In partnership with Equisafety

Napping is when a horse refuses to move in the direction you want to go. It can start as planting, but can escalate to backing up, spinning and even rearing. For many riders, it’s a difficult and nerve-wracking behaviour to deal with, particularly out hacking, but it is possible to address through training.

The best place to start is by identifying the potential causes for your horse napping. There are a few possible reasons, including:

  • Pain
  • Confusion over aids
  • Separation anxiety
  • Lack of confidence

Ruling out pain

Before tackling any behavioural issue, such as napping, through training, you must first rule out pain as the cause.

Have your saddle checked by a saddle fitter, as well as your other tack including your bridle and bit. Book an appointment with your vet to rule out any potential physical issues, such as lameness, ulcers or orthopaedic issues such as kissing spines or arthritis, which could cause pain when ridden. You might also want to consider booking an appointment with a physiotherapist, chiropractor, or other paraprofessional for additional support.

Once pain has been completely ruled out, you can begin re-training your horse.

Refining your aids

Knowing the root cause of why your horse is napping is key, as this will influence how you go about tackling the behaviour.

The first thing to do is refine your aids. You don’t want to get into the habit of nagging your horse to go forwards – you need them to be off the leg. With a slow or lazy horse it can be tempting to kick or squeeze repeatedly as you go along to keep them forwards, but this can actually switch them off from the leg, meaning when you need to get them to go, they no longer respond to your leg aids.

You can address this by re-training your horse to be more sensitive to your leg aids. In the arena or out hacking, make sure you keep a quiet leg whilst they are moving forward – don’t be tempted to nag, even if they aren’t quite going as quickly as you want them to. Ask them to halt, and then move on again. Focus on using the quietest leg aids you can, and as soon as they move, stop applying them. Gradually you can build up to asking them to step with more purpose or speed – again, don’t nag constantly – as soon as you get your desired response, stop applying the aids.

Resolving separation anxiety

Our horses can form strong bonds and relationships with their friends, so much so that they experience anxiety when away from them. This can be the case if they have a particular best friend, or aren’t confident in being on their own without the safety of their herd. Some horses might struggle once they’ve lost sight of their friend, whilst others might only start to nap when you want to take them off the yard.

It can take a while to resolve, but it’s important not to rush and treat it holistically. It’s not just about getting to go for a hack without them napping – it’s about making them feel more confident to leave their friend.

The best place to start is by addressing the problem from the ground before moving on to riding or hacking. Taking time to do activities with your horse that will build your relationship, such as grooming, is a good place to start, as building a strong bond with your horse can help them to feel more secure about leaving behind their friends.

Once they are happy on the ground, start to progress to riding and gradually hacking. Introduce each step in the smallest increment as possible – doing too much too soon can slow down progress.

 Building up confidence

Some horses might nap if they are shy or spooky and don’t want to go past something that is worrisome. If this is the case, you’ll need to help improve your horse’s confidence – starting in the school. Try this exercise from Eloise Mayhead, the stable manager at the City of London’s Mounted Police Branch to get your horse the skills they need to pass something scary. Once you’ve mastered it in the arena, you can do it out on hacks.

If you find yourself struggling with nappy behaviour and aren’t sure of the root cause or how best to handle it, seek advice and guidance from a professional.

This content is brought to you in partnership with Equisafety, high viz clothing for horses and riders.

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