A Galloping Good Time: Productive Hacking for the Young Horse

Blogger Pam Stone shares how she incorporates hacking and hillwork in the training of her young horse. Plus, check out her tip for riding safely in the heat.

Weeee doggies (as Jed Clampett of the Beverly Hillbillies—a personal hero of mine—used to proclaim), it’s hot. July is upon us and many are feeling like an order of french fries at McDonald’s left under the heat lamp. 

This is the time of year I tend to shake my bony finger at all and sundry, reminding them of the 150 Rule: When you add the temperature (in Fahrenheit) and humidity of when you plan to ride and it totals 150 or more, proceed with caution. When you get above that, it’s been clinically proven that it is difficult for a horse to cool because in times of high humidity, less sweat evaporates. Combine that with the fact that a horse, working in these conditions, will lose two to four gallons of sweat in an hour, so you can see how heat exhaustion can strike and even prove fatal. Thank you for attending my Ted Talk and now back to your regular programming. …

Keeping our South Carolinian summer in mind, I’ve been very careful in my management of my young horse Lucas. He’s been giving me everything one could ask for from a 4-year-old: walk, trot and canter in both directions, on the bit, and easy stretches. For the sake of suppling, we’ve added a bit of lateral flexion in the inclusion of turn-on-the forehand and shallow leg yields at walk and trot. His training schedule totals four schooling sessions a week—one of which is outside the sandbox and in the surrounding fields.

Our hacks always include warming up at the walk in the arena for two reasons: to give him the chance to warm up his muscles and joints by free walking several minutes on the buckle on a level surface, and then adding a bit of suppling to put him comfortably on the aids. I’m not going to tack up and then ride a baby out onto the hills. That’s not very fair to his brain or body. And the added bonus to his arena lessons is that, in good old-fashioned Pony Club style, they carry right over into our hacking sessions. For example, the turn-on-the-forehand assists with opening and closing the pasture gate (even if he hasn’t yet learned to push the gate open with his nose)…

Once we’re out in his grassy playpen, I ask Lucas for a lovely stretching walk and we negotiate up the long, gradual inclines for a bit of strength building…

Followed by a favorite exercise of mine: asking for halts on the way back down to help him learn how to take a bit of weight behind and bring his hocks further beneath him. This is all easy, stress-free stuff.

It’s important, I feel, to point out that as Lucas is only 4, his growth plates aren’t going to close up for at least another year, so I don’t push him in any hill work. We go up and down these hills twice, and then we move to a most convenient flattish area between them, which is about the size of a 20-by-40 meter arena. Any rain tends to collect there, so the footing is nice and soft. This is where I pick up a trot and we ride a few circles and changes of rein for perhaps three or four minutes.

Of course, after every good lesson, children deserve their recess, and after this pleasant warm-up that has lubed all his muscles, I ease Lucas into a canter and we build into a hand-gallop up toward the road frontage. This youngster has repeatedly proven himself to be a most sensible boy, but we’re still learning about each other and I find if I do a bit of hill work first, it can take the edge off a green bean who might take over and get a bit “Yahoo!” during his top gear. 

I check my phone (does anyone wear a watch anymore?) and see that we hit our target on the nose: a 30-minute ride, including the 15 minutes of walking in the arena, our light work-out in the field, and our walk back to the barn on the buckle. When I untack Lucas, the only sweat is beneath the saddle pad and a very slight sheen at the base of his neck. Standing in cross ties with two enormous fans pointed at him, he is dry and cool in 5 minutes, has his brunch of soaked alfalfa, then is turned out with his “herd” of two retired geldings for the rest of the day. At this point it’s 9 a.m. and I’ll have the rest of my day to reflect upon what a lucky girl I am…






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