l don’t really like hacking. I think it might be different if we had off-road hacking, or even slightly straighter roads so you could see a car before it was on top of you (although I suppose in that case most people would drive faster). But everyone (including Lee Pearson) tells me how beneficial it is and how I must make more effort to get out more often.
Yesterday we had a nice day when I happened to be off during the week (so the roads ought to be quiet during the day) and l thought I really ought to hack. To be honest I didn’t feel much like riding and suddenly it occurred to me that I could just walk him like a dog.
I realised there were lots of positives about that idea. He would get the mental stimulation of being out and about but with the added confidence giver of me being on the ground. I’d be more confident about traffic as a pedestrian because I feel like some drivers treat ridden horses like any other vehicle but give a dog walker more leeway. I’d also get a long bout of non-riding exercise, which seems useful for my recovery, without having to separately exercise D.
We got ready to go out. I wanted to lead from a bridle so I had the bit for control, and I added his red fly bonnet for practicality and visibility. My hi-vis jacket and his hi-vis leg bands completed the look from a visibility angle and l decided to use my helmet and his knee boots just in case. (With the knee boots I thought he’s probably far less likely to damage his knees without weight on his back, but the road is still as hard.) A good squirting of home-made fly spray for each of us, I grabbed my purple schooling whip with the yellow baling-twine on the business end and we set off.
An aside about my schooling whip: The original stringy bit on the business end fell off and got lost the first day I used it. lt had been the last whip of that kind in the shop and I didn’t like the balance of the others in my price-range. So I improvised a new end from the materials available and sewed it on. Scornful onlookers said it wouldn’t last the week. One year on, it’s still doing an excellent job. On the roads I love that this whip is eye-catching. I love that the lemon-yellow baling-twine contrasts with the stick and is similar to our yellow hi-vis, so I like to think if I waved it at a driver it might have more psychological impact than a black one. I love that, unlike a crop, it is long enough to employ to find a go button without taking a hand off the reins. If we are hacking and he is getting upset about something, this is a very valuable thing!
Anyway, off we went. We started off with me leading him from his left, as is conventional, but I soon decided l wanted to be between him and any traffic, so I swapped sides. I do occasionally try to lead him from the wrong side so I knew he’d do it grudgingly. He snorted about it for a bit but walked nicely even as he snorted. With the schooling whip in my outside hand I could reach behind me to tap his quarters over to the hedge if necessary and leading off the bit I had control of the front. I felt I had really good control of him and I was pleased. Before we saw any traffic we practiced going into passing spaces and stopping there, and when we did see cars it all worked just as smoothly. In fact there was one passing place that we used about 4 times: l stopped him in it for practice, and then heard an actual car, so we waited. Once it passed we walked on three paces and another car came around the corner, so I turned him and went back to it. Then the next two times we tried exactly the same thing happened! Finally we carried on uninterrupted and with me feeling really confident about my ability to quickly get him out of the way.
We carried on happily. We were following the route that takes about an hour to hack, so when we set out I wasn’t sure whether I had the stamina to walk all the way around or if I’d turn back at some point to make it shorter, but I was feeling good. About 20 minutes in another hacker trotted up behind us, an elderly lady from another yard. l stopped D at the edge of the road so she could pass but she stopped to check on us, assuming I’d fallen off. She seemed quite incredulous that we were just going for a walk but, once reassured, she checked that D would be OK with her trotting again once she was past us. I told her that would be fine – the horse is very sensible; it’s just the rider who’s scared of hacking! And he was fine. He would have liked to follow her, but didn’t make any fuss.
In fact, everything was going so well I let him have a little trot too – yes that means I did some running! It was not unpleasant, considering. D was concentrating on me, so I had total control of the pace, so we had a few little trots with walking in between. I’d realised that there was a place ahead where we could get off the road enough for me to have a rest and for him to have a little graze. So after our little trots we did that. l toyed with sitting on the grass holding the reins while he grazed but we were only on a bit of grass next to the lane and I didn’t know how he’d be if something came past us in a hurry so I stood until something passed, and then as he wasn’t bothered by it I squatted on my heels as a compromise. Probably sitting would have been fine, as even when we were passed by a big repair van with flashing lights and a cherry-picker on the roof he just picked his head up to look. Good grass is far more important than monsters it seems.
After our rest we continued without incident past barking dogs and got to the (now parked) van with the cherry-picker, now extended and containing a man repairing the overhead wires. Happily D’s need to goggle at that coincided with my need to stop at the T junction and wait for a car to pass. Once I was ready, he was ready too. We passed the squealing children on the slide outside the children’s farm, passed a motorbike who, kindly and unasked, came to a complete stop to avoid any possible equine concern, got into passing places for numerous cars going to and from the farm, all with children in the back delighted to see another horse, and then we were home again.
I was so proud of us. I had no idea l could walk that far, let alone do little bits of running too. We’d been considerate road-users and neither of us freaked out at any point. I’d certainly do it again and I found it far more pleasurable than hacking.