Mention the word hacking to most horse-loving folk and they conjure up a picture of gentle tranquillity and serene calm generated by a leisurely stroll on a compliant horse through the beautiful rolling countryside on a glorious Sunday afternoon. However, mention the word hacking to a smaller group of semi-professional and even professional riders (usually those involved in dressage...and myself included) and suddenly hacking becomes the most dangerous horse sport of them all!
Hacking is, of course, a non-competitive form of equestrianism that is enjoyed by a multitude of riders (otherwise known as “happy hackers”) who have no wish to bear the burden of training a horse for competition, and who simply enjoy riding for the beauty of the scenery and/or the simple pleasure of experiencing the partnership between man and horse. Nevertheless, hacking is also an essential part of most competition horses’ regime. Not only is it an invaluable tool for building and maintaining a horse’s fitness levels, but hacking also provides a change of scenery and breaks the monotony of schooling inside an arena, and thus reduces the chance of your equine athlete becoming bored or “stale”. However, it is this change of scenery that can make hacking somewhat of an adventure for some of our more exuberant equine friends – such terrors as wheelie bins, rustling bags, buses and of course the odd 20 foot pink dinosaur lurking behind a hedge can create bulging nostrils and giant leaps far greater than those seen on a horse out hunting or galloping around a cross country or team chasing course!
It is also important to remember that when taking a horse out to a competition, the surroundings are designed for the sole purpose of equestrian pursuits and horse vets, farriers, and those qualified in first aid are likely to be in attendance, alongside a set of strict safety measures. Conversely, hacking requires horse and rider to step out into an open territory where anything could happen! For this reason, selecting a horse suitable for hacking is as an important task as picking a horse suitable for grand prix show jumping ,even if it is simply your intention to join the brigade of happy hackers!
Whilst some riders are lucky enough to be able to enjoy the luxury of off-road hacking, the majority are likely to have to tackle a road or two whilst out on a ride. For this reason, it is essential to have a horse that behaves well in traffic, and it is advisable to have undergone a short course in Riding and Road Safety. High visibility tabards are also a good idea when hacking out and are available to buy from all good tack shops. Whether you are intending to go hacking alone or in company, a mobile phone and a hoof-pick (for removing any stones that may get trapped in your horse’s hoof) are essential items. Britain has a reasonable network of bridleways which allow plenty of enjoyable off-road hacking once reached, and these are clearly marked on maps with long pink dashes (or green on ordinance survey maps).
To Ride or not to Ride – this is a stupid question.