On the road to nowhere? Napping, why it happens and what to do about it
So let's start with frustration!!! A napping horse can be the most frustrating thing in the world, no matter how much you sweat, kick and finally plead with your horse they still seem to be going backward - aaahhhh!!!
If there's one tip I can give it's don't get frustrated (oh thanks, I hear you say!!) and if you do let your emotions get the better of you, stop, breathe and start again once you're feeling better. Frustration only adds to the emotions of the situation and makes everything a lot worse, it usually means it all takes longer as well.
The first step is to identify why your horse is napping, there are basically three reasons...
He's in pain
He just doesn't think going forwards is in his/her interests
With any behaviour changes in a horse, in particular if it comes 'out of the blue' the possibility of pain should be thoroughly investigated before treating it as a training issue.
We don't often associate nappiness with a horse being scared simply because the behaviour usually appears to us to be so stubborn. So how do you know? If the nappiness appears for example by the gate when you're leaving the yard for a hack and when you do finally get your horse out of the gate he tends to be on his toes and spooky, this is likely to be a fear issue. Your horse is saying 'I don't want to go out there because it's scarey don't you know there's monsters out there?!' I'm putting human words into it but you get the idea. Nappiness due to fear is usually associated with going somewhere new or at least relatively unknown.
Solution...Get your horse to be confident just going out of the gate or even better on a very short loop and come back again. In some cases it can be better to do this on the ground, if your horse long reins well then this is an ideal way to start. I know it goes against all our instincts to go to all the effort of getting out of the gate just to turn around again but this will prove to your horse that just because he goes out of the gate, doesn't mean he's going off into the wide world miles away from all his friends. Once he's going out of the gate easily start building up the distance and amount of time you go out for so you don't over face him or get a friend to join you once you're out of the gate for the rest of your hack to help build your horses confidence that he's not all alone.
So what about the other horse? Who doesn't think going forwards is in their interests - why does this happen?
One of the tricky things about a 'nappy' horse is that it can be very difficult to get them 'in front of your leg' to where you are not using your legs anymore. Now if you are constantly kicking or squeezing to keep your horse moving forwards then there is no release. There is no comfortable place for your horse to move into and therefore very little incentive to keep going.
I recently met a horse like this who had real problems going forward and would just stop and plant his feet, his owner described him as not wanting to do it, lazy etc and would get very frustrated with him - understandably. When he did go, he was often slow, adding to her frustration!!
Here's how we fixed the problem.... when he stopped, I asked the rider to keep her legs on with a squeeze (no kicking) if he didn't go forward from the leg she would then tap him with the stick and keep tapping until he took a step forward, as soon as he did, legs off and stop tapping, even if he was going at the pace of a snail, he was going forward - it's progress I'm looking for not perfection (yet!!). It took a couple of tries before this little horse worked out 'Hey! Every time I stop she puts her legs on and if I don't go she taps me with this stick, might be better if I just kept going'.
So now we had a horse who would go, mostly from the leg only but he was still slow. The next step was to ask the horse for the 'walk' we wanted. Once he was walking I asked the rider to put her legs on again (and use the stick if necessary) until she got a forward going walk. As soon as she got the walk she wanted - legs off and just ride. If he slowed down, legs on, stick if necessary until he maintained the forward walk for himself. The same process worked in trot and canter as well. It usually takes 3 or 4 sessions until this is working consistently, it takes a bit of patience but once you have the clear understanding of the leg and that there is a release afterwards the whole thing becomes easier.
Remember this is just one of many ways to deal with this sort of situation and there are lots of things that can be practised at home to help a spooky horse be more confident or a stubborn horse more willing, and the better they are at home, the quicker they will work when you’re out and about.
Before trying any training technique it is important to rule out pain or discomfort. Saddle fit, teeth, back, hoof balance and lameness issues should all be checked by a qualified professional before applying any training.
If you have questions or need idea's to help with a specific problem feel free to get in touch with me on firstname.lastname@example.org
Lyla has been helping riders and their horses in the UK, USA and Europe for over 15 years. She has prepared horses for crowds of over 6,000 people with no calmers or ear plugs for venues including Birmingham NEC, Aintree, Bury Farm EC and Hartpury.
Lyla specialises in horse psychology and behaviour problems with a specific interest in dressage and has worked with horses from grass roots to Grand Prix across the UK and Europe including international competitors and Olympians from Spain, the US, Canada and the UK.
Lyla has regular teaching days in Gloucs, Wilts, Worcs, Warks, Northants, West Sussex, Herts and South Wales.
All training techniques discussed are from experience only, it is impossible for to accurately advise on horse/rider combinations without seeing them live. Lyla Cansfield & Equine Mind & Body Training strongly advise anyone considering using any of the techniques discussed to get live help and can take no responsibility for the outcome of applying any of the techniques discussed without supervision. Riding is a high risk sport.