There are two reasons hacking in a group can be scary – misbehaving ponies and a confidence crisis. Check out our top tips to keep your pony under control and focused on you on this page, then turn over for advice on how to get those nerves under control – helping you to feel happy and secure in the saddle.
All riders feel worried at some point and it’s common to feel nervous hacking in the open, especially in a large group. But it doesn’t have to be scary – check out our tips for a new, confident you!
Make the most of half-halts
A half-halt helps to balance your pony and get his attention back on you. To ride one, keep your legs wrapped around his sides and close your hands around the reins to contain his energy, then release. It should only last for one stride and will help stop him rushing. It’s much more effective than just pulling on the reins, which will only make him pull back against you.
Top tip Don’t forget to wear gloves – they’ll stop the reins slipping through your fingers and give you better grip if your pony gets excitable.
Experience is key
Make sure there are a few confident ponies and riders in your group, so they can lead any less experienced ponies past scary objects and give them confidence.
Keep your pony focused
Ride lots of transitions to keep him listening to your aids. These can be within a pace – for example, asking him for a slower trot, then pushing him on again. That way, he’ll be concentrating on what you’re asking him rather than what his friends are up to.
Mix up your hacking routes
Try to keep your hacking routine varied. If you always canter in the same places, your pony will learn to anticipate it and is likely to get strong and excited. It’s good practice to walk or trot along your usual canter tracks every now and then so he doesn’t think it’s okay to take off!
Top tip Plan a circular hacking route, rather than turning back on yourself, so your pony doesn’t get over-excited when he knows he’s heading for home.
If you’re feeling nervous, your pony will pick up on it and might get worried, too. This could make him more spooky or skittish than usual. Taking deep breaths will help you feel more relaxed and help keep him relaxed as well.
Take it back to basics
It’s much easier to be confident if you know you have control of your pony! Make sure you’re happy riding him in the school on your own and in a group, before taking him out in the open.
Build it up gradually
Don’t rush into going out with a big group. Find a more experienced friend you can hack out with and go as a pair a few times. That way, you’ll build up your confidence over time and be ready for when you go on a group hack.
Make sure you’re kitted out in all the correct safety gear – an up-to-standard hat is vital and a body protector is a good idea, too. High-vis clothing is essential for riding on the roads, as well as helping other walkers and riders see you on bridleways. Putting a neckstrap on your pony will also help you feel more secure.
Top tip Always tell an adult where you’re planning on going and roughly how long you’ll be. Don’t forget to take a phone with you in case of emergency.
Know the Highway Code
The Highway Code, that is. You’re bound to come across a road at some point on a hack, and knowing how to stay safe and whose right of way it is will give you confidence. The Pony Club and British Horse Society offer road safety tests, so it’s a good idea to take one of these to make sure you know your stuff.
Slow and steady
If you’re not sure how your pony will react to hacking in a group, take it steady. Stick at walk and trot for the first few times to let him get used to having other ponies around him. When you’re both confident, you can enjoy going for a canter!
Top tip Remember to smile! It’ll make you feel more relaxed, even if you’re feeling a bit nervous on the inside.