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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Apr. 23, 2005

    Default Hacking Alone

    I wasn't really sure where to put this but a lot of the threads here talk about hacking so I figured this would be a good start.

    I'm a big fan of hacking, and I'd live to incorporate it into my mare's training as much as possible. The issue is that I don't have many opportunities to hack out with other horses, which is especially important with the greenies.

    My mare has probably gone on about 3 hacks - two with other horses (she was great, brave, not spooky), and one little jaunt solo where she was looky and very much "on alert" (way more so than with other horses), but still good.

    I will be sticking on property, staying out of the woods (more visible, less scary stuff) for the first while, taking a cell phone, sticking to the walk for a while, etc.

    So, those of you who don't have other horses to take out with your greenies, what do you do to ensure a fun, safe, good experience? I've always taken greenies out with other horses, so I'm wondering if there's something I should do that I'm not thinking of.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Apr. 17, 2012


    First of all, your mare needs to know that you are a strong and trustworthy leader--so she doesn't have to be! That means that you ride her positively and actively on your solo trail rides. As in, marching walk, correct trot, don't even bother with the canter for right now until you two are sure you're communicating in all situations. You don't just drift along on the buckle, giving her no input when she's looking to jump out of her skin! Shoulder-in is a great thing to do on a "looky" horse to keep her from taking off; it ensures you keep control and can "spill" the energy if need be.

    Be relaxed, not looky yourself (don't laugh--we anticipate more than our horses sometimes!) but let her know these hacks are "work" if pleasant work and you should be just fine.

    I find that I get the BEST work out of my horses hacking out alone--you're not distracted by chitchat and the antics of other people's horses.

    The cell phone is a great idea; you may also want to put a luggage tag on your saddle with your cell number, her barn number and address, and your emergency numbers in case you two get, er, "separated."


  3. #3
    Join Date
    Dec. 2, 2004


    Learn how to instinctively do a one rein stop. Sit up, shoulders back and pull one short rein around tight to make the horse stop it's feet. Then relax the rein as reward. Repeat until you have the horse's attention. Then when they relax let them gaze and enjoy life, they get this reward when they remain controlled and calm.

    Use this when the horse gets quick, excited, tries to bolt (why you have to practice and be ready to use it). It makes the horse refocus on you and learn to calm themselves. And you can't fall off if you use this leverage. It pulls you down deeper in the saddle, and the horse feels that connection as a confidence also.

    Having this in your bag of tricks will allow you to ride more safely alone with a greenie. enjoy the green yrs - it builds a wonderful partnership.
    Don't let anyone tell you that your ideas or dreams are foolish. There is a millionaire walking around who invented the pool noodle.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Jul. 19, 2003
    Round Hill, VA


    My horse is a bit of a wild man (although quieter now than a year ago), and hacking can be...interesting. I do, however, PREFER hacking by myself, for a variety of reasons (I can go at what pace I want, I often hack FAR longer than most others are willing, I don't like Toby's shenanigans upsetting other horses, and so on). It wasn't always easy, but with a littler persistence, it has gotten MUCH better. I'm sure it helps that his antics don't bother me, and I'm confident in my ability to ride the majority he throws at me, take all of this with a grain of salt. You may find some things tougher than I do, depending on your general bravery and stickability.

    I would start by taking her out a little and often. A few minutes after every ride possible (when she's a little tired). Each time, press both your comfort zones, and go somewhere a little new and a little scary. Don't ride into like it's scary, though. Ride bravely and boldly, leg on, marching forward.

    Don't think that "hacking out" means on the buckle. While that's fine and dandy for horses who can do it and be trusted, it isn't right for every horse, in every circumstance. Remember my rule, that I had drilled into my head- On the bit, or on the buckle. Don't just ride her on a short tense rein that allows her to be stiff, hollow, and set against you. This often exasperates the issue of a tense, spooky horse! If you can't drop the reins, put her properly on the bit, riding into the contact, soft (hopefully), and listening. And then ask her to do stuff! Keep her engaged a focused on you by asking for a little shoulder in, leg yielding here and there, do a few transitions. The more focused she becomes on you, the less worried she'll be about the big wide world. And you can always test her by dropping the reins and seeing if she keeps that soft, engaged state of mind (I'm always amazed at how tuned in my horse really is, even when I'm on the buckle, admiring the scenery).

