The Stables

Hazardous Hacking

If you Google the term “Happy Hacker” it will either show you articles on website criminality or you will find numerous equestrian shops or happy hacker horses for sale. But is hacking out with your horse happy or more these days “hazardous hacking”?

I’m Just a Happy Hacker

Why do we feel a little unaccepted in the equestrian world for being a happy hacker? Hacking your horse out on the roads and lanes in this country is dangerous and hazardous but one of the most enjoyable aspects of horse riding. Figures show that more horse owners have their horse just for pleasure, and not to compete with. Yet many of these owners feel they cannot admit in the company of other equestrian riders, that they like nothing more but to ride their horse on the lanes, through the bridleways, along the fields and canter through woods. Horse riding in whatever chosen sphere is a high risk activity, and hacking should be accepted equally to those who choose to ride in a showjumping arena or a cross country course. Most competitors have immediate medical help on site if they are unlucky enough to have an accident. Accidents while out hacking don’t have this “luxury” of instant medical assistance. Some unfortunate riders have a very long wait for medical treatment, especially if they have fallen in the middle of nowhere in a muddy field…

Many of us are lucky enough to have the use of safe bridleways or open fields where there is no traffic, but hazards will always present themselves to the horse rider. How many of you have come across a pheasant flying out from the undergrowth, a passing low flying helicopter, or just a rouge plastic bag stuck in a hedge to alarm your horse and then deal with their reaction? Thankfully the majority of horses can cope with these dangers however big or small, but some horses respond in a spooky erratic manner needing quick thinking from the rider to limit a fall or an accident.

Dealing with Hazard out Riding

Always try and be one step ahead of your horse when hacking out foreseeing potential hazards that are out there. If you have to ride on the roads or lanes look and listen for traffic especially from behind. If you come across a noisy or dangerous hazard always reassure your horse. Horses look to the rider for support and guidance in these situations so a calm spoken word from you or a gentle pat works wonders. If you are in company and you have a horse that is more experienced, then let them take the lead. Your horse will follow and gain confidence by seeing another horse not reacting to the hazard ahead. Ride in a forward and positive manner so your horse is feeding on your confidence. Even when you know your horse is going to react, portray calmness and assurance to them. The majority of the time this diffuses the situation and they then walk past or through the hazard, all be it twenty hands tall but you have got past it safely!

Riding Safely on our Roads

It is not always possible to ride on rural bridleways or through quiet countryside, so sometimes hacking out does mean road work. Are you aware of the Highway Code when it comes to riding your horse on the roads? It may seem obvious to us what safety precautions we should be doing when riding out, but take a moment to have a read of the guidelines that are there. You should always ride on the left hand side of the road and never riding more than two abreast.

With traffic approaching riding in single file is safer and always acknowledge a thanks to the driver. A courteous thank you to cars that have slowed down and passed wide goes a long way in driver attitudes to horses on the road. Always wear hi-viz clothing when riding out and ensure your horse has adequate hi-viz attire too. A study has shown that wearing hi-viz clothing makes you more visible to a car driver approximately three seconds earlier than without it. Those three seconds are vital in the avoidance of a potential accident. Make sure you ride out in clear daylight and not when the light is fading or visibility is poor.  Always wear a riding hat and have your mobile phone with you in case of an emergency. However, texting or taking a call when riding is not advisable! If you take all of these safety points when riding out on the roads, it is like wearing a seatbelt in a car.

Losing your Nerve

Generally hacking out is a relaxing past time and a great way to bond with your horse. Understandably if you have had an incident while out hacking it can cause you to lose your nerve. Getting your confidence back can take time, but it is vital to get back in the saddle sooner rather than later. Either ride an experienced horse or ask a knowledgeable friend to accompany you when first riding out again. Make the first rides short and at a walk. Increase the length of time riding out which will help you feel more positive about hacking your horse again.

Enjoy Hacking Out

Take a moment to look at the lovely countryside and give your horse a thank you pat when you next ride out. How lucky we are to enjoy such a wonderful past time with these very special animals. Hacking out is fun but it is equally demanding in the skill you need to stay safe. Most of all, enjoy being a happy hacker!

Written By Samantha Hobden

Header Image: © Copyright Robin Webster and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

Body Image: © Copyright Adrian S Pye and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.