There’s nothing more relaxing than a long, leisurely hack in the beautiful British countryside. Just you, your horse and the joys of nature, right? Not if your horse is prone to napping when he’s away from the security of his friends, as his unwillingness to go forward can sap all the fun out of your rides and knock your confidence. Taking your horse out alone and enjoying the peace and quiet of your local area doesn’t have to be shelved as a pipe dream, though – with a methodical approach, it’s possible to crack this frustrating habit once and for all, and enjoy hacking again.
Recognising the signs
Often, napping is obvious – your horse may stop dead and refuse to move forward, or he may spin or even rear in his attempts to get back home. Sometimes, it can be more subtle, manifesting itself in minor disobediences, such as heaviness through one side or a gradual dwindling of forward motion. Either way, napping is an issue that’s best dealt with promptly, as it can quickly escalate from an inconvenience into a dangerous problem.
Be sensible when tackling your horse’s napping – for example, don’t plan to ride when he would normally be fed, as he’ll have his mind on his dinner and want to head for home. Pick a neutral part of the day and one when the roads are quiet.
Cause and effect
Napping can have several causes and it’s important to do your best to address each of them while working towards a solution. As with any habitual problem, ensure your horse is pain-free, that his teeth are in good shape and that his saddle fits well before addressing the issue in training. Often, even very slight discomfort can make horses reluctant to move forward.
Once you’ve confirmed that pain isn’t the problem, the cause of your horse’s napping is usually down to one of two things – fear or habit. Napping often begins as a response to a lack of confidence – your horse may be afraid of tackling the unknown on his own or he may be remembering a particularly bad fright he had on a previous hack. Left to develop, this genuine nappiness can become an ingrained habit and, if you’ve taken on a horse who persistently naps, it may feel as though it’s rooted in stubbornness or bad behaviour. In either case, a patient and tactful approach to retraining the behaviour is key.
Confidence is key when reforming a nappy horse, so it’s essential that you don’t forget to breathe. Chatting to your horse or singing as you ride might earn you a quizzical look or two, but it can work wonders for keeping you relaxed in the saddle.
Are you ready to start tackling your napping issues? Find out how in November Horse&Rider, on sale 20 September.