Schooling outside the arena is a great way to keep horses interested in their work. There are no areas on a hack that can’t be used for training.
Everyone knows the benefits of having a well schooled horse or pony. It is far nicer to ride a responsive, balanced animal than one that is wooden to the aids and heavy on the forehand. Obviously a horse that is doing competitions, whether they are cross country, showjumping, dressage, or even hunting, or ridden showing classes has to be well schooled to be able perform properly. Schooling takes hours of dedicated riding, flexing, bending, increasing and decreasing the pace until the required level of training has been achieved. We always assume that it is necessary to train the horse on a good soft level surface in a ménage with perfect footing.
But what if you don’t have a ménage available? Or what if you hate riding in the ménage? Horses that are ridden in a ménage every day can switch off mentally and become bored and frustrated. Then it is impossible for them to achieve their full potential. Schooling the horse while out on a hack is a great way to keep horses interested in their work. Horses like their riders need to see an occasional change of scenery. Wouldn’t you hate it if you had to go to school and have to recite the same French verbs over and over again day after day?
It is essential for horses to be ridden outside the ménage in order to see the world otherwise they could become scared and panicky when faced with the hustle and bustle of a competition. In our modern world, it is an essential part of training for horses to see machinery, people and traffic. You can even school when out with a group of friends, this is a great way to discipline a horse or pony to concentrate and work even when other things are distracting him.
Hacking out can give you plenty of opportunities for schooling without having to endure the boring grind of endless circles. Hacking out can still be used to school the horse to a high level without using a ménage. There are no areas on a hack that can’t be used for training, be aware of the ground though, it is unfair to ask the horse or pony to work on wet, rutted, hard or stony ground. Most riders will know the tracks and fields in their area where it is possible to ride. Make sure the horse of pony is traffic proof and be sure that the area that you choose to school is free of rubbish, hidden ditches and other dangers.
When schooling while out on a hack, start with ten minutes in a quiet but not lazy walk, give the horse the freedom to stretch his neck as much as he needs. Flex his neck slightly to the left and right in order to loosen both sides of the neck muscles and help him flex at the poll. In this loosening phase you can easily change the bend of the neck slightly left and right in order to straighten the horse. This works best by giving with one hand in a forward and upward direction. It is this movement of the bit in the mouth that encourages the horse to soften and stretch forward and downwards. After walking let the horse go forwards into a free-moving trot, allowing him to carry his head long and low. When trotting while on a hack, change diagonals every 10 strides.
While out on a hack you can make use of all of the grass verges, forestry and open land to do the same exercises that would be done in a ménage.
Grass verges are perfect for:-
Grass verges offer a perfect opportunity for schooling while out on a hack. Watch out for discarded rubbish and don’t try to school on verges that are rutted, or too muddy. A grass verge is a great place for practising riding in a straight line, one of the hardest exercises for the horse and rider. The narrow lines at the side of the road can give you a guideline, try keeping the horse in a straight line using just your weight and leg aids. In the beginning, the horse will not stay in a straight line for very long, but this will get better with time. Be sure that you are riding straight yourself as the horse may drift off line because of the rider’s crookedness.
This is the first exercise in bending and flexing the horse. The amount of bend is only slight and the horse is bent away from the direction of movement. The rider must turn his shoulders so that they remain parallel to the horse’s shoulders. Make sure that your weight is in your inside seat bone and that your inside leg is used to bend the horse through his whole back so that he can go forwards using both sides of his body evenly. In shoulder in the horse should cross his front legs and work on three or four tracks with the hind legs staying on the track. The outside leg is placed behind the girth to prevent the hindquarters swinging to the outside.
All verges and paths are excellent, regardless of how narrow they are for transitions from one pace to another, from halt to walk and on to trot and canter. Practice riding to a straight halt. Rein back can also be practised while riding along verges.
Tracks are perfect for:-
Quiet country lanes and tracks make an excellent place to school; they needn’t be more than four metres wide. Sandy tracks are ideal but you can also use traffic free tarmac roads for work at a walk.
It is important that the serpentine is ridden with weight and leg aids so that the horse bends properly around the inside leg and doesn’t just do a zig zag from one side of the road to the other. A serpentine requires the same aids as a shoulder in except that the leg presses more firmly against the horse so that he moves forward in the direction of the bend. It is important that the horse is straightened briefly before bending in the new direction. Make sure that your aids are precise and clear so that you end up with a supple horse that listens to your aids.
You can use trees and bushes while riding through open land to ride serpentines and doing other bending and suppling exercises.
The half pass is a forwards and sideways movement. In this movement there is the danger that the horse will move his tempo and impulsion or that he will fall onto his forehand. It is important not to ask for too much at once, rather ride a few steps to encourage more bending of the joints and swinging through the back. To achieve the forwards sideways movement the inside leg has the additional function of asking the horse to go forwards, while the outside leg behind the girth is responsible for asking the hind leg to step under and sideways.
Fences are perfect for:-
Any form of barrier can be used for a leg yielding exercise. Ride the horse alongside the barrier. Put your weight in the desired direction without collapsing at the hip, bring the inside rein slightly away from the neck, leading the horse in the direction of movement. Put the outside leg slightly back. When the horse responds to your weight aid and moves his weight use your leg to ask the outside hind leg to step under his body. Make sure that the horse moves over step by step and does not just slide over sideways. After a few successful strides try moving in the other direction.
Riding up and down hills
There is no better gymnastic exercise for a horse than being ridden up and down hills. It improves tempo, improves condition and builds muscle. Riding a rein back against a slight hill is a wonderful exercise for tucking the haunches underneath the horse. It should be ridden step by step gradually increasing the number of steps. Many animals will try to swing to one side, use your leg aids to keep him straight and lighten your seat aids to give the horse room to bring his hind legs under him.
A quiet, straight halt is a very difficult movement to perform. And yet it is one of the most vital movements that a horse needs to learn. It is important for the rider to be able to sit quietly without gripping so that you do not give the horse the signal to move off. Count to four and then give the horse the aid to step forwards, reward him for this. Gradually extend the amount of time that the horse stands still.
You can also practice school movements while out hacking with friends. This gives the rider the perfect opportunity to practice standing still, while the other horses walk away. When riding out with friends change position in the group frequently so that the horse does not get used to being in one place. It is important that each horse will lead the group and also settle at the back. This is a great way to practice for riding in competitions in the future when there will be a lot of activity going on around the horse. You can practice all of the school movements when out with friends.
Be certain that your horse is bombproof before you ride out alone. Always wear a hard hat and it is also advisable to wear a high visibility vest. Avoid busy roads, especially if you are trying to concentrate on schooling your horse.