Hacking out and trail riding is great for young and old horses.
- Great for building up endurance, top-line, and muscling in general. Horses are generally more forward hacking out, so the horse is naturally using its hind end. Hacking out is essentially cross-training and potentially builds up different muscles than he would be using in arena work.
- Prevents arena sourness - you can still get a great workout, it just occurs in a different environment. I've been working on lateral work down the cow road.
- Boosts horse's confidence and dependability as a overall mount.
- Provides a mental break for both horse and rider.
- Develops communication and trust between horse and rider. Unexpected things happen on the trail. The horse needs to be able to listen to the rider's aids (open gate, go around rock, etc). In addition, it places trust in the horse... As a rider, you cannot make a horse pick the path down a steep incline... you have to sit back and trust the horse will make smart decisions.
- Adds value to the horse in the long-term. If a show horse sustains an injury, his worth will diminish. However, if you have a horse that is trail-safe, he has another low-impact career option with you or with another owner.
I am lucky to board at a place that has a nice grass path and some cow pastures to hack out of the arena. The footing is decent, so you can walk, trot, and canter on the path. I try to hack Scottie out at least once a week, especially the day after a taxing lesson. I think it allows her brain to decompress and she looks forward to going "out". That way, she is still getting a work out, but it is a different type of mental environment.
I also use it as a workout for my older gelding. It is great for him because he does have some arthritis, but walking out a steady march gets him moving and gives him a good workout as well.
So, take your horse out of the ring and onto the trails!