Productive Hacks: Riding outside of Lessons

So, I need some advise.
I find it harder for me to have a productive ride outside of lessons while hacking and I was wondering if any of you had tips on how I can make it more productive and what I could work on.

I am entering into the 3’ eq this summer, and need to prep as much as I can before show season and my lease begins in May.

Any ideas on what I can work on to improve my equitation, prepare for show tests, and how to get into a better mindset would be great.

I try to split up my hack days on different goals. I try not to make all of the hacking all about me, because a good eq horse needs to be just as fit as you are! For example, if I’m hacking 3 times, ill make one day all about stretching and bending (lots of circles, changing directions, serpentines, finish trotting on a long rein), one day where I take the stirrups off of my saddle, and one working on impulsion, shortening, lengthening and poles. Always change it up, and keep it interesting! Good luck :slight_smile:

It can be hard to get out of the mindset that your lesson is where all the major work is being done, but really it’s the opposite. During your lesson your trainer is introducing you to concepts and you should be taking the time between lessons to perfect them. Even when it comes to jumping exercises, you can take some of the themes for your hacks and work on getting that big open stride then a collected canter, use ground poles to do grids, etc.

First and most obvious, you should be asking your trainer for homework. It sort of goes without saying that if you’re working on, say, shoulder ins, you should be practicing what your trainer taught you between lessons and demonstrating much improved (if not perfect! :cool:) ones by your next lesson.

That said, my number one rule is to not start something that I can’t finish. If you’re working on your changes from/to counter canter or down the center line, for example, I would probably dial the exercise back in my hack and do simple changes. That way I’m putting all the prep work in (bending, moving off my leg, picking up both leads readily) but I’m not putting myself in a situation where I might have trouble getting the flying changes and not be able to fix it.

Most of the more advanced you’re doing can be done through a walk and trot on the flat and that will really affect your canter work and jumping.

I also have days when I just take my stirrups off the saddle and torture myself. Ideally I would be able to do the exact same ride I would have done with stirrups, but usually I settle for w/t/c and some simple lateral work, i.e. leg yields, and some ground poles.

agree with above. Also, work on increasing your no-stirrup endurance. That base/strength you develop now will only help you when you start riding/showing more this summer. Alternate working on you and working on the horse, but def incorporate base-building exercises (no stirupps, two point, etc) into every ride.

I would recommend watching some flat sessions from years past of the George Morris Horsemastership clinics in Wellington. When I was focusing heavily on the equitation, my rides consisted of a mixture of the following:

  • counter canter
  • riding circles and squares - ensure your circles are even and your squares are exact and precise
  • shoulder in/haunches in/leg yield/half pass
  • cantering poles - you can do endless activities with poles, but I’d counter-canter single poles out of the corner as if they were a jump in a medal test, or set two poles and do a varying number of strides between them
  • transitions - super important for any equitation horse. Always make sure you’re changing things up and you don’t always do the same transition - keeping your horse constantly alert about what might come next helps keep them light and on their hind end.
  • lengthening and shortening
  • turn on the haunches/forehand at both the walk and while halted

That should give you some stuff to keep you entertained for awhile.


  • cantering poles - you can do endless activities with poles, but I’d counter-canter single poles out of the corner as if they were a jump in a medal test[/QUOTE]

All of your exercises are great but I flagged this one because uggggggh, it’s so hard!

OP, if you can do most of goodlife’s list you won’t sweat your tests at all.

Ditto everything above.

Another suggestion could be laying out canter poles and performing years past medal tests (look up on YouTube).

If you are sharing an arena with lots of other people, either set up only parts of the course or plan with friends and have a little “mock show” with poles.

Firstly, I would ask your trainer for exercises and advice on what she’d like you to work on. She knows best where you need to improve and should be able to recommend exercises for you. Ask if there’s anything that she’d rather you not be doing on your own. While setting up ground pole courses is perfectly fine at many places, some barns would rather you didn’t. Depending on the horse, they may not want you to drill lead changes or counter-canter every ride. Since you don’t own the horses you ride, you want to be sure you’re not doing things that the owner wouldn’t want you to do.

Lots of good suggestions. I have to trailer out to my trainer and I don’t get to see him more than two or three times a month due to my schedule. I also usually only take one horse of my two to my lessons, so I always need good homework I can work on with both horses. If what I’m doing with my young horse isn’t necessary for my older horse, I’ll ask my trainer for suggestions about what I should be working on with him, or how to deal with any issues that have come up. He is incredibly good at giving me homework that carries through, so I generally plan all of my rides around that.

That is the most important part for me- the plan. Given that I’m on my own most of the time if I didn’t have a plan for each ride I wouldn’t get anywhere. On my way out to the barn I think about what each horse needs, or what I want to work on for myself (which is important for eq. riders- I’m do jumpers so nearly everything is focused on the horse, although riding without stirrups is a weekly task), and my overall goal for the ride. If I get on and my five year really just needs to get his energy out, maybe dressage isn’t the best thing to focus on and I’ll have to adjust my plan. However, I’ve found that going in with a clear idea of what we need to get done means I can alter it and still accomplish something on most days.