How to Have the BEST hack ever
Hacking/flatting your horse everyday can get repetitive and habitual so today I want to share with you my favorite exercises to use whenever I am unsure of what I want to do throughout my hack. My trainer is usually really good about giving me things to work on from my previous lessons, but if I don’t have anything specific from him these are my go-to tricks to keep my hacks fresh.
When I ride my 6 year old, I try to start things off pretty simple, especially to see how he’s feeling that day. If he’s not particularly sassy (LOL) I always start on a semi-loose rein to let him stretch and move around the ring before starting these exercises. First things first, my 2 absolute favorite exercises to do are circles and changes of direction. Though they are pretty straight forward and the most basic exercises, I find both are very helpful in developing a horse’s muscles. They can be used in so many different ways and used with all gaits. Let’s start with changes of directions: I like to change my direction quite frequently, especially during the first 10 minutes of my ride. I’ll make half circles, go across the diagonal, and execute more interesting turns. After a little bit of cantering, I will start incorporating direction changes w/ lead changes. I use circles a lot throughout my ride. Using circles have been a huge help in my riding for both me and my horse. I usually start with larger circles toward the beginning of my ride and slowly make them smaller. I’ll do these at all gaits and continue them throughout my ride.
If you find circles get a little boring, serpentines are another one of my favorite options. Whether I have an empty ring or a ring full of jumps, I love working on understanding my aids and where they need to be, and also focusing on how straight my horse is. Sometimes, I’ll use only half of the ring and focus on turning sharper and working in a smaller area, but we’re lucky to have a very large arena, so It’s so nice to work in the full ring. I like to focus on making the turn clean and elegant, keeping my horse straight when he needs to and following the correct pattern of the serpentine.
My next favorite exercise would have to be transitions. I love to specifically work on transitions because I feel it helps me finetune my gaits and keeps JT’s focus on me and my cues. Whenever I specifically work on transitions, I don’t do the simple walk-trot-canter. Instead, I include different “routines” like walk-trot-walk-canter-trot or something like that. I like to challenge myself to make sure I’m asking for everything correctly, and challenge JT by doing something that isn’t his favorite thing to do. Normally, I spend at least 15 minutes specifically focusing on transitions (with breaks in between). Transitions have also been a huge help for when I’m in the show ring. He’s now mastered his trot-canter transition and made them look seamless.
Both of these exercises work on your horse’s body and fitness, clearly, but they are also great for his mind. I find with JT’s personality, and really any young horse, occupying their minds and keeping them sharp is an important part of their training. JT has physical energy, but he also has a lot of mental energy! Keeping him guessing, making him listen to me for direction and focusing his attention on the task at hand is a critical part of his training and wellbeing.
Remember, this training is for you and your body as well. You all will hate me for saying this, but we all know, no stirrups work is always a great option. If I’m really stuck on what I want to do in a ride, I revert to no stirrups. I’ll either go all in and do a full no stirrups ride, or I will do a 10-15 minute ride without them. I try to include things like light seat (canter) and posting (trot) instead of trying to find the easy way out. Too much no stirrup work for too long isn’t necessarily great for your horse’s back so I find that incorporating a little in each of my hacks is better than dedicating an entire month to it.
This might sound silly, but I love to make “mock courses.” I’ll imagine a course (if I’m in an empty ring) or go to the side of a course that has been set up and perform it. I’ll even include my starting and ending circle. A simple course to think of is just outside line, diagonal, outside line, diagonal. From there, you can get fancy and create more of a handy or equitation-like course. Personally, I think it’s very fun and a great way to exercise yourself and your horse and test your lead changes, transitions, circles, and strength. I rarely ever do a pole course, but I’ll sometimes have two ground poles to practice distances on a few times. With ground poles, I’ll normally do it from both directions and focus of having a shorter stride, normal stride, and larger stride to the single pole. This is a great way to test your connection with your horse and your ability to direct his or her pacing.
There you have it, my top exercises to do when flatting/hacking to prepare for your next lesson, show, or final! You can tone these exercises down or advance them if you want based on your horse, but I find that these exercises, as easy as you might think they are, are really beneficial just the way they are. I ALWAYS finish off my ride with my horse on the buckle and trotting around loosely and happily. Normally, I have him do 1-2 full laps around the ring each direction before a walk around the property or a long walk around the outdoor ring.