Horse Hacking: What is it, and how to do it safely

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If you’re looking for tips to ensure a safe and enjoyable hack with your horse, you’ll find plenty of valuable information in this guide. But what exactly is hacking?

Hacking is a type of horse riding that may be confused with other similar terms such as turnout or trekking. A hack may also refer to a type of horse, so below we’ll explain what a hack is and why it’s such a common word in the equestrian world!

We’ll cover:

  • What is horse hacking
  • The benefits of hacking
  • Hacking tips
  • Tips for hacking out on the roads

What is horse hacking

Hacking is best described as a leisurely horse ride for fun or light exercise. It’s non-competitive, it’s low intensity (though it does have tremendous benefits for both you and your horse), and it can be done alone or in a group. You can enjoy hacking on trails, many of which are designed for the purpose, or by the roadside if you and your horse are confident doing so. You’ll find some tips for staying safe while hacking by the roadside later on in this guide.


Turning out your horse is letting your horse loose in a field or paddock for some exercise, so it’s different to hacking in that you aren’t doing it together. In terms of what’s the best workout for your horse, both are important. Turnout can give them the independence to explore alone in a safe area, whereas hacking can get them out into the world and introduce them to new ground.


Trekking is similar to hacking in that it involves riding a horse, but the horse is being lead or is part of a line of horses all following the same path. It’s an activity horse riders of all abilities can take part in as you don’t need to be a competent rider or have much knowledge of signals to take part. Hacking is also suitable for beginners but more appropriate for confident riders who understand and are understood by their horses. Unlike trekking, it can also be done as a solo activity.

What is a hacking horse

A hack is also a type of horse, short for Hackney, which is actually where the term ‘hacking’ came from! Hackney horses or hack horses were traditionally used for pulling carriages or leasing out to people to ride in parks, because they were a calm and reliable breed. So, riding these horses was known as ‘hacking’, a term which now refers to any leisurely, non-competitive horse ride.

The difference between a hack and a riding horse is in their demeanour. A hack horse is expected to have a higher degree of manners and elegance than a riding horse.

What is a show hack horse

A show hack is a type of horse that you ride and is judged on elegance, manners, and quality — all the traits you’d expect from a traditional Hackney horse. You can find out more about all the different hack classes, height sections, and ways to impress the judges in our guide to show hacking.

The benefits of hacking

Though a low intensity activity, hacking can have a lot of benefits for both you and your horse. Here are five of the most important benefits of hacking.


Hacking is incredibly stimulating, especially for horses who don’t get to spend much time out of the stables. It provides them with a more varied routine and can even boost your horse’s confidence, as the more they hack and experience new things, the less likely they are to get spooked in the future.

Change of scenery

Hacking also provides a change of scenery for your horse as it gets them away from their familiar stable and paddock. You can choose whether to traverse a country path or stick to the roads, and you can ride the same trail or pick a new one each time — whatever you and your horse prefer. But just by being out of their comfort zone, you horse will receive a lot of mental stimulation.


The purpose of hacking isn’t purely exercise, but it can still be a fantastic workout for you and your horse. It can help them improve both their cardiovascular fitness and their muscle tone, plus getting out into nature can be great for their mental wellbeing. All this is true for you, too, as you get all the muscle and core training that you’d expect from riding a horse plus the physical and mental stimulation of being in the great outdoors.


Hacking can be a great way to bond with your horse and give them lots of attention — as well as getting them to pay attention to you! You will both rely on mutual trust as you explore the world together, and spending quality time this way will only deepen your bond. If you hack in a group, it can also be a good way for your horse to spend time with other horses.


Another reason for hacking with your horse is the simplest one of all — it’s fun! Most of us become horse riders because we love horses and enjoy riding them, and the benefits it has for your horse are a bonus too. Most horses love seeing more of the world on a hack, and it can stop them from becoming bored or agitated which can lead to destructive behaviour. However, some horses don’t enjoy hacking much, so it’s important to keep an eye on their mood and learn to understand horse behaviour.

Hacking tips

Before you go, it’s important you have the right equipment to go hacking with. According to the law you must use a saddle to hack on the roads — a GP or hacking saddle will be the most comfortable — and it is advisable for you both to wear safety gear such as Hi-Viz clothing, a helmet (for you), and perhaps a small wearable camera for your safety and security.

In terms of where to go, you should stick to safe, open spaces you have permission to ride on. Narrow paths can be distressing for your horse, so an established bridleway is best if there is one available. Hard ground is also preferable as it’s safer for your horse to ride on, so if it has been raining you should stick to hacking out on the roads which is perfectly legal in the UK. Read on for more advice for staying safe riding on the roads.

Ensure your horse has no injuries before you set off, as even minor strains can become exacerbated by hacking out too hard or too often. Keep your horse away from animals such as cows or sheep, and if you must pass through one of their fields, do so slowly. This is as much for your horse’s safety as it is for theirs!

There are also some essential precautions you will need to take in summer to protect you and your horse from heat exhaustion, insects, and other seasonal problems. To get clued up, be sure to read our summer horse care guide which offers tips specifically for riding in hot weather.

Tips for hacking out on the roads

Roads provide nice hard ground that is pleasant and safe for your horse to walk on, so they’re ideal for hacking. But there is an increased danger from cars, buses, motorcyclists, and other road users. From potential collisions to your horse getting spooked by traffic, it’s important you prepare properly before hacking out on the roads and consider the following tips.

Practice training and desensitization

Prior training is crucial. Try and expose your horse to a variety of environments, sights, and sounds before heading onto the roads, and practice ground work and desensitization exercises to build your horse’s confidence and responsiveness. Alternatively, you may be able to borrow a reliable horse who has hacked before and enjoys doing so.

Build road confidence

Gradually introduce your horse to traffic by starting with quiet roads and building up to busier ones. If you can, familiarize your horse with different vehicles, such as cars, bicycles, buses, and HGVs, so they become accustomed to various sounds and movements.

Use proper road etiquette

You will be safest if you follow the rules of the road, so it may be worth brushing up on the Highway Code before you set off. Stay to the left side of the road, facing oncoming traffic. Use clear hand signals to indicate your intentions to motorists, giving drivers ample notice of your actions.

Be visible

It’s extremely important that both you and your horse are visible to motorists even in low light and bad weather such as rain and fog. Dress in bright, Hi-Viz clothing, attach reflective gear to your horse’s tack, and consider using LED lights to enhance visibility — especially at night.

Be prepared

Hacking is a leisurely ride, but you should still be cautious and carry essentials like a mobile phone, first aid kit, and emergency contact numbers with you when you hack out. If possible, ride with a companion for added safety, particularly if you are new to hacking or riding out on an unfamiliar route.

The tips in this guide can help you prepare for your first hack or simply learn more about what hacking is. Remember, safety is paramount. Regularly assess your horses comfort level and monitor your surroundings. Stay alert, communicate effectively with those around you (including other road users), and enjoy your ride!

Did you know that with a H&C+ membership you can access our huge range of equestrian shows and box sets, including Top of FormRudall Rides With…, our popular hacking-themed show, and The Great Cornish Ride with Tina and Emily where Tina Wallace and Emily Dunstan explore Cornwall on horseback to support the BHS Rideathon campaign. Become a H&C+ member today to access even more horsemanship advice.