Riding out, a dog and a trampoline
What is the picture you have in your mind when you think about hacking out?
Is it… Sunshine, Smiling and joking with friends, long gallops, picnicking with your horse, stopping at the pub on the way home?
Or is it… Gritting your teeth while you hold on for dear life, worrying about the bin lorry, delivery van, motorbike, cyclist… I could keep going here!
I believe that hacking out is one of the most difficult things to do with a horse. Why is that? It’s because you have no control of the environment, anything can happen. Added to that you’re often surrounded by people that have little or no knowledge of horses and how they respond to things.
You could meet anything out on a hack and while there’s loads of preparation you can do to build your horses confidence in strange or scary things, it’s impossible to prepare for everything.
A friend of mine went out for a hack a few weeks ago. She was on her normal route, her and her horse were happily walking up the road and what did she spot in a front garden… a dog on a trampoline!!! This is in a quiet Wiltshire village where nothing too odd ever happens and it’s a great example of meeting something that you just couldn’t really ever imagine or prepare for in advance.
So given that it’s likely you’re going to meet things you and your horse have never seen before how do you prepare?! Do you just wing it and see how it goes?! No!!!
There are two parts to building your horses confidence…
Exposing your horse to unusual things that they might see out and about. This could be rubbish bins, umbrellas, bits of plastic in the hedges or anything you can think of, you could let your imagination run wild
Making sure that your horse knows what to do and how to respond when they get worried about something
This second part is probably the most important. Whilst desensitisation and other techniques to build your horses confidence in things are really useful, you can’t prepare your horse for everything you’re ever going to see, take my friend with the dog on the trampoline.
So if we accept that’s the case we need to prepare for when things get tricky.
So what are the things you need to have in place to set yourself and your horse up for a great ride out?
Stop and emergency stop - Making sure you can stop easily from all gaits is a must and not just stop but that your horse will stand still and wait for you to ask them to go again.
Go when you ask for it - Just as important as stopping if you need to get across a busy road for example.
Turn and/or be able to go sideways a little bit - If you’re riding on the roads then being able to easily manoeuvre your horse out of the way is essential.
Standstill for mounting/dismounting - You may need to get off, make sure you’re prepared for that and that you can get on again when you need to.
These are the most basic skills that need to be in place to help your horse know what is expected of him and feel confident about how to respond.
If you’ve got those in place you will also feel so much more confident because you know you are prepared for whatever may happen.
Confidence is being prepared for the possible, the probable and the unthinkable!