I hack a horse once a week for his owner. She much prefers the schooling side of things, but wants her horse to have some downtime in the form of his weekly hack.
I started riding this horse in January, and was told that he struggles to walk down inclines due to his side bone, so I was to be careful not to choose too steep a downhills, to let him take his time and I . This is fine by me, and the first few hacks I planned my routes carefully, making sure I picked a couple of routes with the steeper uphill, and shallower downhill.
As I`ve got to know this horse I haven`t thought as much about our hacking routes, they come naturally. But last week I suddenly realised that, as we walked through the woods, that we had just walked down a slope that only a month ago he pottered down. This made me reflect upon this horse and his way of going on hacks.
Compared to our first couple of months of hacking, when the weather was against us, and he wasn`t hacking fit; this horse is now more surefooted, both up and downhills, and can trot or canter for longer periods, particularly on slight uphills.
This was more noticeable today when I went down to the gallops. We trotted up a track in the field, and didn`t run out of steam half way up, and then we positively marched down the next field, confident and surefooted. Again, it wasn`t a steep hill, and we took it at an angle, but I was pleased with how he tackled it. Then we had a little gallop along the gallops, and although we slowed to a medium canter after 100m he still comfortably continued until the end, when a month ago he would have faded halfway along.
A horse can be fit for a specific job; so a racehorse is fit for galloping very fast for short periods, but would be useless at endurance. Likewise, a dressage horse can work at a steady pace on a soft, flat arena, but will struggle to jump a course of showjumps. For the horse I hack this is a similar case; he is fit to do an hours schooling, but is slowly gaining fitness in other areas; such as surefootedness, and stamina. Hopefully by improving the overall fitness of this horse will help his work in the school, as well as giving him a change of scenery and some down time.
Hacking is really useful for improving a horse`s surefootedness as they have to navigate different terrain, and working up and down hills helps improve their stamina. Getting out and about also helps desensitise horses and make them confident in tackling the world, as well as mentally stimulating them.
Regardless, this horse thoroughly enjoys his hacks out and is always perfectly behaved; he is great in traffic, waits for me to let him canter, pops over the little log we come across and is generally good company.