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Why everyone should be a happy hacker

Getting out of the arena and into the countryside for a hack is important for happy and healthy horses and riders
Why everyone should be a happy hacker

How often have you heard someone, almost apologetically, describe themselves or their horse as “just a happy hacker”? Here at Agria, we think everyone should be a happy hacker, and vets and professionals agree: hacking is good for the physical and mental wellbeing of both horse and rider.

“All my horses hack,” says Ros Canter, Agria sponsored rider and European gold medalist. “In my mind, it is good for them and the jockeys – me included.”

Agria sponsored rider Ros Canter believes hacking is good for both horse and rider

Like many professionals, Ros incorporates aspects of training into her hacks. “It is a good time to practice transitions and lateral work out of the arena, while some horses just benefit from hacking on a longer rein in a relaxed outline,” she reveals. “Babies learn their trade by hacking with others, and learn to cross terrain and improve their eye-hoof coordination.”

Agria’s Melissa Merridan ran a successful McTimoney equine chiropractic practice for 17 years. One of the most common problems she came across was a lack of proprioception: an animal’s awareness of body position and movement, including where to place limbs and feet. “You see a lack of proprioception in horses that spend large amount of time in flat arenas or stabled for long periods,” she explains.

“Proprioception makes the horse aware of their movements, improves the link between mind and body, balances reactions and improves quickness and agility,” she continues. “When out hacking, we are faced with numerous challenges that enhance a horse’s proprioception, such as uneven ground, raised tree roots, going uphill and down and negotiating water, narrow gaps and gates. All these obstacles help bring awareness to the body and strength to the muscles.”

As riders, most of us are guilty of spending too much time in a menage but Phil Cramp, Agria’s senior equine veterinary advisor, warns this isn’t a good idea. “Constantly working in an arena and on a surface can be detrimental to your horse’s soundness so going for a hack and working your horse in straight lines on hard, flat surfaces, such as a road, can be very beneficial.”

For National Dressage champion and Agria sponsored rider Gareth Hughes riding in an assortment of environments is the key: “Uneven ground and hill work is good for keeping tendons and muscles supple and strong, while hacking also provides variety: a relaxed ride through countryside is great for the horses’ brains and general wellbeing.”

According to equine vet Lucinda Ticehurst, the reason hacking is so good for horses is that it mirrors their natural behaviours. “Covering distance over diverse terrain in a variety of paces mimics how horses behave in the wild.” She believes hacking creates a fun, low-pressure environment in which horses can thrive.

“It is important horses have time when they are allowed to carry themselves in a relaxed frame,” believes Lucinda. “With regular hacking a horse will learn about different ground, while gradually increasing bone strength and density.”

Hacking is also a valuable opportunity for us as riders to have time to unwind and, if hacking with others, socialise with friends.

Hacking enables both humans and horses to relax and socialise

“Sometimes we just need to switch off and enjoy riding for the love of the horse: being out in the fresh air and having time to ourselves,” says Ali Cooper, fitness trainer to 2022 Burghley winner Piggy March. “Often we get caught up with learning and always trying to be better riders but at times it is important to just hack for hacking’s sake – with no aim other than to enjoy ourselves.

“Mental fitness is vitally important for overall health and wellbeing. If you’re happy and relaxed, your horse will pick up on your emotions and be happier too.”

All we want is for our horses to be healthy and happy, so here’s to happy hacking!

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