Varying your riding environment is an important part of keeping your horse happy and interested in his work – you don’t want to stay at home doing the same things every day and neither would he. Using your hacking time to occupy his mind and work on any schooling issues in a fun, pressure-free environment is really beneficial, particularly if you don’t have easy access to an arena. Here are some tips to get you started
Long and low
Asking your horse to take up the contact and stretch into a long-and-low outline can be an effective warm up. Not only does it encourage him to relax into the contact, he’ll also raise and engage his back, working the muscles that support a correct ridden frame. Be sure to work him gradually down so that contact is maintained – if you just drop your reins, you’ll loose your connection.
Time to flex
Keeping your horse’s body straight and his gait forward, use your rein to ask him to flex from one side, then to the centre, then to the other side. This exercise will warm him up while testing his suppleness and obedience. It’ll also free up his neck, preparing him for any more complex questions you’ll ask of him later.
Side to side
The flat, stable surface of a quiet path is a perfect setting for asking your horse to leg-yield. This movement requires him to use his whole body and reinforces the idea that your leg aid doesn’t just mean go, but can also mean move away. This exercise requires straightness and engagement, so is a good indicator of how well he’s working. It’ll also reveal any corrections you need to make in your riding or his way of going. Make sure you check the path is clear of pedestrians both ways before attempting a leg-yield.
Now he’s warmed up through his neck and back, you can start asking your horse to engage through his whole body by asking for shoulder-fore, Make use of hedges and fence lines to help guide your horse as you ask his front end to bend slightly away while keeping him travelling forwards. However, be sure not to allow him to over-bend.
Going in circles
Coming across an open field out on a hack is a huge bonus because you can use it as a giant school. Take the opportunity to play with the space, performing transitions, circles and changes of bend through serpentine work to encourage suppleness. Be vigilant to falling out, though, as there won’t be any fences to help prop your horse up!
Don’t forget visibility for you and your horse when you’re out and about. For high-viz and everything you’ll need out on a hack, visit bridlewayequestrian.com