hacking horses

Happy Hacking Horses: A Guide To Great Hacking

You’re in the saddle with the sun on your face and a calming breeze at your back. You’re surrounded by greenery and birdsong. You feel the rhythmic clip-clop of hooves beneath you as you trot along the bridlepath. You must be hacking my equestrian friend!

Hacking or ‘hacking out’ is all about enjoying a leisurely ride exploring the countryside and connecting with your equine companion.

A rider who enjoys riding for light exercise as opposed to competing in an arena is often described as a ‘happy hacker’. A horse who enjoys an outing away from the yard in the countryside is a ‘happy hacker’ too.

We explore the benefits and practicalities of hacking and share tons of tips to help you and your horse hack happily, safely and confidently.

What Is Hacking?

Hacking generally refers to off-road riding. Think of trotting along bridleways, grassy lanes and open fields, soaking in the beauty of the landscape. Of course, sometimes to reach this scenic nature we have to ride along public roads.

Horse hacking can be a good opportunity for some training and fitness work.

Competition hack: Althoughhacking generally doesn’t refer to competition or racing, there’s a little wordplay to keep in mind here. Hack can also refer to a type of horse that participates in competitive showing.

These horses are typically known for their elegance, manners, and smooth graceful performance. They are judged on riding, conformation and show quality. Thoroughbreds tend to perform well as show hacks.

However, we’ll focus here on non-competitive hacking and horse riding.

Benefits Of Hacking Hor Horses

Hacking horses are often better-rounded than horses that never leave home. Hacking can build healthy bodies, curious minds, and happy hearts.

  • Muscle workout: Hacking isn’t a gallop but rather a healthy light exercise. This may include an extended rising trot and even a canter to stretch the legs (if the ground is good). The overall outing engages different muscle groups, helps strengthen joints and ligaments, and keeps your horse toned and happy.
  • Heart health: A lively trot across a field gets the heart pumping and the lungs working too.
  • Mental gym: Hacking is a mental gym for horses. Negotiating different terrains, avoiding obstacles, and responding to your cues keep their minds sharp. Fresh sights, sounds, and smells stimulate the equine’s natural curiosity.
  • Confidence builder: Overcoming small challenges and obstacles such as negotiating a steep river bank or jumping a hedge boosts confidence and makes the horse braver and more adaptable.
  • Making new friends: Horses are social creatures too. If you encounter other riders on the trail, it’s a chance for your horse to say hello to, or maybe playfully nicker at, their four-legged compatriot.
  • Bonding time: Undoubtedly the best part of hacking is the quality time spent with your riding companion. Every rider who hacks out regularly knows how the experience strengthens connection and trust.

Benefits Of Hacking For The Horse Rider

  • Great exercise: Those who hack regularly, especially over variable terrain, will tell you what an excellent workout it is for riders. Hacking works a rider’s core muscles, and tones and strengthens thighs, quads, gluteals, and calves. The upper body also benefits.
  • Health benefits: So we’ve agreed that hacking is good exercise. But there’s more – hacking allows you to escape the hustle and bustle and exercise in nature.Many studies, including a ‘green exercise’ study by several UK universities, agree that outdoor exercise can bring mental health benefits such as reducing stress and depression.Besides the mental health benefits, exercise in green spaces is believed to lift overall well-being, including reducing blood pressure.
  • Improved saddle skills: Hacking is an opportunity to focus on your posture and maintain your correct seat. It helps you get into the habit of sitting up tall, engaging your core, and looking ahead. You can develop your skills and balance in different gaits, like a good rising trot and a canter over longer distances.
  • Improved concentration: As you negotiate trails, avoid obstacles, and look out for hazards, you improve your focus and concentration in the saddle.
  • Confidence booster: Just as your filly may gain confidence by crossing a tricky footbridge, you get confidence in yourself knowing that your guiding hand helped her.
  • Social time: Horse riding off-road can be a social activity when you hack out with fellow riders. It’s an opportunity- perhaps a rare chance – to connect with and enjoy the company of other horse lovers.

Tips For Happy Horse Hacking

You’re all geared up to head off-road and stretch all six of your legs! Here are some helpful tips to guide you as you go.

Choose your hack route carefully

It’s always an excellent idea to be familiar with the terrain you plan to ride. Speak to more experienced riders or your school for advice about hacking routes. Research local bridleways, trails, and quiet lanes that are suitable for you and your horse. Be aware that horses aren’t permitted on motorways. Horse riding is also not allowed on pavements, many footpaths, and cycle paths.

Many hackers will drive and walk the course before taking their horse out to ensure there are no tricky surprises or difficult hazards, such as slippery crossings or dangerous roads.

