This summer has been wonderful for riding and I hope lots of you have been enjoying hacking in the glorious sunshine! However, I know there are a lot of horse owners out there who feel like they can’t hack out or ride out on their own for fear of their horse napping. Napping is a fairly common problem and can be described as, “the horse refusing or being reluctant to move in the direction you, the rider, wants to go”.
The first sign of napping is that you feel like you have to keep kicking your horse in order to maintain forward momentum. You may also find they start “looking at things” more often and this can develop into the horse “planting” their feet or spinning away. You can tell the difference between a genuine spook and evasive napping by their ears; if they are spooking, their ears will be pointing forwards at the scary object and you need to be sympathetic with them whereas a napping horse will generally have their ears pointing backwards and you may need to be more assertive in your riding.
Why do horses attempt to nap? There are two circumstances under which a horse will nap; either he is worried about where he is going so he refuses to go forward, or he is thinking about wanting to go back to where he has come from. Both of these situations indicate a lack of trust and respect for the rider as the horse is not willing to take on new challenges or is seeking comfort by wanting to return to familiar surroundings.
So how can you resolve napping? The best way to resolve napping is to recognize the signs and nip it in the bud before it gets too ingrained! However, the two main areas to work on are to be able to move the hind quarters left and right and to make sure your cues for forward are clear and you horse responds immediately to it. The worst thing you can do when your horse is napping is to keep on kicking as your horse will brace himself against it and you end up hot, sweaty and cross!
The control of the hindquarters is necessary so you can realign your horse should he drop his shoulder and try to nap home. It also takes away your horse’s power as a horse that is crossing his hind legs and pivoting round his inside foreleg cannot spin or run away.
By making sure your horse responds immediately to your cue to move forwards, you are limiting the chance of you nagging your horse or letting him have time to think about napping. The key to this is to ask them to move forward with a gentle squeeze, give them a second or two to respond, if they don’t, reinforce your ask by tapping with a whip behind the girth; think if your whip as imitating a horsefly! When you get the right response stop all cues and let your horse travel forward.
Another good tip with getting your horse forward off your leg is to make sure your horse goes up a gait whenever they are feeling behind the leg. If your are walking and your walk slows down, use your leg in the way described above and make them trot for 10 or 15 paces before coming back to a walk. If the trot is slow, canter for 10 strides and come back to a trot. With repetition your horse will become more forward thinking.
Jason Webb at Australian Horsemanship specializes in starting young horses under saddle and finding the solutions to behavioural and ridden problems. For more information please visit www.australianhorsetraining.co.uk or contact us on 07749914267 / firstname.lastname@example.org.