A friend asked me today if I always hacked on a contact. We had just got back from a nice hack, and I have to admit that the toe-pointing Anglo-Arab I was riding had spent most of the time in an outline.
During the rest of the day I mulled over this thought. Ultimately, I do always have a rein contact when hacking, but it is for the communication between the horse and me, so that I am in control, rather than a contact to put the horse into an outline. I`ve ridden so many silly horses on hacks that I think I sub-consciously keep the contact with most.
However, I usually find that because I`m more relaxed and not thinking about the horse`s way of going, and they are more forwards thinking, they usually put themselves onto the bridle and are very consistent. How frustrating!
The horse I hacked today always puts himself onto the bridle when you pick up the reins, especially when he`s pointing his toes along the road like a ballerina, which possibly looks like I`m doing more than I actually am!
If I`m riding a spooky or green horse then having a rein contact is really useful when they side step or shoot forwards. I think if I don`t know a horse that well then whilst I`m not tense while hacking, but I definitely make sure that I`m in control – and that means having a rein contact and doing transitions or lateral work along the road – so that the horse trusts that I know what I`m doing and will keep them safe.
Hacking along a road, we should all be in control for everyone`s safety, but when going through fields and woods I can see that people often lengthen their reins and let their horse pick their own way. I do too on horses that I hack frequently and know well, but if they rush or have a discombobulated walk then I will ride them together to help them keep their balance.
So my answer is that yes, I do keep a contact whilst hacking, but it`s a contact for control and safety rather than to look pretty, even if it ends up still looking pretty!