Today I took a horse out for a hack who was very nappy when his owner first got him, rearing and spinning round to head home, but she`s done a lot of hacking in company (sometimes with me) and he has settled and been much better recently, taking the lead and not being silly once.
Now I have taken this horse on to hack on a weekly basis, and couldn`t find myself a hacking partner today, so decided to just see how we got on going solo!
I`ll be honest, I was feeling like a limp lettuce after riding six horses beforehand, and still nursing aching muscles and ligaments from my flying lesson a couple of weeks ago, so was hoping for an easy ride. We set off along the drive, I tried to sit with a “don’t care” attitude and light rein contact because the horse seems to relax when we take this approach.
We didn`t get very far along the drive before he stopped and tried to nap. I sat very still, didn`t let him turn to home, and waited until he stood still. He didn`t rear, just threw his head around a bit. When he was standing I stroked his neck, and told him he was a good boy. Then, with my voice and leg, asked him to walk on.
He was still reluctant to go along the drive, so I pushed him towards the woods instead and we left the yard along the wooded track. He was quite happy with this, and even walked along the lane with only a glance towards the drive as we passed the gates. He was thinking about home, but it was no more than a passing thought. However, about halfway along this lane he suddenly realised he`d had enough. There was no reason for it, nothing spooked him; the lane was quiet.
While an oncoming car waited patiently, I sat quietly until my horse had stopped faffing. Then he happily walked on from my voice. I carried on talking to him as we passed the car, thanking the driver. And I carried on my one-sided conversation along the lane.
We had two more moments, where he stopped for seemingly no reason, reversed a little, shook his head, and bounced on his forefeet, trying to turn for home. Each time I waited for him to stop, gave him a moment to think, and then asked him to walk on.
It seemed to me that whilst this horse isn`t the spooky type, and not that reactive to his surroundings, he lacks confidence, especially whilst hacking alone. His little tantrums are moments when he feels out of his depth, loses confidence in the hack, and needs some guidance.
The worst thing I could do would be to get angry or reactive. That will only panic him and cause him to lose faith in me, his rider. My voice was probably my strongest tool, and chatting to him helped relax him and improve my bond with him.
For him to improve and become good at hacking alone he needs to bond with his rider and learn to trust them implicitly. Then when he had his moments of self doubt he can overcome it easily and continue his job. Which should also help his cross country rounds.
The second half of the hack was absolutely foot-perfect. It was a hack he is familiar with so he should be confident in the surroundings which will increase his self confidence.
Over the next few weeks I think the horse will benefit from slight variations on the hack that he knows, so that he doesn’t become too engraved in his route. Because he also has the tendency to nap towards home it’s also useful to reverse the route, and use different entrances and exits to the yard. I’m looking forward to seeing him progress and grow in confidence.