Hacking is one of the most delightful aspects of riding. It makes a refreshing change from lessons in the school and is a reward for all the previous hard work. A hack builds up your confidence in the saddle and allows you to explore the countryside. Also, going out and about gives you a chance to get to know more thoroughly the pony you ride.
For your first hack the riding school will assess your ability and match you to a reliable horse, probably the one you always ride. There will also be experienced riders at the head and tail of the ride.
Dress for safety and comfort (a head-to-toe matchy matching set shouldn’t be the main focus right now) and, before setting off, carefully check over the pony’s tack. If he is a little fresh (excited), or has not been ridden for a while, it is best to walk him round the school for a few minutes to settle him down.
When you set out, begin in walk, until the pony’s muscles are warmed up. The walk should be controlled, not sloppy. If you are with a group of riders, keep up with the person in front of you – but don’t get too close. Aim to keep at least one horse’s length away. If you allow your pony to nip at the quarters of the horse in front, you could be on the receiving end of a rather unpleasant kick! Also, if you ride abreast, leave one pony’s width between you and the pony beside you.
Use this opening walk as a chance to practise some of the things learned in the school leg and hand position, balanced seat, straight back and a gentle contact with the mouth.
A steady walk is a good discipline. You’ll find that some ponies may need encouraging, others holding back, particularly on the homeward stretch.
Most hacks involve some road work before you reach tracks and bridleways so make sure you know the rules of the road. When you are learning to ride, you will almost certainly be given a traffic-proof pony. You should never take this for granted, however. It’s a confidence-builder to know you could cope effectively with an animal that is traffic-shy.
If your horse does play up, he may be genuinely afraid. In this case you should be patient but firm. If possible, let him have a good look at what is frightening him, while patting him reassuringly to soothe him.
Make sure you are in control of the pony before venturing into open countryside. After being in a riding school a pony can be excitable. A large ride might be split into groups of two and three riders, to avoid all the ponies charging off. Horses love to race, and can get worked up, but most stop if they are turned in a circle or if they get ahead of the other animals.
A good place for a first canter is up a hill -it’s unlikely that the pony can run away with you, and it strengthens his muscles. Go downhill at the walk until you’re a very experienced rider. Remember, never canter on hard ground or after heavy rain, as the conditions may be slippery and dangerous.
Also, don’t let your pony nibble at grass while you’re out. This can become a habit which is difficult to stop.
One of the pleasures of hacking is that it gives you a much better View of the countryside than walking does. You can see more because you are higher up than if you were on foot. Also, animals such as deer or badgers, who may be frightened by people on foot, are less likely to be disturbed by horses.
Watch your pony and see how he responds to your instructions out of the school. Note his reactions to the countryside – you’ll learn a lot about him!
Another benefit is the opportunity to learn new skills in a natural setting. What was daunting in the school becomes easy when hacking – if the whole ride moves off at a canter, your pony will want to canter too. You’ll be caught up in the excitement and go, almost without thinking about it. Paces and movements learnt during lessons happen naturally – and sometimes unpredictably – keeping you and the pony interested and keen.