Jun 14, 2021

Lauren Nicholson's Top Tips for Successful Hacking

Lauren Nicholson and Vermiculus. USEA Photo

We all want to do the best with our young horses and to produce well-schooled, educated animals. However, it’s easy to get bogged down in detail and spend a lot of time in the arena. We shouldn’t forget that young event horses need to learn to deal with wide-open spaces, natural terrain, and obstacles - and the best way to do this in an unpressurized way is by going hacking.

US Olympian Lauren Nicholson says: “Hacking is an integral part of my program and really should be part of everyone's. It’s important for the development of the horse’s body - muscles, ligaments, soft tissue, and so on. Event horses are expected to run across the varying ground and jump solid objects, and they need to learn to keep their balance while doing so. Introducing that early on in their lives is essential.”

Here are Nicholson's top tips for successful hacking:

  • “If your horse is green or spooky, or you or your horse are a bit timid, find a more experienced, settled horse and rider to go with to get your confidence up.
  • “We are lucky here in Virginia to have access to undeveloped woodland and lots of open spaces, and we call hacking through that ‘bushwacking’ for the babies; going off-site and making new trails, walking through creeks, popping over little dead logs on the ground. Make the most of what is around you. It’s good for their brains to do something different and makes going cross-country pretty easy.
  • “Look for different types of terrain to cross at different speeds. Go up and down hills and banks. Help them learn to find their own balance and to think for themselves.
  • “Keep within your comfort level and, if hacking is something that makes you nervous for whatever reason, put it into very manageable steps. Don’t ask your horse to cross a creek alone, for example, if you don’t have the skill set to do it successfully alone. But, on the other hand, you don’t want to create a problem that might lead to a bigger issue.
  • “Be clear about what you want and be firm; give the impression of confidence to the horse, even if you don’t really feel confident.
  • “With my young horses, the first rule is that they have to stay on my line of direction, even if it is just from one fence post to another. So keep your focus, and keep calm, taking them back to stay on that line, even if they are doing everything they can to distract you from that, and eventually, they will give up and get on with it.
  • “Always give yourself enough time to achieve whatever you have set out to do.
  • “Take the emotion out of it. Like everything, hacking - especially on a young horse or one who might be spooky or resistant - is about training and repetition.
  • “Don’t forget that hacking is good for older horses, too; it helps keep them comfortable, enjoying their work, and is great for longevity and long-term soundness. It’s also great for fitness; remember how, as humans, it is much harder to run 10km at a good speed on natural terrain than it is on a treadmill in the gym.”
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