Hack your way to competition success this winter with THEX. You don’t need a school for results! With shorter daylight hours and poor weather, it can often seem hard to keep your horse competition ready during the winter months. If you are fortunate enough to have access to a school this can make things easier. However, a little ingenuity you can use the countryside around you as the ultimate training aid.
When it is safe to do so, riding on the roads can improve several elements of both your on the flatwork and jumping. Working your horse uphill can help engage the hind quarters and strengthen and tone the muscles leading to better balance and suppleness.
Whilst out hacking you can also practice your free walk. Often this gait is not practiced enough in a school, leading to a loss of marks in a dressage test. Allow the horses head and neck to stretch down and the stride to lengthen. This will also encourage the horse to be more relaxed. Change between a free walk and a medium… there is meant to be a difference!
In a more open area start to introduce your horse to new movements. Doing this outside of the school can often help them to understand more clearly. For example, teaching your horse to leg yield away from certain objects. Turn your horses head towards an object and then ask them to move sideways, without losing the outside shoulder. Naturally your horse will respond to this aid and move over. Ensure that they kept moving forwards.
Movements such as turn on the forehand and rein back can also be introduced whilst out hacking. When you open and close a gate, ask your horse to move around the gate and you will both be riding a turn on the forehand and rein back without over-thinking it or complicating the movements.
Finally, practice accuracy whilst out hacking, helping both in your dressage test and for riding a direct line cross country. Choose markers out in the countryside, for example a fence post and practice your upward and downward transitions. Accuracy is a simply way to gain extra marks during a dressage test and can be vital when precision jumping whilst both showing jumping and when going cross country.
Using the land, space and your imagination to improvise cross country fences. Teach a horse to be confident in water by splashing through puddles, ride up and down banks allowing the horses to find their own hooves and practice jumping small ditches and logs in woodland areas. Practicing elements of jumping in a positive, relaxed environment out hacking will help your horse develop its learning and understanding of different questions that might be asked when at a competition.
Most importantly have fun and enjoy yourselves! Use the winter to deepen the partnership between you and your horse. Out hacking you may meet a car, other animals, fallen trees, wheelie bins(!) All these elements will help to build up the trust you and your horse have helping both you to grow in confidence for next time you compete.