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Hacking out is one of my favourite things, and I am always shocked when I meet people who say they do not enjoy it. Haven’t they missed the point of what horse riding is all about? How many times do you hear the expression “Happy Hacker” used to describe either horse or rider, as a derisive term? Oh, she’s just a happy hacker, she won’t know. He’s only good enough for hacking. This horse is too good to be wasted as a hack.

I very much beg your pardon!

You see I think that, in order for horse or rider to be a safe, confident, competent hack, they need to have a vast array of attributes and skills, many of which can be directly transferred into the competition or hunting fields. it’s not about sitting there like a sack of spuds, holding onto the buckle end of the rains, whilst your horse plods round like an automaton.oK, your horse doesn’t have to be on the bit all the time, but she does have to be responsive to hand, leg and voice; and whilst you don’t have to have the skills to do an Olympic standard dressage test, you do have to be able to control and manoeuver your horse in all sorts of circumstances.. 2 legged or 4 legged, a truly happy hacker needs to be resourceful, adaptable, quick thinking, independent and brave, with plenty of Old fashioned horse sense.

I was very lucky as a child, I grew up where Plymouth met Dartmoor. You didn’t have to travel too far in One Direction to be by the sea, and it was really only a short trip up the lane from our house and you were on open moorland. When I first started having riding lessons, at the age of nine, I very rarely rode in a school. My lessons took place on the Moor. At first on the lead rain, and always with a fully qualified instructor, but usually on the Moor, occasionally around the lanes, but hardly ever in the school. On my first ever riding lesson, we were indeed take into the school, and taught some basic skills, how to hold the reins, how to adjust the girth from the saddle, how to adjust our stirrups from the saddle, and how to fall off. I didn’t have another formal lesson in the school until I was about 14. Admittedly I’ve never been the most stylish of riders, but these early lessons taught me more than how to make a pony walk ,trot ,canter ,turn ,and stop. From the earliest I learnt that ponies are unpredictable, they will react to different situations in different ways, and are affected by their surroundings as much as we are. Without realising it I learnt to judge ground conditions, to be aware of my surroundings and what was going on around me, and toThink ahead and anticipate how my pony might react to something, and take evasive action if necessary. I learnt safe practice, and how to behave around , and how to be respectful of and considerate towards others whilst riding. Opening and shutting gates from horseback became second nature to me, and I learnt the basics of Road safety where horses are concerned. I also learned how to stay on, after all, it can be a long walk home after a fall, especially when your pony has legged it back to the yard without you.

I was absolutely horrified the other day, when I learnt that many riding schools, do not allow children to hack out off the lead rain until they are 14. Words fail me! Apparently this is due to constraints on their insurance policies. How is anybody supposed to learn? Real horsemanship isn’t only about being in the manège, It’s also about horse and rider in partnership enjoying the freedom of the countryside. It seems to me that, children like I was, Who did not come from a horsey family, are being excluded from The very real positive benefits of horseriding. It could even be said that they are being discriminated against, on the grounds of insurance and health and safety. That’s not only bad for children, but it’s bad for the future of horse riding. Total stupidity!

I think one of the real reasons why so many people dislike hacking out, is the increasing necessity to deal with traffic. Roads are becoming busier, drivers are becoming more impatient, horses are seen as a nuisance, but off road riding and decent bridleways, seem to be coming less and less accessible. The area where I currently live is a prime example. This is a small , isolated , rural community, we are basically 10 miles from anywhere. The village is surrounded by farmland, and the nearest A road is 5 miles away. There are a great many horses in this area, but there is absolutely no off-road riding! Well to be honest, there is one bridlepath. It’s about a mile and a half from here to its nearest end, it’s quite long, and goes from a to be. So if you want to use it, you either have to do A there and back route, which for me would in tail 3 miles roadwork, or a very long, several hours, Circular route, with at least 5 miles of road work in it. Now admittedly, compared to some, these are not busy roads, but they are narrow and frequented with large agricultural machinery, and huge lorries. Now to be perfectly honest, possibly because I always hack out with somebody walking on foot, I find the majority of these drivers to be patient and courteous at all times. I rarely have a problem with traffic. That isn’t everyone’s experience though sadly. Riding on the road when it’s busy is hardly relaxing. I love living in the village, and having my own land and yard is a blessing I thought would never happen, but I really miss being on the Moor, and the availability of so much accessible off road riding. Personally I think some of the landowners around here are missing a trick. I would gladly pay to be able to ride on their land. In the meantime though, whilst I’m lucky enough to have my own school, I will still be hacking out around the lanes on a regular basis. Not because my horse and I are less capable, but because both my horse and I enjoy it.