This is a hot topic for debate and my boss is regularly saying “We`re not the next go kart ride at two o clock”. She is, of course, complaining about those clients who come for a hack but just want the fastest horse and to have lots of gallops.
I`m sure you all know someone like that.
What has triggered this blog was the following conversation I had with an irregular client yesterday.
“My wife and I would like to book a hack tomorrow.”
“Yes of course; we haven`t seen you two for a while. Is tomorrow morning okay?”
“I think so. I suppose as it`s so wet the hacks are mainly roadwork?”
“Well the woods are pretty waterlogged still. We`re walking through them, but yes, it`s mainly roadwork.”
“What about the gallops? Can we go on the gallops?”
“I doubt it, it`s quite boggy there.”
“Oh. Well I like to ride something fast, and my wife wants something a bit steadier but still up for a gallop.”
We have a couple of clients like this; they want to go as fast as they can, with no regard for their horse`s safety or well being, and are completely ignorant to the instructors attempts at educating the riders. Ironically, when they get back they say something like “Oh my horse was tripping a lot today” … that might be because you were making him jog down the hill, or you tried to canter through the mud …
As can only be expected, this attitude leads to dangerous behaviour, such as overtaking the lead file, or giving the horse a big kick in the guts at the entrance of the field and subsequently taking the hack for an unpermitted gallop.
How do you educate these sort of people? They must have a level of empathy for other creatures in order to survive, I know that one of them has even got pets. But the empathy level obviously doesn`t counterbalance their level of enjoyment. I`ve tried on many occasions to explain my attitude to hacking and why I choose to go which route and at what pace, but it falls on deaf ears. Once two riders complained that they hadn`t cantered on their hack. It was 10am on a frosty winters day, with patches of ice – we avoided the roads and stuck to tracks and woods in walk with a bit of trot. A bit boring yes, but ultimately safe and the horses came back sound and uninjured.
I`ve made a list of some questions that “Happy Hackers” should consider when going out for a hack.
So what makes a hack enjoyable? Why do you choose to go for a weekly hack as opposed to a lesson?
Personally, I love hacking; I love exploring the countryside and finding new routes, going out with friends and having a good catch up, letting the horses socialise, and improve their confidence and ability to navigate different terrains. I think that`s the main reason last weekend my horse confidently negotiated down and up a ditch, avoided saplings and then down a steep slope to avoid a large fallen tree, with very little encouragement from me. Of course, I like to let our hair down and have a canter in the fields or pop over a few logs so long as everyone I`m with is happy to do so and the ground is suitable. It`s also great for fattening and building stamina. I`d much rather have a steadier hack but a sound horse for longer than an adrenaline rush and then have to care for an injured equine.
What is the correct etiquette for hacking?
On roads, you should try and stay in single file. Obviously if you have a young or green horse then it may be necessary to go side by side. Ensure you extend courtesy to drivers or other road users so that correct behaviour is repeated in future encounters. You can trot on the road, so long as it`s safe, but most people advise against prolonged or fast trots as it can cause concussion injuries. I quite like finding a fairly steep hill and trotting steadily up there; it works the hindquarters without the speed, and the risk of concussion injuries. I found an excellent grass track a month ago on a hack which was perfectly straight. No, I did not go in a flat out gallop along it, but rather used the opportunity to practice my medium and extended trot. I could build it up slowly and maintain it for longer, which led to a fabulous, balanced extended trot.
When riding as a large group a competent rider should be at the back to keep up the stragglers and ensure everyone is okay. Lead file should regularly check behind and inform everyone of a change in gait or direction, or of any vehicles or spooky objects coming up. The golden rule is no one overtakes the front horse.
I am strongly against repeatedly cantering in a field, as the horses begin to anticipate, which can be dangerous in poor conditions or with a more novice ride. Take for instance, last weekend I had a competent hack but we got to the large field on the way home and one mare bolted. She saw the field and knew it was normally a canter spot. Whilst in mid-gallop the mare spooked slightly and my rider fell off. Ouch. I always make my horse wait until I say, even if it means we trot half the field, or even the full length just to make sure he`s not in control.
How do you know the ground is suitable for fast work?
Boggy or muddy ground makes cantering, galloping or jumping more difficult for the horse. It`s the same as if we were running in mud. The mud sucking on the horse`s limbs puts extra strain on the tendons and ligaments of the horse, and also risks them pulling a shoe or injuring themselves by over reaching as they can`t get the front foot out the way in time.
On the other hand, in the middle of summer the ground can be harder than concrete. This isn`t great for fast work either as your horse can develop concussion injuries, such as splints, or bruise their soles.
As well as the weather factor, you should consider the actual ground you would be cantering on. In woods there is always the risk of tree roots or animal holes (I came across a huge badger hole the other week in the woods. I`m sure that if a horse put their foot down they would break their leg). You should avoid fast work down hills as it unbalances the horse and puts him onto his forehand. Some land can be very flinty or rocky, which can cause bruising to the soles of the horse, possibly leading on to infections and abscesses.
I think that if riders consider these questions whilst hacking out they and their horses will benefit. Anyway, if you`re going hell for leather you won`t see that family of deer grazing in the field, or the view from the top of the field, looking down over the village. Equitation is about more than just riding as fast as possible or winning the competition, it`s about enjoyment of both parties, and having a bond with your horse, be it your own or your favourite at the riding school.