Is Hacking As Good As Turnout?

Mark Davies Injured Riders Fund - Fun out hacking

Is Hacking As Good As Turnout?

Is hacking as good as turnout? Hacking and turnout for your horse are somewhat similar, in terms of benefits. They both involve being outdoors, providing mental stimulation that you just can’t get in the arena. But for those who struggle with accessing turnout, or don’t enjoy hacking, can one replace the other?

The Benefits of Hacking and Turnout

Training

The addition of both turnout and hacking add some variety into the horse’s routine. Hacking diversifies ridden routine, as a change from doing endless loops of work in the school. Meanwhile, turnout can provide variety in the horse’s down time.

New surroundings open horse’s eyes to unfamiliar objects, and can prepare them for competition and travelling to new places. Additionally, whilst your on-board, a hack is the perfect opportunity to know how your horse reacts in the face of fear, strange objects, and surroundings. With a confident rider, it may also provide horses with subtle encouragement to investigate objects they wouldn't normally choose to.

Charlotte Dujardin and Mount St John Freestyle at the Equerry Bolesworth International Horse Show 2019 [Image Credit; Equerry Bolesworth International Horse Show 2019]
Charlotte Dujardin and Mount St John Freestyle at the Equerry Bolesworth International Horse Show 2019 [Image Credit; Equerry Bolesworth International Horse Show 2019]
Hacking adds to ridden routine, ensuring your horse does not become bored or switched off during ridden sessions. Hacking advocate and Olympic dressage champion, Charlotte Dujardin states;

It’s important for horses to go out for regular hacks and see the world. It’s a vital break from the training routine that keeps them happy and means they’re experiencing new things.”

On the other hand, turnout can diversify stable routine, and reduce boredom when it comes to what your horse does in its own time. This can prevent them from trashing their stabling environment or anything that’s lying around that they could sink their teeth into, in an attempt to alleviate their boredom. With turnout, many owners find that behavioural issues on the ground are solved, such as excitability, aggression, and depressive symptoms.

Additionally, turnout could benefit your hacking adventures, ensuring horses have had appropriate exposure to the ‘big, bad world’. Turnout can expose horses to those little things, that could normally cause a massive panic, and let them investigate and process it in their own time. Repeated exposure to ‘scary’ objects or events helps horses to get used to them, eventually accepting the event or object as ‘normal’; this is called 'habituation'. If you are struggling to get near something 'scary' in your arena, why not try turning them out in the area, allowing them to investigate in their own time.

Health

EH Cheshire Magazine - Is Hacking As Good As Turnout?
EH Cheshire Magazine - Is Hacking As Good As Turnout?

Not only does hacking and turnout benefit training, the list of benefits for mental and physical health is endless.

Turnout has massive health benefits. Mentally, the freedom to socially interact whilst turn out aid mental well-being and can therefore be beneficial to reduce handling problems. Additionally, turnout is better than the stabled environment for respiratory health, reducing the harmful particles horse’s inhale. Also, gut health can be greatly improved by allowing horses to roam and eat simultaneously.

Meanwhile, hacking is great to improve fitness of both horse and rider. Incorporating hill work can improve stamina and muscle tone, whilst working a variety of surfaces can reduce the occurrence of injury when swapping and changing the terrain you ride on; especially important for eventers. It is also commonly believed that road work ‘hardens’ tendons. However, this is untrue. Tendons cannot ‘harden’, and if they did this would actually lead to more injury as they would be more prone to snap. Properties we should encourage in tendons is extensibility, otherwise known as stretch. Encouraging the extensibility of tendons can be done by working on a variety of soft and hard surfaces, which promotes the development of tendons withstand increased strain. Additionally, working through a variety of paces, which the great outdoors provides the space for, can also encourage tendon extensibility.

So, which is better?

Both hacking and turnout have their individual down-falls. On one hand fitness is one aspect of horse health turnout cannot improve or monitor, whilst hacking can. Hacking is also great for combining training with routine variety, and engaging the horse’s brain. Additionally, whilst hacking, horses are less likely to sustain injury for other horse’s.

However, turnout has benefits which hacking cannot cater for, too. Turnout provide the freedom for social interaction, which is vital for mental wellbeing and cannot be achieved sufficiently in a fully stabled routine. Additionally, the provision of turnout can reduce stress and stable related health conditions, which may have a knock-on effect to performance.

Taking into consideration the pitfalls and advantages of each, it is advised to include both hacking and turnout into horse routine. The unique advantages of each will provide horse’s with optimum mental and physical health, plus aiding performance simultaneously. If turnout is limited, try enriching your horses stabled environment with toys and new objects. Include lots of time out of the stable too. If hacking space is limited near your yard, opt to take your horse to new environments via transport. Don’t just book onto up-coming competitions. Try a whole range of riding facilities available, from steeplechase to farm rides!

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