“The Next Go Kart Ride”

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.

7 thoughts on ““The Next Go Kart Ride”

  1. Becky Mar 9, 2014 / 4:36 pm

    Ahh I could talk about this all day! So far, I’ve only taught and taken out children (hmm, that’s not quite true, given that I’ve taken staff trails – staff who aren’t horsey and don’t work in my department, generally – out at camp) and generally with the kids, what I say goes. I had one kid misbehave (embarrassingly, one of my students and it was one of the other staff who noticed, not me) and she got a huge telling off from my boss and had to miss the next trail. The others all learned very quickly from that incident too 😉 There’s a lot more I’ll say to you in person!

    I’m lucky with the kids: if they complain about any of my trails, I either refer them to my boss or explain myself (and then, invariably refer them to my boss). I’m like you – I want safe hacks, sound horses and happy ones at that. I tell the kids it’s a chance to relax, that they get a day off from me shouting instructions at them 😉 and fortunately, most of them agree (or at least tell me they do!). I’m a bit of a geeky stickler to the rules in that sense – I follow my boss’s instructions on how much fast work the horses are allowed to do and where. Those rules are there to protect me as well as the horses, so I follow them. If the rules are followed but stop working, it’s her responsibility to change them and let me know. For me, being able to go on trails for 3 hours a day every other day (as I did for huge chunks of last summer) was a privilege, not a right. She could easily take that away from me and, although taking kids out is a huge responsibility, it’s also a chance for me to ride and do something which isn’t so much of a chore as er, chores are! If I weren’t out on the trail, I know for sure I’d be poo picking a baking hot field. I know which I’d rather do!

    • therubbercurrycomb Mar 9, 2014 / 9:20 pm

      Exactly it’s a chill out time 🙂 if I take kids out we usually do walk with a couple of trots because it’s so novel me being on a horse too! A few months ago I had two cocksure girls who kept asking when we could canter on the hacks…. So I took them to a field to see how they would cope trotting round the edge. After one pony took off and both girls cried I had to spend the rest of their holiday trying to build their confidence up again …

  2. Sam Mar 9, 2014 / 8:38 pm

    Well Susy, you knew I had to comment on this one right! 😀

    I (as you know..) like slow hacks. In fact I think I’d probably be happy doing the whole thing in walk sometimes. When I am out walking in the sunshine through the woods in the beautiful countryside, sometimes I just think… this would be even better sat on a horse. I enjoy hacking for the views, being outdoors and able to experience beautiful surroundings which I wouldn’t usually do and having a chat. I also like feeling more at one with the horse because I feel like you have to try and trust each other more, and I hope that the horse enjoys their hack, so I think that is also a bonus for me. I do still enjoy the odd canter, especially up hill when on a trusty steed.

    Another reason I hack is… to hack. To build up confidence in riding outside, there has been points where I would not sit on a horse unless I was in a school, and times where I would ONLY walk on a hack. But, thanks to good, (very) patient instructors and horses I’m getting there though I still struggle at times but I hope one day I’ll have conquered all fears! But the only way to do it is hack, hack some more, and keep hacking with people you trust!

    I personally don’t understand the people out there who want to canter/gallop enough that if they don’t do as much as they like, they don’t enjoy it! I suppose there is a certain thrill but there are some fabulous race horses they could take on some gallops I’m sure. Sometimes I also think (I could be ignorant) it is because they are either carefree and fun, or they don’t really know about what could go wrong and never experienced it. When their horse wants to canter because they think they should and they just let it do that until it catches up to the one in front, or they wait for their horse to slow down then trot/canter to catch up just because they want to canter. I don’t think they sometimes know the implications on what it can have with the other horses/riders out with them and how it could possibly make a situation more dangerous.

    So it depends on the person, but I agree with all of your points! I don’t think that riding school horses/group hacks are suitable for bombing it round because of all of the practicalities. Sure, on a riding holiday where they are purposely suited to that or on their own horse who is a sporty TB they keep on a racing yard then yes but I don’t see it myself.

    But, that could just be because I’m nervous who knows?

    • therubbercurrycomb Mar 9, 2014 / 9:22 pm

      I think you’ve summed up the happy hacker ideal very nicely 🙂 haven’t you noticed our hacks always overrun? It’s cos we get gossiping and just walk! 🙂 next time you can’t trot round that corn field!

  3. firnhyde Mar 17, 2014 / 11:32 am

    I think it’s a very personal thing and depends entirely on the individual horse and rider. Some horses are perfectly content to plug along at a happy walk, chilled and relaxed on a hack; others get bored and annoyed and would far rather have a nice run – I’m not talking about horses who bolt and misbehave, just those who enjoy some speed. Riders are much the same. For me, with novices or children I’d always take it a bit easier on a hack than in a school, because it is harder to keep the horses under control. In fact with novices I’m inclined to just walk the whole way. But when I hack out alone or with my (very competent) boyfriend, we generally spend most of the time going at a steady, endurance-race canter. We know the areas we hack in well, only canter where the going is good, and are both good riders on familiar, fit, sound and vice-free horses. At those times, we’ll lope (canter) for about half a mile at a stretch, then walk until the horses have stopped blowing, then repeat. It’s excellent exercise and awesome fun, but then again, we are a pair of teenagers – it’s probably not most people’s idea of fun!

    • therubbercurrycomb Mar 17, 2014 / 12:02 pm

      I know exactly what you mean but I think people should be more aware that there’s a time and a place and respect ground conditions and if it’s a riding school horse if they’ve already done a hack beforehand.
      Take me for example, today my friend and I went for a long walk to the river. Her horse is recovering from an overreach injury and mine went to dressage yesterday. We walked with some gentle trots for over an hour then came home via the gallops. Both horses were up for it so we had a good race 🙂 you sound to have some amazing hacking round you 🙂

      • firnhyde Mar 17, 2014 / 4:51 pm

        I definitely agree – I wouldn’t take a poor tired schoolie for a mad gallop if he was already exhausted!
        Yes, one wonderful thing about being in the middle of nowhere is miles and miles and miles of hills and fields to hack through to our hearts’ content. Our usual ride is about a five-mile round trip without having to touch a public road or see another living soul.

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