    You can also introduce the concept of getting out and about by schooling her on the flat in various locations other than the ring. Empty pasture? Do a little flat work. Wide shoulder? Practice some 10 meter circles. Teach her that just because she's not surrounded by a fence that she does not have to work and focus.

    A fun trick to help YOU stay relaxed is to ride her on the buckle and put one hand on your hip. It's really hard to ride tensely if you're sitting like an old cowboy on a good old cow pony. I've taught quite a few people to do this little trick on a horse that would be tense and spooky, but that I could see was tense because the ride was tense (I don't know you, so just take this with a grain of may be super relaxed, for all I know!).

    Good to take your phone (ON YOU. Not the horse). And good to stick close, but like I said, push a little bit further and/or scarier. Ride a marching walk. AND, just know, that sometimes putting them on the bit and riding a nice, energetic working trot actually makes the ride FAR braver and quieter than poking along at the walk (this used to be the only way I could get from the ring back to the barn!).

    Have fun! It's SUPPOSED to be fun, and it is necessary to your horse's strength, fitness, and mental well being. I love hacking my horse (Even when he's mildly homicidal), and it is hard to beat a long hack through beautiful country with the best horse and the best dog in the world.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Jun. 17, 2001
    down the road from bar.ka


    You might want to add a little more bridle and/or a martingale too. Soft is wonderful but you need to be sure you have brakes and steering in a storm. You don't have to rely on them unless you get into that storm and then you'll be glad you had them on.

    It's important horse has a good experience and does not pick up any undesireable ideas about seeing what she can get away with.

    You'll be fine if your basics are there. just better safe then sorry...and wear that helmet.
    When opportunity knocks it's wearing overalls and looks like work.

    The horse world. Two people. Three opinions.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Jan. 23, 2004
    Camden, De


    Pretty much everything yellowbritches said. I always have a bunch of green ottb's in that I am retraining and taking on their first hacks both in groups and solo. I have some specifics that work well for me.

    - always have martingale and neck strap on. Spurs and whip are mandatory for me. Have girth and stirrups adjusted before you get on (nothing worse than exploding horse and trying to adjust your stuff). Wear my vest and have a phone on me. I want all my tools!

    - keep it short and sweet the first time. If you do 10 min that is great. Slowly expand.

    - depends on the horse how I ride them. My horse has a spook/spin move that is very talented so there is no loose rein until he is tired which sometimes isn't for the whole ride I ride him into contact and keep him mentally engaged with lateral work and transitions. Some horses are just relaxed as can be and they can be ridden on a more relaxed rein.

    - sometimes it is easier to trailer out to ride than to ride away from the barn. I trailer to a local trail system and then I am not battling back to the barnitis.

    - Hacking is fun but it's not goof off time. I have seen so many people ruin a good horse by going out and acting goofy. I'm all for a good gallop but only when I know that I have put a really good foundation on a horse or if the horse can mentally handle it.

    - I treat hacking like a job. Horse must go forward and be on the aids. I may or may not ride into contact but I still do work on things like half halts, going forward and coming back and moving off the leg laterally. I think it prepares them for xc nicely.

    - So important that the rider be confident and ride forward. If the horse doesn't want to walk than don't pick a fight. Trot a bit and then try again.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Mar. 26, 2005
    Back to Normal.. or as close as I'll ever get

    Default Not just greenbeans

    My OTTB was 6 when I got him and started out looking at trails as the World's Longest Post Parade to the Grass Track

    Even in a group he'd jig aaaaalllll the way out & aaaallll the way back.
    So what I ended up doing was turning back, leaving the group, and taking him either to the outdoor or indoor (depending on his Krazed Level) for some work.

    Eventually we could go a bit farther with the group when he made the connection that jigging = going home to work.
    And after a year or so I could ride him out alone, on the buckle.
    Once he settled, we did a lot of early morning solo rides including some gallops.

