Martha Terry finds out how to get the most out of your hacking, if you don't have access to an all-weather school, and if your fields are too wet to school in during the winter

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If you don’t have access to an all-weather school and have to rely on hacking, perhaps you’re not as unfortunate as you think.

Six-time Badminton winner Lucinda Green bemoans the amount of schooling most riders do on artificial surfaces nowadays, because horses no longer learn the skills of self-preservation on all sorts of ground.

“You are the lucky one without an arena, provided you are away from bad roads and have friendly farmers,” says Lucinda. “It builds the skill of making instant decisions and becoming more aware.”

Mobile Freelance instructor Wiola Grabowska has been teaching on grass at one venue this autumn due to an unfinished arena. She says this has brought unexpected rewards.

“When [we] ride on artificial, non-slip, stable and beautifully raked surfaces, 99% of riding theory can be as artificial as the surface,” she says.

“[In a field] every stiff movement [from the rider] causes a plethora of issues that go unnoticed on an immaculate surface.

“A variety of surfaces teaches horses to look after themselves, pick up their feet, and be aware and watchful.”

Look on the bright side
Niamh Ward competes at showjumping and dressage without a school. She, too, looks on the bright side.

“Hill work is great for developing topline and muscle,” she says. “Some horses get bored going in circles in an arena, [and hacking] also desensitises horses to traffic.”

Niamh works her horse in an outline as if she were in an arena. She finds that horses often learn extension more easily out hacking, although “it puts too much pressure on their legs” on the road.

Hills, banks, fords and varied surfaces are great for training. They teach horses cross-country basics, while building up muscle and balance — for example by negotiating steep banks.

Darren Hegarty makes the most of Bramshill Forest to train his top horse, who competes at affiliated showjumping, dressage and eventing.

“I do lots of ‘off-roading’ — banks, puddles, mini ditches and changing light,” he says. “I take him for long hacks to develop that bond between us.”

Mary Gilbert events at BE100, without an arena. While she’d prefer to have one, as she believes it’s hard to teach horses without the repetition of consistent schooling sessions, she “works the horse” out hacking.

“I always school out hacking, unless I go for a gallop,” she says. “I do leg-yielding, shoulder-in and lots of bending on the roads. I do rein-back and move the trot forwards and back. If I find a field with a bridleway through it, I do canter work.”

This article was first published in Horse & Hound magazine (27 November 2014)