Q&A: Solving hacking problems

  • Expert advice from HORSE magazine on how to handle a sensitive mare out hacking

    Q: My chestnut mare, a former racehorse, has an annoying habit of spinning very quickly to the left for no reason at all. When riding in company I can’t take her out in front in canter because she will spin and throw me off.

    I’ve owned my mare for three years and she has always done this but recently it has become much worse. Before she didn’t mind being hacked out alone, but now it can take me anything up to three hours just to get out of the yard because she constantly spins and refuses to go forward.

    Her back, teeth, neck and tack have all been checked. She has a verysensitive mouth so I ride her in a loose-ring French link snaffle. She’s very light in the hand as well.

    Islay Auty FBHS replies: I think the key to your problem may be, as you say, your mare has a very sensitive mouth and is very light in the hand.

    In my experience, horses which are considered to be very sensitive in the mouth by their owners are either “behind the bit” and therefore will never accept a connection from the rider’s legs, or threaten the rider if they dare to take up a contact.

    You say your horse has always spun around to the left, but it is now getting worse.

    Usually, if a fault or habit is not corrected and the horse knows she can get away with it, she will gradually become more awkward about the issue because she knows at the end she will always win.

    I am not suggesting that you change the bit, but what you must be able to do is ride her up to the bit and encourage her to accept a contact, so you can influence control and direction.

    You only refer to hacking your mare. You could school her for 10-15 minutes two or three times a week. During these sessions start with the basics, riding her up to the bridle and encouraging her to take an even contact on both reins.

    Use some simple transitions in halt, walk and trot and make frequent turns and circles on both reins. Particularly make positive and definite turns to the right and praise her when she is obedient.

    Once your mare is accepting a definite but elastic contact in the rein and is no longer coming off the bit, try a gentle hack.

    Start slow and steady and, without riding defensively, be ready for her to drop the contact and spin to the left.

    If you anticipate a spin, send her forward strongly with both legs and keep a firm feel on the rein. Whatever you do, don’t let her turn to the left.

    Don’t worry how hot and bothered your mare gets. Continue to ask her to go right and persist through the problem until she gives in – then praise her.

    Until you have mastered this problem in walk and trot I would avoid cantering in company if you have to take the lead. Canter behind another rider but avoid a situation you can’t control.

    If you are still in trouble I would seek the advice of a professional instructor.

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