    Each Spring we'd have to have a little refresher course where on-the-buckle did not happen until the 4th or 5th ride of the season.

    He was that way for the 20 years I had him, Silly Old Horse
    *friend of bar.ka*RIP all my lovely boys, gone too soon:
    Steppin' Out 1988-2004
    Hey Vern! 1982-2009, Cash's Bay Threat 1994-2009
    Sam(Jaybee Altair) 1994-2015

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Dec. 12, 2004


    Some great, great ideas on this thread!'s okay to admit that it is not a good day for hacking! Don't set yourself up for failure! I was going to go for a hack yesterday on my (previously discussed) 4yo mare, who is usually quite good.

    However, her buddy started screaming for her the second she left. The manure pile was being relocated with heavy machinery and banging. It was cool, blustery, and all the horses were up. The mare we were going to go out with is not a dead-head either.

    So I'm tacking her up in the aisle, with her head way up on max alert, another gust of winding whipping down the aisle, and I said "You know, I don't think we'll go out today." We went and did some work in the ring instead.

    Of course horses need to learn to deal with things. But if you can tell it's maybe not going to be a productive environment, right from the minute you leave the paddock....then find something else to do for the day!

    Also, for the babies in particular this seems to work....make hacking a treat and do it after they're tired. I like to get a good workout in under saddle, and then head out for a hack to kinda cool off. The "edge" is usually off, and it's something different at the end of the workout. Most seem to enjoy it.

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Nov. 5, 2011
    Wish I knew, but the journey is interesting


    Talking to the horse. That stops you tensing up as you have to breath to talk. Singing helps too.

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Oct. 29, 2010


    You've already gotten some great advice and tips above, so I won't rehash all of that.

    Something to add though - Do you have someone willing to go out with you several times over a few weeks as a ground person? I know it isn't exactly the same as going out with a group of horses, but it could help.

    When I first started hacking my boy, I had other horses... but no one else to ride them! My mom no longer rides, but started walking out with me on the ground (with her cell phone as well). This meant keeping the rides short and closer to home at first. As we got more comfortable, we would stray away from her for a few minutes at a time (always within ear shot) - going up/down a hill or two, doing some canter down a straight trail, or walking through one of the short loops in the woods. It was also great when we would come upon something "spooky" that my boy didn't want to go near. He trusted my mom, so she could lead him up to the spooky thing, or reassure him with a hand on his neck from the ground (different with a baby than reassurance from the rider).

    I'm not sure when it happened exactly, but eventually he and I just started going out by ourselves. I always made sure I had my phone and that someone was home just in case. Now, we hack alone for long periods of time - it's a favorite thing for both of us. Sometimes it is just a 10-15 walk through the woods as a reward for a good ride in the arena. Sometimes we're gone for hours exploring the ravines.
    I have Higher Standards... do you?

    "For the love of my horse, I know who I am."

  11. #11
    Join Date
    Jun. 25, 2004


    All great advise already. Just to expand that singing really works.

    Of course you have to find the right song. My gelding is on the lookout for monsters, etc until I crank up "Old MacDonald Had A Farm". Nothing else calms him like that song. . .go figure.
    "Never do anything that you have to explain twice to the paramedics."
    Courtesy my cousin Tim

  12. #12
    Join Date
    Apr. 16, 2005


    My guy isn't green but we were somewhat green about hacking out when I first got him. He's an ex-QH show horse whom I don't think was ever ridden out and about and I had a horrible accident about 21 years ago while hacking out. So over the years, I have slowly built up to hacking out alone but always on the farm property only.

    Well.... this past Sunday something happened. And I'm not sure what. He was being very good right up to that point. But we ended up parting ways and he stepped on my forearm. Thankfully, he didn't break it but I'm pretty beat up.

    I always carry my cellphone since I ride pretty much alone all the time. My hubby is my "back up". Sometimes the BO is there but she's not with me. I also usually gauge what kind of day he is having and gear my rides towards that. But this one kinda came out of the blue.

    I'm just thankful that nothing more serious happened. Of course you can take every precaution and ride smart... but sh*t still happens. That's why I ALWAYS carry my cellphone.

