Q&A: Hacking a racehorse

  • Q: I have owned an ex-racehorse for the past year. He is fairly well behaved in the stable and withthe help of my instructor, his flatwork is developing gradually. However, when we go out on a hack, he constantly pulls and gets really excitable, and he has even bolted with me in a field. He tends to be worse in company. I understand that this is a common problem with ex-racehorses, but how can I calm him down?

    Racehorse rehabilitation specialist, Carrie Humble replies: “Being bolted with is a very frightening experience, both for you and the horse. Before hacking out we must make very sure he understands and will respond to the correct aids.

    Remember, these horses have been bred for their flight mechanism, and have often only been exercised in company in a competitive situation. You may find that unless you can ride with one quiet horse or alone, he may always heat up out hacking in company.

    Hack out with a quiet ‘nanny’ horse and use hacking as schooling experience. A lot of good work can be done out hacking to build confidence and understanding. Hack out in walk for a long time, coupled with schooling. When you feel ready to canter, do so along a short, safe bridle path where you’ll be able to pull up.

    This kind of work should be built up over months, until you find out what you will and won’t be able to do with the horse. With time, a great deal can be achieved, so be positive.

    You say his flatwork is developing gradually, which suggests he needs to be working at a higher level in the school, i.e. he must understand the half-halt so you can lighten your hand and prevent pulling on his mouth. Safe hacking depends on his response to the rider; if he’s not going well in the school, he won’t go well out hacking. If he pulls, this means you’re pulling, so youneed to get away from that cycle.

    Avoid problems riding in a field by schooling him one. Section off a smaller space and lunge him, making him listen to you away from the school. Teach him to act rather than react.

    It may help if your instructor can accompany you out hacking and see the problems you are experiencing. Changing his tack for hacking under your instructors advice may help, but don’t tie him up with gadgets as this will simply make matters worse.”

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