I was hacking Llani last week, and was really pleased that he hacked out through the village and up a previously unexplored road before going into a new field and cantering around before wandering home. All without spooking or getting worried.
He was nosey but confident as he peered into the driveways and at the plastic wrapped silage, but he didn`t hesitate at all.
It made me think as I went along about the process of teaching a horse or rider to hack along. After all, it was only a couple of months ago when Llani was a nervous wreck, spooking at any excuse, even in company.
Initially I guess the first step is to happily hack with others, be it in front or behind, and to have a selection of familiar routes.
If it is the rider who is nervous about hacking on their own then they need to feel like they can take the lead on a group hack confidently and then, on a fine day they can spend fifteen minutes in the arena, getting their bodies warmed up and making sure they feel comfortable with their horse – for example make sure your horse isn`t unsettled today – and then finish their ride with a walk around the block. If necessary, someone could walk on foot to boost confidence levels. The route taken should be familiar to both horse and rider as it quells some nerves and reduces the number of unknowns. Once the rider feels happy going around this route they should try another known route and build up from there.
I think if you are a nervous hacker it is important to regularly hack so that you build on each week and make progress, as well a maintaining the standard.You should aim to push yourself slightly more each time. So ride a route backwards, or wander down an unknown lane and then return to your original road, or pick a slightly busier time of day, when you know you may meet a few more cars or pedestrians. Factoring in new things one at a time can improve your ability to cope with the unknown and will mean that you are more confident in a variety of situations.
The one thing a rider shouldn`t feel is stressed. So don`t pick a time of day when you have a pressing appointment, or it is getting dark, make sure you have plenty of time so you can stay in walk for the entire hack should you wish. The horse will pick up on your nerves too, and start looking out for monsters which could upset a rider further. If you have bags of time and reach something you don`t feel is solvable (such as roadworks) then you have chance to take a longer detour which will leave you and your horse happier.
If it is the horse who is being introduced to solo hacking I tend to follow the same procedure. I make sure that the weather is suitable. For example, I wouldn`t choose a windy day to hack out alone, and I would avoid the village on bin day. After riding in the school, and ensuring he has got rid of any excess energy, I would walk him down along the lane or wood or field, whichever he feels most confident at. Once this route becomes easy I would alternative it with another, more complex route. This more complex route may just involve crossing a road, or it may be riding past horses in the field – thus testing the napping response. On slightly windy or wet days I would do the easy route, as the weather is an additional factor for the horse to cope with.
Once I have established a few routes I make sure I vary them, or combine them to make longer tracks, and to make sure the horse isn`t becoming stuck in a rut and that he is happy to be taken wherever I want to go. Sometimes I just ride past the turning for home a few times to make sure they aren`t hurrying home. If you`re lucky enough to have a couple of entrances to the yard it is important to make use of them.
Gradually, with regular work you can reduce the school work before the ride outs and increase the duration of the solo hack. As with a nervous rider I push boundaries everytime. We end up wandering along a different track in the woods, or stopping to watch some lorries go past the gateway. I want to feel every hack is beneficial and educational. The horse should enjoy it, and even if they face their fear of the cyclist behind them, they are still rewarded. Any spook should be discussed. If Llani spooks at something I make him stand as soon as possible. I don`t tell him off, but make sure he can look at the object, take it in, and learn that it is`t a monster. When he`s considered my question I quietly ask him to go past it. When he has he gets a big pat and verbal reward. I believe that teaching the horse to digest their situation and what is being asked of them is key to them remembering the lesson and means that they react positively when put into that situation again.
I don`t think it should take too long to teach a horse to hack alone, but it needs to be consistent so that they don`t forget the lessons they have learnt and become wary of the monsters they haven`t seen for a month. If I know there is roadworks or other monsters nearby I take the challenge of introducing it to my horse. If I know they`ll be worried I go with someone, but then later I ill revisit it on my own.
If anyone else is going through the process of learning to hack alone then I`d appreciate their feedback and suggestions.