What is the toughest riding discipline of them all? which is the most important, the most difficult, the most dangerous?

I shall tell you: but first of all let me outline for you the dizzying array of skills necessary.

You need, above all, a sense of calmness and trust. Without that you won’t get anywhere. But you have to combine relaxation with a constant awareness of the considerable difficulties and dangers that surround you. You need to be able to sit in a way that fills the horse with confidence.

You need to master all the basic paces. Horse and rider both need to be relaxed at all of them, from halt to gallop. You need comfortable, instant lateral work, particularly off the right leg. You need calm, soft unfidgety hands. Your aim is to combine calmness and confidence with dynamic and forward-going movement at all paces.

You need your horse to cope with other horses, close by or at a distance. Your horse needs to be sociable when among strangers and friends yet happily independent when on his own. You need balance and control; but with a sense of freedom and adventure.

You need to trust your horse in extreme situations. You must allow your horse to be a wild animal and express himself with joy and abandon and yet you must be able to bring him back to civilisation with a touch, a shift in balance, a word.

But above all, you need to understand each other’s fears; each other’s limits, each other’s strengths and weaknesses. You need to deal with situations that terrify a horse but hold no danger to him; you must deal with situations that terrify you, without imparting your terror to your horse. You must be able to deal with potentially life-threatening situations and to do so with great frequency. You must deal with them in a way that is completely calm and relaxed, as if it were the easiest thing in the world.

The reason you must bring out all these high skills in yourself and your horse is because everybody’s life depends on them. But then you must get used to the fact that your painfully acquired skills are held in low esteem – even despised in some quarters.

The discipline I am talking about is hacking. Nothing is more dangerous – yet more pleasurable – to human and horse alike. If you can hack out safely, alone or in company, you are a real rider!

If you can deal with such things as school buses, Volvo drivers, pheasants flying up at your feet, a long, long canter track, boy racers, fluttering paper bags, gloriously inviting gallops, pigs, cows, overhanging trees, fields of lunatic horses and the most scarey thing of all, the wheelie bin that wasn’t there yesterday, then you can count yourself a hacker. Or to put it another way, a very good rider indeed.

And yet, even if you are the master of all those things, your skills might be sneered at. So you apologise in advance – oh I just hack out. I’m just a happy hacker.

What? Only a master of the most testing and demanding and dangerous discipline in the horsey world, that’s all. You have to defer to obsessive show jumpers, dressage queens of either relations and showing people who prefer polishing horses to riding them – all these people are too precious to take their horse out for a merry hack and who think they’re better than you on that account.

Let’s not be snobbish back, however. Every way of enjoying your horse that doesn’t harm him is alright by me. So we won’t ask what’s so marvellous about going round and round in circles and why it is so superior to a great cantering blast up the hill, and we shan’t point out that while a square halt is hard, it’s far, far more difficult to get your horse to stand still while an articulated lorry goes past. Especially when it then stops and whistles its brakes at you.

So let’s make this hacker’s pride month. Say it out loud; I hack and I’m proud!

Thank you for reading