I wish I had £1 for every time someone commented how glad I must be that my horses are on a winter break. Some people like to turn show horses away, but I reckon a change is as good as a rest.
They’re athletes, so surely it’s better to keep them ticking over and doing different, enjoyable things? All mine go hacking and, depending on individual needs, might go hunting, cross-country schooling, or are ridden on the clinics I run.
I want to put a different face on their work so they’re fresh to showing when the season starts. Without this, they can start anticipating and getting awkward because they think they know their day job too well.
Riders benefit from a change, too. It’s worryingly easy to turn into a showing robot, going into the school and doing the same exercises. It does us enormous good to go hacking, jump logs and ditches if we find them, and have fun. If we’re enthusiastic, our horses pick up on it.
Never underestimate the value of hacking. From a schooling viewpoint, it’s the best way to improve a horse’s walk — the pace that’s often forgotten. When we school, it’s usually the pace we do the least work in, but a forward, four-time walk is essential for all disciplines and showing judges should appreciate it when they see it. Remember that racehorse trainers at the sales assess untried horses’ potential to gallop by the quality of their walk.
Horses enjoy hacking. They turn out the gate, prick their ears and develop a spring in their step, reminding us that we need that attitude in the ring. To win a class, you need a happy horse who is thinking forward — looking through his bridle, as it’s traditionally called — so while formal schooling is important, you can’t be forever riding circles.
I’m lucky to have good hacking country at home, but if you haven’t, box up and go somewhere safe regularly. Riders benefit from getting out of their comfort zone, too. They need to understand how to ride in open spaces, canter down the edge of a field and, if you find a nice little hill, move the horse up a gear.
Uphill, a horse’s back end is naturally underneath him, so he’s working correctly and giving you a feel of what he can and should feel like on the flat. I once had a hack who would switch off in an arena, so he did all his schooling out hacking. In quiet surroundings, you can practise transitions, leg-yielding, shoulder-in and just about everything else.
I’m looking forward to seeing everyone at the early shows. Sadly, our world has lost two great personalities, Roger Stack and Babette Cole.
Roger was a true horseman and a great judge of a horse. When he gave advice, I always took it on board even when he didn’t mince his words. Both he and Babette, who was a respected breeder and a brave rider, will be missed.
Ref Horse & Hound; 26 January 2017