One of the most common things I am asked about is hacking alone. Hacking is seen as a bit of non-skill, “oh I’m just a happy hacker”, but I actually think hacking confidently alone can be one of the most difficult things to train a horse to do from a behavioural perspective.
Horses are prey animals by nature, it is hard-wired into them to stay with the safety of the herd and be constantly on the alert and ready to run from danger. Getting on their backs, asking them to leave their friends, then venturing out into a strange environment full of strange things is a huge ask.
Of course some horses seem to just be solid from day one, whether that is down to their individual personality, a result of good experiences and training in their life or a combination of the two, who knows? But all horses learn from consistent, good, confidence building experiences. Some horses will take a lot longer than others to get there. And that’s fine.
If you don’t have a really good training foundation at home, where your horse should feel safe and relaxed, you are just asking for trouble adding a new environment into the mix. 🤯
If your horse is struggling with going out alone, firstly drop your expectations of what you “should” be doing and start really small. Can you ride out of the gate and back in and out and back in again with no issues? How about 30 seconds up the lane back and forth? If the answer is no then it isn’t a good idea to start going further, the wheels will fall off at some point.
But won’t turning around teach him to nap? No, you ride past the gate in the school again and again right? Why should walking up and down the lane be any different? Your horse should have no issue pottering around the place if he feels relaxed and comfortable about the situation.
The “just get on with it” mentality can be really damaging when it comes to hacking, which often comes with rider nerves which compound the situation. You’re much better off going too slow and building on your good experiences than pushing too much and having a bad one that scares both of you. I say this all the time but do not let others pressure you.
Which do you think is a more pleasant experience for a horse? Having someone growl and kick while they scramble past something scary and are trying to spin for home or having someone sit quietly (or even get off 😱) and wait while they take as long as they need to assess the situation. The more you do the latter, the more likely your horse will be to assess the situation before he takes flight. Reactive riders create reactive horses. 🐎
There are lots of ways to build confidence out hacking but kicking on and hoping for the best isn’t one of them, for horses or for riders. Instead we can develop a logical, longer term training plan that reduces the risk of having a drama and sets us up to succeed. 🐴