1. Feelin’ fresh
Just like you’d get bored if you had the same maths lesson every day, your pony gets bored if he does the same thing over and over, too. Mixing up his schedule with schooling and hacking keeps him feeling happy and interested in his work. The happier he is, the more fun you’ll have together!
Hacking is a useful way to show your pony new sights and sounds. If you only ever ride in the arena and then head to a show, he’s likely to get worried by things he hasn’t seen before. Taking him hacking means he’ll get used to lots of different things, which is good for his education.
If your pony’s spooky, take him out hacking with a more experienced pony. They’ll be able to give you a lead past things he’s nervous of, and he’ll soon learn not to worry so much.
3. Smart schooling
Whether or not you have an arena to ride in, hacking is a great place to brush up on your schooling. Ponies are often more forward on a hack than they are in the arena, so use this to your advantage!
You can use trees as markers for transitions and ride circles around them or weave between them to perfect your bending. This is especially useful for ponies who aren’t the biggest fan of schooling – you’ll get the best out of him without him even realising that he’s being schooled!
4. Fancy footwork
When you ride in an arena, the surface is flat and even. But at competitions, you’ll often be riding in a field, which might be sloped or not have ideal footing. Hacking is a really useful tool to get your pony used to this and thinking about where he’s putting his feet, instead of just relying on having a perfect surface to ride on. It’s especially important to get him used to this if you’re planning on riding cross-country, as you’ll be going up and down hills, and over uneven ground.
5. Better together
Going for a hack in a group is loads of fun, and your pony will enjoy himself, too! It gets him used to being around lots of other ponies – ideal if you plan to compete as he’ll need to stay focused on you, rather than worrying about the other ponies.
If your pony gets excitable around others, build up the group slowly. Start by going out as a pair, then as a three. When your pony’s used to that, introduce going out in slightly bigger groups each time.
Take a fully charged mobile phone, tell an adult where you plan to go and roughly how long you’ll be. Don’t forget to wear high-vis if you’re going on or near roads so you can be seen easily!
6. Rest and relaxation
We all look forward to the school holidays, right?! Well, hacking is a bit like that for your pony because it gives him the chance to get out of the arena and have a break. You can give him a long rein to let him stretch out and relax – he’ll probably enjoy it if you chat to him, too!
Plus, taking a break from those schooling sessions gives him a chance to think about what you’ve taught him – you’ll be surprised by how much better he seems when you get back to working in the arena.
7. Stretch it out
It’s super-important to warm up and cool down your pony, and hacking is the perfect opportunity to do it! A short hack is a great way to give him a chance to stretch out and loosen up his muscles before and after a schooling session.
Think about your pony’s legs when you go hacking. Fast work on hard ground is a big no-no, and it’s important to go slowly where the ground is very deep, too.
8. Build his fitness
Your pony needs to be fit enough for the job you’re asking him to do, and hacking’s a really useful tool for building fitness. Whether your pony’s just coming back into work and you need to do plenty of walking, or you’re trying to get him fit for competitions, hacking gives you both a change of scenery.
9. Taking the lead
When you’re confident enough, taking your pony for a solo hack is good practice for him. There are times when you’ll need to ride him without his friends around, so it’s important to make sure you’re both happy to do it. If he’s always used to having other ponies with him, he’s more likely to nap when it comes to competing – he won’t fancy leaving the start at a cross-country competition if he’s never hacked on his own before!
It’s a good idea to build up to this slowly. Go out with one other pony and ask them to wait slightly behind as you walk your pony on away from them. Build it up bit by bit and before long you’ll both be confident enough to go it alone!