Hacking Out? Setting us up for success

My horses have had much of the winter off, and for the first time ever, I have access to some great trails, including a mile long, super hilly gravel trail. I think starting them back by hacking out along these trails would be amazing for their fitness and minds…but…I’m kind of a chicken!

I worry a little about them being really herd bound when having to hack out alone (my only option, no one to ride with) and one of my horses has never really been outside the ring, other than cool down hacks in the field next to the arena (although in all honesty, has one of the best brains ever and is super laid back about most things). My other horse has been trail ridden quite a lot, but can be quite spooky.

I really want to get out of my comfort zone and make this a routine, so would love any advice or tips to make these first few rides a success!

Thank you!

I think hacking out is a great thing to do both for physical fitness and to avoid the horse getting bored with work.

That said, if you haven’t done it in a while, and if the horses themselves have had some time off, it is a good idea to start small. Don’t set out to do the entire trail on the first day to go out. Instead, I’d do 20 minutes of work in the ring, working on things that the horse is good at and that also focus his attention on you. Then, I’d go out and hack around the field, which I think you said they’d already done some of. Then, I’d go to the trail and just amble along it, no big deal, for 5 minutes or so. Don’t push it. You want to quit while everything is going well.

Gradually you can then, assuming the horses adjust well, shift more and more of the time to actually going on the trail.

Good luck and have fun!


If horse is very reliable on the ground / you’re more confident on the ground, you can also start out by quietly hand walking. I typically prefer to be in the saddle, but it depends on personal preference and horse’s personality.

When starting up trail riding again in the spring with my young horse, I do as PP said. Work her in the ring to get excess energy / silliness out then just do a short cool-down walk. If she gets antsy/quick on the return walk we finish up with more work in the ring to quickly squash the “home means ride is finished” mentality. In these early rides I let her sniff / explore as much as she wants and really try to ride her on a long rein with a “trails = relaxation” mindset.

My horse is a good trail horse, just needs a small refresh each spring so after 2-3 cool down hacks we move into full walks (again, if antsy on return walk, worked in ring). For the first couple hacks where I plan to trot/canter, I again do a short (~15 min) ring session to remove excess energy. Typically I’ll do early trot/canter hacks only on routes that I’ve done walking hacks on.

After ~3 weeks of trail re-introduction she’s back to her confident self on the trails and I no longer plan / over-think it. Just hack when I feel like hacking. But depending on your horses’ experience / personality, it may take a bit more before they’re calm and cool on the trails.

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Ponying one of them could be an option to keep them from being herdbound since they’d both be out together. But probably best not to try for the first time after they’ve been off all winter if they’ve never done it.

I agree with EventingMaff that hand walking could be a good option to get them used to the trail if they’re sensible on the ground.

I too suggest handwalking. My younger horse is anxious and not one I can just tack up, take out of the barn, mount and head out on the trail. Not safely. I always do a few minutes in the ring to see where his mindset is and either work to get him in a better place or head out.

I spent a lot of time handwalking trails in the 2019-20 winter and he really improved a ton. This winter handwalking was usually due to lack of time. I can frequently mount up walk a few circles and go these days.

When I first started trail riding my OTTB, riding off from the property was a lot more anxiety-provoking for him - the further we got the more anxious he was calling back to his buddies and jigging and he could not relax at all the entire ride back. He was much more relaxed if I trailered out. Also a loop is better than out and back the same way.
(Following an experienced, relaxed horse is always best if possible)

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Thanks for all of the wonderful suggestions :slight_smile:

These horses are familiar with a big portion of the trail, as it runs alongside their pasture, so that should help a bit…I figure it I start just riding them on the part they are familiar with that will help.

They are also BFFs, and I have ponied off of one before so that might be a good option!

I’ll report back after the first outing! Thanks again for the help!


Take the one you pony off of out first and get him solid. Start slow as others have mentioned. Brush up on the ponying in the arena before trying it on the trail. Hand walk them on the trail before you try to ride it, stop, start, make circles, let them graze a little at the end. Have fun!

In another thread, RedHorses said:

“You know what the biggest mistake I see people make is? They ride like they’re waiting to see how the horse will act, and if anything is iffy they try to keep it from getting worse. Ride like you do in the ring. Tell your horse what you want them to DO. Walk now rather than don’t trot/jig/whatever. It sounds simple, but it’s not always easy! :wink:

This is absolutely, positively true. I cannot believe that with one statement RH just completely solved any anxiety I had about Spring Sillies with my sweet, hard-working, 24-yo. Duh. I will ride him with purpose and he’ll be perfect. He hates when I just act like a passenger in the ring or on the trail. Thanks, RH!


This is SOOOO true. I used to ride at a woman’s house where we had to go down a trail to get to the arena at a neighboring farm that we’d use with jumps and whatnot, so every horse had to go through a period of “how are they gonna be on the trail by themselves” and it was so scary!!! Especially in the winter, we didn’t really have a choice but to ride through the woods in the dark every night :sob: However with that being said I definitely did my fair share of chickening out from riding and just handwalking them over, and it usually helped a lot. Whatever you need to do to be confident and give them the hand holding / firm leadership they might need!

One of the other mistakes riders make is demanding their horses make it to a certain point away from the barn/arena in one trip.

If you imagine the arena/barn as the horse’s comfort bubble, it’s pretty easy to understand how riding them directly away from that in one go would be upsetting. Like a rubber band, the horse needs to develop the mental elasticity to stay relaxed as he heads further from his home base. Stretch him too far, too quick, and he’ll snap, displaying all of the “behaviors” we want to try and avoid while out hacking.

So just plan a short route each day. Ride out away from the barn or arena on a slack rein and wait until your horse starts to get a little bit boggy about going forward. At that point stop, back a couple steps and turn around and head back. On the way back at the moment the horse relaxes again you can stop, back and turn away from home. Doing this serves two purposes: you stay ahead of any worry the horse might develop about being asked to leave what he considers safety AND you let him know that you are paying good enough attention to how he feels to notice when he does start to get a bit concerned.


Every Spring, after being stuck in the rings all winter, I have to take my Tb mare out in small increments. She has been on the property for years, but no matter, she gets anxious if I ask her to go too far too soon. And when she gets anxious…it’s not fun for either of us.

So, we go out a ways, and we turn around when she is still nice and relaxed, i.e, BEFORE she gives me ANY sign at all that she starts thinking about her friends back there. In other words, it is MY choice to turn around, not hers.
Next time, we go a little further.
It doesn’t take that long to get her back to her relaxed self, hacking on the buckle around the whole property, into the woods, out of sight of the other horses.

I learned a long time ago that patience and consistency were key.

Awww… Glad I could help! :slightly_smiling_face:

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Google Warwick Schiller and the 50 foot trail ride!

I’m in the “hey let’s get used to going out on the trails again” phase with my mare. This is our 5th year at the barn, but every year starts the same, with a lot of brief rides and trying to go just a little further each day. I can’t go too far because most of the trails are closed until May, but have enough to work with. We have a new challenge this year: a very friendly, very floofy black pony alongside the trail. He just wants to play, and the mare got a bit big-eyed about it.

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