If your arena surface rides like the Sahara desert during the summer months or you just don’t have regular access to an arena, then don’t despair. Courtesy of Equetech, top dressage rider Amy Stovold ,who is probably better known inside the dressage arena than for her hacking skills –shows readers that getting your horse out of the school and into the fields and woods can have long far reaching benefits for both horse and rider and even help polish up your schooling too!
I love hacking my dressage horses, not only does it give us all a change of scene, but it’s a fantastic opportunity to further their educations, whilst they are having fun and not within the realms of the arena fencing.
If you own a spooky horse, hacking is a great way for them to see the world and quite literally ‘get over it’!! By riding your spooky horse forward and positively past ‘monster’ in the hedgerow, you are enforcing good practice for when you ride in competitions and he suddenly see’s something he doesn’t like. If you spot something in the distance, that you know your horse is going to spook at, be prepared, start to pick him and concentrate on getting him connected between the hand and leg and marching forward. Depending on your horses’ temperament or age, it might be beneficial for the horse to stop and have a look, however if you own one of life’s ‘worriers’ then you are better off being in charge of the situation and riding him past whatever may frighten him – if he goes past with little or no reaction –be sure to praise him as well, as if he had just done a fantastic transition in the school.
Take advantage of your horses’ willingness to go forward –this doesn’t mean jogging –but an active stepping out walk is great and if you can get him really stretching over his top line and down –then think of the feel and just how high your score would be if you could get this in a test environment!
If the ground is good, I like to give them a trot and a bit of canter, which is good for their souls. Just as if you were schooling in the arena, think about rhythm, softness and straightness in all three gaits. If you are lucky enough to have a flat area of good ground that you can school in, then work on circles and shapes and map out an arena shape in your mind and work to it. Very often you will be surprised at how much horses rely on the arena fence and lean into it –a nightmare if your next competition is just ground markers –so this can be very telling!
If your horse is a bit stuffy, then choose a long open inviting stretch for a good long canter, that you can build up into a good medium canter –to get his attention and get his blood up –practising riding medium canter into working canter not only helps the horse develop his hind leg muscles but also teaches him to listen and wait for the riders commands.
Remember to think about straightness and keeping the horse travelling forward as well as side-ways. This again is a great exercise for spooky horses, which tend to shy away from things as it encourages greater control of the shoulders.
Practice halting and waiting out hacking –this is a good discipline exercise for all horses and with the energy you have got behind, you should be able to develop a good square halt that will help you pick up easy marks in a test.
Hacking out your dressage horse is a great chance for you both to spend quality time with each other without being ‘disciplined’ in every stride, so make sure you allow some ‘fun time’ in there and remember, dressage training doesn’t have to be confined to the arena – get out and about and enjoy the scenery and polish up on your horses training!