When you ask your horse to go forwards, how quickly do they respond? If the answer isn’t ‘immediately’, there’s work to do. International dressage rider Charlie Hutton helps to iron out the tendency to evade the aids by napping.

When your horse naps or falls behind the leg, it’s easy to get into the habit of niggling at their sides every stride to keep them going forward. In turn that leads to the horse becoming numb to the leg – and that becomes a difficult cycle to break.

How to nip napping in the bud

Don’t give up

It’s easy to give in and let your horse get their way if they buck or jump around, but never be defeated as this will cause the problem to get bigger.

Change something

Take the horse’s mind away from the issue by changing direction, doing a transition or turning a circle.

Stay in charge

Don’t let it get to the point where you won’t ask for something because you know it will cause an argument. Seek advice from an experienced trainer to help you move on.

Don’t nag

Ask once and expect a reaction immediately – don’t keep niggling at their sides. It’s an easy habit to fall into, but a hard one to break.

Have an expectation

Keep your aids concise and know exactly how you want your horse to react.

Reward or repeat

When you put your leg on and get the reaction you want, reward your horse with a pat. If you don’t get the reaction, repeat the aid firmly until you do. Making it clear what’s acceptable helps your horse learn.

Why lateral work is important

Charlie rides lots of lateral movements, such as leg yield and shoulder in, when working on forwardness, especially in walk.

“Horses don’t naturally have impulsion in walk, whereas in trot and canter they do. So, if you have a horse in front of your leg in walk, it will be easier to achieve and maintain the same in trot and canter,” explains Charlie. “When a lot of people do lateral work they use their leg the entire time. You should be able to place your leg behind the girth, apply it and, when the horse moves over, release it. This sounds simple, but it takes practise.”

Meet the expert: Charlie Hutton is an international dressage rider and trainer. He won team gold and individual silver at the Australian Youth Olympic Festival in 2009. 

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