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One Hack of a Day

August 9, 2014

I spent yesterday in the company of amazing horses and people who love horses. Put the two together and it’s a sight to behold. Gracious hosts, gorgeous grounds and lovely Bay Area weather made it special.


With one of the beautiful horses.

When our host wasn’t winning blue ribbons or visiting with us, she was staying in touch with her horses. One of the ways she did this was to ride and the horses in a casual, yet purposeful, manner in a field on the outskirts of the grounds. Here, she assuredly directed and encouraged the horses on their practice cuts and jumps. In spite of the sheer strength of the horses and the force of their every move, the ring was quiet and serene.

I learned that this was hacking the horse. I had never heard the term and asked for an explanation.

I know the verb in its other contexts.

-“to cut roughly, cut with chopping blows,” (1200s);
-“cope with” (such as in ‘can’t hack it’), American English slang (1955);
-“to cough with a short, dry cough,” (1802)
-“illegally enter a computer system” (1984).

And of course, I was aware of the noun.

-“a chopper, cutter” (13th century);
-“tool for chopping” (14th century);
-“one who gains unauthorized access to computer records” (1983)
-“one who works at writing and experimenting with software, one who enjoys working with computer programming for its own sake” (1976);

We sometimes use the word hack to describe someone who goes about with an avocation or activity without proper training, method or technique. We call the guy who does his own car repairs and maintenance, the weekend warrior who slaps tennis balls over the fence or the person who leaves a trail of divots on the golf course, a hack.


When I’m asked if I know how to bake bread, I always respond that I’m just a hack.

My son tells me that the very worst thing said about a chef in the high-end restaurants is that he’s a hack. The term is saved for only the worst. The label comes not just because of his skills on a stand-alone basis. In addition, his attitude, demeanor, the way he treats others in the kitchen and other attributes are also considerations. This comes after people have already commented on his haircut, his dog, his ethnicity, and his sister and then thrown every other possible insult at him. The final word used is hack. It can be a lonely digging out of that hole.

And then there is the (uncommon) name, Hack. Some of you will recognize the name Hack Wilson. He is in the baseball hall of fame and considered one of the very best of his era. He was even compared to the mighty Babe Ruth, his contemporary. Wilson was a powerful man who hit 56 home runs and had 191 runs batted in for the 1930 Chicago Cubs. Wilson’s given name is Lewis. The word is that he was nicknamed Hack because his physique was similar to a famous Russian weightlifter and pro wrestler named George Hackenschmidt.

A fewer number of you will remember that in our schooldays our good friend Jack was nicknamed Hack. It was a term of affection that didn’t stick a long time, but that I still associate with good times and lots of laughs.

But here now was another use of the word. As my friends explained yesterday, hacking with a horse is a casual, low-stress exercise. There appear to be a range of activities that fit the definition, depending on the horse itself – riding the trails, riding the beach, loose reins, no particular focus – but the common trait seems to be that it is more of a moment to bond and relax with the horse, rather than push it hard.

And I’ve now learned that the word hack is also used as a noun with horses as a historical context.

-“short for ‘hackney,’ an ordinary horse” (1300s) probably from Hackney, Middlesex, where nags were raised on pasture there during medieval times”
-“horse for hire” (1300s)

And then, for some unknown reason, I learned yet another use of the word hack yesterday when I sat behind the car in the photo on the on ramp to a bridge. Sometimes things happen in bunches.


First thought was football hack? Once upon a time in the Bay Area, frisbee hack would have been good guess. Now of course, it can’t mean anything but Facebook hack. Perhaps a middling manager with a seat on the corporate juggernaut. More likely someone associated with Facebook’s programming tool, Hack.

It was one heck hack of a day.

(All word origins are from Online Etymology Dictionary.)

  1. My husband spent the day with horses yesterday, too. He’s never been around horses, but he’s taking a leadership seminar and interacting with horses is one of the sessions. Apparently the animals are good judges of character. Well, they must’ve judged my husband right because he was well received by the horses. In fact, he was the most well received of the bunch. Of course, he’s made sure to mention that to us several times now…

    So maybe he ‘hacked’ with the horses in just the right way. 🙂


    • Well you, no hack yourself, and the horses who sized up your husband last week, know a good thing when you see it.

      Good to see you back from your summer WP respite.


      • Thank you, though it’s more a pop-by then an actual return. Still too much going on to return to my blog on a regular basis. 🙂


  2. Hack Gresmer permalink

    Somehow I think I just got compared to George Hackenschmidt – Hack Yes!


  3. And of course, there’s former Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett


  4. Every band of Hacks needs a lead guitar player.


  5. Interesting!! I was familiar with the term related to horses (my son rode for years) but now tend to think of the word in terms of computers and those who venture into places where they are not supposed to be


    • Yes, people were hacking horses long before computers. I was not familiar with the word in that context. It was a great day and the horses were amazing.


  6. I was not familiar with the term in relation to horses which is probably not surprising since English is not my first language … but I do love horses very much – in every language -:)!


  7. Clever, clever post. Who knew all of these ‘hacks’ were hanging around? And it’s SO true – think or write about a subject, and then all of a sudden it’s all around you. What were the chances of you seeing that ‘hack’ license plate? Nil…until you started writing about it. The universe responds! And lastly, I love the idea of ‘hacking with a horse.’ I realize that’s what I do every morning on my low-stress, silent walks around SF bay path – I’m ‘hacking with the self’ as I begin the day. 🙂


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