  13. #13
    Join Date
    Oct. 12, 2004
    Ontario, Canada


    if one of us is nervous I sing janis joplin.

    i do it partly to calm my horse, partly to scare away the deer, turkeys etc. that may be plotting an ambush around the next turn.

  14. #14
    Join Date
    Dec. 14, 2005

    Default CAVEAT

    Don't get complaiscent because you're close to home: I did, a young deer spooked my horse, and we parted company. Luckily he didn't take off, but he truly was startled.

  15. #15
    Join Date
    Oct. 26, 2007
    San Jose, Ca


    I like heading out alone to create a steady trail horse. Have reformed a few “spookers” by doing lots of solo rides.

    Before my horse was old enough to ride we went on "hikes" everywhere. It was a great way for her to see all kinds of stuff, and trust in me as we both headed out alone.

    Now at 5 years old she is a kick butt trail horse! She will go bravely ANYWHERE I point her, and really doesn’t have a spook at all (she will startle if a buck jumps out practically on top of us, but that is it).

    We always head out alone, I think we have had another horse and rider join us just twice over the years (and she was the brave leader).

    I agree with all of the points SwampYankee and Yellow Britches said.

    A fun trick to help YOU stay relaxed is to ride her on the buckle and put one hand on your hip. It's really hard to ride tensely if you're sitting like an old cowboy on a good old cow pony.
    HAHAH YES!! I do this and totally feel like a cowboy as I ride through the cow pastures – of course this is only on cool down walks, otherwise its usually both hands on the reins, asking for a nice contact and a through back as we do trot work up hills.
    APPSOLUTE CHOCKLATE - Photo by Kathy Colman

  16. #16
    Join Date
    Dec. 15, 2005


    Wear a helmet and vest. Put the Find my Friends app on your iPhone, and tell someone who is listed as a Friend that you are going. Then, go and have fun.

  17. #17
    Join Date
    Nov. 10, 2005


    I carry my cell phone and also wear a small fanny back with some first aid items in it. Singing is great. I always sing Oh what a Beautiful Morning... My mare has forgiven me for my less than stellar singing voice.

  18. #18
    Join Date
    Jul. 19, 2003
    Round Hill, VA

    Default's okay to admit that it is not a good day for hacking!
    Just want to repeat this.

    This was us today. Typically, I try to go for a hack after a dressage school, but it is chilly and very windy and Toby was right on the edge of being wild (I was pleasantly surprised at how our ride turned out!). So, we stayed in the ring today...I didn't feel up to one of "those" rides!

  19. #19


    I started hacking my horse almost as soon as I got her as a 3yo OTTB. At first we went for very short in-hand walks. Then I walked her around the outside perimeter of the outdoor ring, then around the barn property, then we graduated to "real" trail rides with a buddy. She was always very confident and to this day, I swear she enjoys trail riding more than anything else we do. I ALWAYS take my cell phone, and I clip it to myself, not the saddle! I always leave a note on her stall or the whiteboard on the tack room at the barn so people know what time I left and which direction I went. The horse always wears something bright (bright saddle pad or polos). I have gotten dumped a couple times when out by myself, and my horse is a runner, not a stop-and-feel-sorry type, so when I fall off, I get to do the walk of shame all the way home. I usually find her grazing quietly outside the barn, or standing in her stall. Sigh.

  20. #20
    Join Date
    Jun. 7, 2006


    Quote Originally Posted by over the moon View Post
    So, those of you who don't have other horses to take out with your greenies, what do you do to ensure a fun, safe, good experience? I've always taken greenies out with other horses, so I'm wondering if there's something I should do that I'm not thinking of.
    My now-7yo started going under saddle in the November of his 3yo year. He came to the training barn so barely started that I was still swinging a leg over with a helper manning the longe line. Once he was broke enough to WTC, steer and stop (circa two weeks) we went hacking out instead of doing ring work. We kept this up throughout the winter, schooling in the arena for 10 minutes or so to "work on skills" and then just hacking.

    Honestly, there is no way to "ensure" a fun, safe, good experience. BUT, it is less likely to end in disaster than most humans assume. The horses are fine with it; it is the people who are waiting for trouble.

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