Do your hacks feel lifeless lately? Riding around and around but accomplishing nothing?
It’s winter. It gets dark at 5 (or 4:30 if we are really unlucky), the cold is here to stay (probably) and we won’t even talk about the prospect of oncoming mud … For those of us who don’t get off of work before the sun goes down, it’s so simple to either skip that conditioning ride (you’ll do it tomorrow, right?) or just walk around a few times, throw in a piddly little trot and canter, and be done with it. Unfortunately, this is helpful for neither you nor your horse, and by the time spring rolls around, you’ll wish you had done differently. So, shake off those winter doldrums and change up your routine! Here’s how:
1) Don’t Hack
Counterintuitive, right? But sometimes even the thought of having to hurry to the barn in rush hour, change into appropriate garb, groom, and tack will stop your good intentions before you even leave. The winter is a great time to do something different. Take your horse on a nature walk. Set up an obstacle course and lead your horse through it. Practice stretching or turns on the haunches and forehand from the ground. Take off the lead rope in the arena and just play with your horse.* Ask someone to teach you to lunge if you don’t know how. Several of us have some great resources on ground work available – just ask!
2) No Straight Lines
Pretty self explanatory. Challenge yourself to a hack where you don’t ride in a straight line. At all. At the end of it, you might find yourself bending like never before! Your horse might think you nuts, but hey, it’s different!
3) Just Walk
There are so many things you can do at the walk that are beneficial to you and your horse. The way that your horse walks and the way that you ride at the walk sets up everything else you do. If Dobbin doesn’t move off of your leg at the walk, you can bet he won’t do it down a canter line of 3′ jumps. Only one speed at the walk? You probably will only have one speed at every other gait too. No good brakes? Ditto. Take some time to get the basics right. Torture yourself with with some stirrupless posting. Surprise your horse at the walk – they get bored, just like we do. Ride a course or pattern. Hack the entire ride on a loose rein – if you’re feeling really brave, let the horse decide where to go. Have fun with it!
4) Don’t Sit in the Saddle
Bareback is the obvious answer here (and nice and warm in the winter, too!), but you can also challenge yourself to not sit in the saddle for a whole hack. Whether this is two point, posting above the saddle, or getting your balance standing up at all the gaits, have some fun with it. Every week, see how much longer you can go!
5) Make it Easy on Yourself
Text ahead of time, and ask that your horse gets left inside after dinner. Bribe someone else to tack up for you before you arrive. Get some gloves to ride in. Put on your long underwear under your breeches or jeans and wear thick socks – being cold really doesn’t encourage you to get up on the horse! Learn how to turn on the lights in the arena. Make a pact with another rider to ride with at night – there is already an adult hacking group that meets several evenings each week, and it really helps to know that there will be someone else suffering with you!
7) Set a Goal
Whether the goal is for you or your horse, riding with purpose while hacking is the best way to make those rides fun and productive. Small or big, your goal can be as simple as having really great leg position at the walk, to more complicated, like keeping your horse collected the entire ride. It can be psychological (letting go of that death grip on the reins or conquering the canter) or physical (sinking your weight in your heels or keeping your horse straight the whole ride). If you ride purposefully all the time, you will see definite results in your lessons. If you don’t know what your goals could be, just ask Poppy what you need to be working on!
*Only let your horse loose in the arena if there are no other riders – common courtesy applies! – and ALL gates, including the one at the top of the concrete stairs, are closed (yes, several of the horses are very good at walking up stairs if they want to!). If you have never played with your horse or pony off lead before, wear a helmet and gloves and use good sense. If under 18, please ask for adult supervision the first time you do so.