relax into my riding.

Now and then we would pass a turning and her ear would flick back to ask if we were taking this track. When I just rubbed her, she carried on following my focus.

After a long stretch alongside a huge freshly ploughed field, occupied by at least 20 buzzards, we came to a junction of 4 bridleways – I breathed out and invited her to stop by lowering my life.  She gently came to a halt and looked around her.  When I dropped the reins totally onto her neck and pushed on her withers, she lowered her head and grazed while I took in the scenery and thought about what a great horse she was.

Then I looked up, focused and we headed off again – I lifted one rein to clarify that I was only asking for a walk, and she sighed as she slowed.

We walked the next part as the track was very rutted. Every now and then she asked to trot but soon realised it was not a good idea on that surface and agreed to walk again.

At the end of the rutted track, we were at a cross roads where we could do a short canter and head back to the lorry, or we could head off on an extra 5 mile loop.  I invited her on the longer route and without any hesitation she headed off.

On this part of the ride alongside the all weather gallops owned by the jockey club we walked along as I listened to the rattling song of the Corn Buntings on almost every fencepost.  Quite special to see and hear them so close as they are on the at risk list of the RSPB.  Ok, back to the ride.

You may have noticed there have been no spooks on this ride – Evie and I have a deal: if she is bothered by something, she can check in with me and she knows I will always stop and check it out – she seldom spooks now.  More on that later!

We head off alongside the gallops, turn right and back into trot – she lifts her life and asks to go into canter, I agree by matching her energy and she rolls up into her ground covering canter and we lope along the track for a while until it narrows.  Here we trot again, then walk through a short stretch of woodland.  She chooses the path.  For fun, I pick up the reins and ask her to follow the feel right through a puddle  (normally she choses to go around puddles)  she thought about it but then walked straight through it.

Back on a loose rein she chose her own way, staying on the trail but winding between the puddles.  Good practice for my seat.

Turning and heading across the race gallops, we find our way onto the narrow stretch of all weather gallop the jockey club has put in just for us happy hackers.  And roll up into a canter on the lovely footing.

At one point, when the white tape alongside the gallop is loose and flaps, she slowly shifts onto the adjacent track, further from the tape, but allows me to guide her back to the nice surface.  She chooses her right lead so she can bend and watch the suspicious tape.  Half way up the mile long gallop she relaxes and allows me to invite her onto her left lead with a lift of the rein and a shift in the body position.

As we reach the top of the gallop, her canter slows and she asks if she can trot – I agree and we come to a trot then a walk – her head is a lot lower now as that was a long canter for her!

We walk a while – then stop at the crossroads of riding routes so she can graze.  It is a lovely evening and I can relax sitting on her admiring the all round views.

When we move on, we end up on a favourite canter track and she offers to canter – although she can’t keep it up for long, she takes breaks but keeps offering.  When I totally relax my body and mind though, she sighs and settles into a steady walk.

We walk to cool off as we make our way back up the hill to the Ridgeway.

As we turn onto the Ridgeway, she suddenly snorts and grows 2 hands – then turns and very forcefully nudges my leg.  I get off – she moves to be behind me – and, as I look ahead I see why: there on our usually quiet and empty bridleway – is a group of people putting up tents in the wind and they are just staking out a massive flag!  It has to be almost 8 feet square! No wonder she was taken by surprise.   I am pleased she looked to ME to support her and now, allowing her to “hide” behind me I head over to chat to the campers.  They are ex-soldiers hiking to raise money for “Help for Heroes” and offer to take the flag down when they realise Evie is bothered by it.  They seem surprised when I say – oh no, please keep it up – and can we play with it?

We play online, using approach and retreat – within 15 minutes Evie has her nose on the flag and is playing with it.

We ride on.  Now Evie knows we are getting close to the lorry so she relaxes. She is also a bit tired – and, strangely, this is when she is most likely to spook. Her mind is on the lorry, the food she will get and she “zones out” a bit.  My job is to keep her interested so we do small movements of shoulder in and haunches in and out to keep her mind alert enough to realise that the rustles and noises are normal and nothing to spook at.

We reach the lorry.  Saddle off and sweat rug on, I put her feed on the ramp.  She munches away while I tidy the tack and gear.  After finishing, she is already stepping onto the ramp and we load up and head home.

At the field, she unloads easily, goes through the gate and turns and faces me.  I undo her halter, giver her a treat then she turns, walks slowly away and settles down for a long roll.

And I know I can do it all again tomorrow.

I will just add one thing – when we ride with other horses, it is the same.  Other horses can canter past her and she will flick an ear to me, asking if we are going too – if I do nothing, then she stays in walk, on a loose rein…

THIS is my idea of a good hacking horse.

So – how about you? What is your idea of a good hacking horse?

your in confidence


5 thoughts on “So what IS a good Hacking Horse?

  1. Hi Cathy. Just discovered your blog and am glad I did.
    LOVED this account of your hack with Evie – she sounds like a fab girl. Was really touched by your descriptions of the negotiations you have with her along the way – made me a little tearful if I’m honest.. Takes me back to my lengthy meanderings with one of my old ponies. I’m about to start ridden work with my filly and hope so much that we can replicate the relationship we have on the ground. Thank you for sharing. Jo & Flo xxx

  2. Cathy, I just discovered your website tonight and want to thank you for this very interesting account of your lovely day hacking with Evie. In my area (Minnesota), we call this trail riding. I have been riding for less than a year and bought my first horse 4 months ago – an 11-yr-old solid paint mare named Bella.

    Bella is dominant in the herd so I was slightly surprised to realize that she is fairly spooky outdoors, especially when I ask her to ride a trail with just me – no other horses and riders. We’ve been riding mostly indoors for the past two months since the weather has gotten so cold, but today was a sunny day, slightly above freezing, so I took one last opportunity for us to ride outdoors. Bella was quite on edge, and traded in her indoor smooth trot for a bouncy, jolting variation! LOL So we rode in circles and serpentines on a nice safe patch of grass and I just tried to make it fun and relaxed for her.

    I look forward to reading more of your blog, and of course putting your ideas to good use with my loveable, dominant, sometimes silly-spooky girl Bella. 🙂

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