Whether you’re seeking extra marks in the dressage arena or want to become more confident across country, here are nine tips that will help.
1. Practise being accurate
It’s so easy to lose marks for not being accurate in a dressage test, and you must be able to ride an exacting line to a narrow cross-country fence. So while you’re hacking, pick a marker in the hedge — it could be a certain tree or a telegraph pole — and make a transition there.
2. Learn to leg-yield
Leg-yield past spooky objects by turning the horse’s head away from it while still maintaining forward momentum. He’s learning to move away from your leg pressure without over-thinking it.
3. Open and close gates
Don’t shy away from opening and closing gates out hacking. By doing it while mounted, your horse will be learning to turn on the forehand and rein back without realising it.
4. Perfect the free walk
A happy horse is more likely to be marching along out hacking and going forward. This makes it easier to encourage them to stretch down on a long rein compared to in an arena, where they may not be as relaxed.
You can also practise riding medium walk, too, and really feeling the difference.
5. Make banks easy
If you live near woodland, walking up and down natural banks is an ideal way to build a horse’s confidence. It’s surprising how difficult some young or inexperienced horses find going up and down banks, so hacking is the ideal place to learn that skill. Begin with small banks and build up gradually.
6. Become brave about ditches
Popping small ditches out hacking is good fun too, providing you don’t teach the horse bad habits. Find a small, inviting natural ditch to begin with and work up from there. However, we don’t suggest you use drainage ditches on verges, and make sure that the ground on either side is suitable and free from debris.
7. Build the bond you have
Most horses will try to step around a puddle, because sense tells them that the ground is lower there. If you can convince them to step in and walk through happily, not only are they learning that getting their feet wet is fun, but you are building a trusting relationship too.
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Sharing your hacking routes with other road users
8. Make water fun
Walking through ford crossings, streams and natural water is a brilliant way to teach your horse to enjoy getting wet. Begin where it is shallow, and always make sure the bottom is safe.
Many leading riders — such as British Olympic eventers Mary King and Nicola Wilson — regularly take their horses, including their top rides, into water prior to an event in order to keep them confident.
9. Cope with the unexpected
You never quite know what you’re going to come across while hacking, and the same is true when you’re away competing. So if your horse is used to dealing with variable terrain, damp patches, shadows and anything unusual on a daily basis, it shouldn’t be a problem on competition day.
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