Courses with different types of surfaces will provide a well-rounded, stimulating experience.

For beginners, start with shorter trails and gradually increase the distance as you and your horse gain more confidence.

Confidence-building exercises

A good tip is to practice confidence-building exercises in a controlled environment like around the yard before venturing out. These exercises can include jumping obstacles and riding in different gaits.

The right gear and tack

You want to make sure both you and your horse are properly kitted out for comfort and safety. For you, this means:

  • A well-fitted helmet
  • Comfortable, sturdy riding boots
  • Comfortable clothing, possibly including a body protector
  • A hi-vis jacket so that you are clearly visible

As always when horse riding, give your pony’s tack a good check-over. Ensure the saddle, bridle, reins, and other equipment are in good condition and properly fitted.

Start riding out gently

Start your ride with a controlled walk to warm up your horse’s muscles. Gradually increase the pace as your horse becomes comfortable.

Encourage confidence

Offer positive reinforcement to bolster your horse’s confidence. Verbal praise, gentle pats, and reassurance go a long way to building self-belief. You can offer little snacks as rewards and to reinforce good performance.

Introduce new environments and challenges gradually. This helps both you and your horse adapt and gain confidence over time.

Group riding awareness

If riding in a group, maintain a safe distance from the horse in front. This contributes to a smoother and safer ride for everyone.

Horse-Hacking Safety Pointers

Let’s discuss crucial safety considerations.

  • Hi-vis wear: You’re wearing your hi-vis jacket. What about your horse? Ideally, they should be kitted out too, especially in low visibility. Brightly coloured or reflective accessories such as tail wraps and brushing boots will make your hacking horse more visible.
  • Unpredictable nature: Nature is full of surprises that may startle your horse. Don’t stress about this, but do be mindful. Look out for wildlife, farming activity, cyclists, and other unexpected elements up ahead. By anticipating these ‘surprises’ you can avoid them or prepare and calm your horse.
  • Weather: Check the weather forecast before heading out. Trust me, getting caught in nasty weather can change a fun day out into a miserable ordeal. Extreme weather also increases the risk factor.
  • Inform others: Always inform a friend, family member, or instructor about your hacking plans. Share your route, estimated return time, and relevant emergency contacts (just in case).
  • Traffic and road safety for riders
    • Be aware of road crossings and traffic. Approach roads sensibly and cautiously. Know that horses aren’t allowed on the motorway. Ideally, you should travel on routes where there is less traffic, good visibility, and where drivers aren’t known to speed recklessly.
    • Ride in a single file on the road when hacking horses in a group. Keep to the left side, facing oncoming traffic. Maintain a safe distance from the road’s edge to reduce the risk of spooking your steed.
    • Use clear signals to communicate your intentions to drivers and cyclists. Hand signals and audible cues can help them anticipate your actions. Except for when signalling, you want to keep your hands firmly on the reins, correctly positioned.
    • Approach road crossings carefully and try to use designated crossings where available. Wait for a safe gap in traffic before crossing smartly.

What Should I Carry With Me When Hacking?

A good hacker is always prepared and safety-conscious. The following should be part of your hacking kit when hitting longer trails.

  • A well-charged phone
  • Water and snacks for both you and your horse
  • A basic first aid kit, including essentials like bandages, antiseptic wipes, and any necessary medications for both you and your horse.
  • Map or GPS – if you’re exploring a new trail and heading a long way off-road, a route map or GPS device will keep your hack on track.
  • Identification tags. We may not want to think about getting separated from our horse but it’s always a risk. Identification tags with your contact information attached to your horse’s bridle or saddle will reunite you with your horse.
  • Depending on your route, consider tools like a hoof pick and a small knife/multi-tool.
  • An extra clothing layer, including a lightweight waterproof jacket, is advisable for longer off-road adventures.


How experienced must a rider be to hack?

Hacking is for riders who have some experience and can exercise control of their horse. They must have above reasonable balance, be comfortable riding on roads and bridleways, and be able to vary the pace and direction of their horse. Inexperienced hackers should go out with more experienced riders initially.

Do you need to be fit to go hacking?

Mobility and rider weight are generally more important than fitness, although being fit is certainly an advantage and will allow you to hack out and trot and canter for longer periods.  

What kind of horses make good hacking horses for beginners?

As a general rule, ‘Cold Bloods’ like Cobs and Fjords or crosses with these breeds are suitable for riders with limited hacking experience since these equines tend to have a calm temperament.

Final Thoughts

As the quote goes, “The best way to see what God made is from the back of a horse”. Follow the above horse hacking ‘hacks’ and you’re sure to experience the best of this wonderful pastime from that most special vantage point.

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