Napping is a problem that many riders will face either now and then or on a regular basis. It can spoil a great ride and make riding a chore rather than enjoyable, as well as leading to behaviours that are potentially more dangerous. Re-schooling is not complicated if you take a look at how napping starts and the mechanics of the behaviour.
When you are riding your horse out you want to feel that you are both moving along in a relaxed straight line. When a horse naps he is changing the direction that you are going in. He may still have his head pointing in the direction you want to go, but his body is moving in a different direction. He is making a compromise, he thinks ‘I don’t want to go that way’. You try to keep him facing in the direction you want to go. ‘So,’ he thinks, ’I still have to face in that direction, but I can move my shoulder in the direction I want to go’. You find yourself looking exactly where you want to go while you scoot sideways away from your destination.
So firstly, how does napping start? Napping starts because a horse, usually early in his training, although it can develop at a later date, is rushed into approaching something that he is concerned about. It may not be something scarey, just something unusual that he has not experienced before. When a horse is pushed too fast towards something that concerns him he will look for ways to avoid this. He will push out with his shoulder so that he can get further away from, or at least reduced the speed that he approaches his concern. Rushing a horse like this can also lead to running backwards, spinning, rearing and bolting.
1. Give your horse time to get used to the idea of a situation before you ask him to approach it physically.
This may mean coming to a standstill, or it may mean just slowing down. Be mindful of the times your horse tells you that he needs time, listen for him asking to stop or slow down. He may even need to take a step or two away from his concern to allow himself the space & time to become confident to approach it. Recognising these moments is the key to retraining this behaviour, because you are able to make different choices at this point before the ‘nap’ begins.
The mechanics of a nap have the horse looking with his head towards his concern but his body is moving sideways away from it. It is easy to use your inside hand to pull him towards the concern, and thereby pushing his outside shoulder out, he then moves through that shoulder away from his concern. Our aids actually enable and increase the nap.
2. Help your help horse stay straight
Try using your outside leg and hand to support straightness and only use your inside hand to prevent him turning his head totally away from his concern. This may feel counter intuitive at first, and it may help to practice lateral movement in the school to help you support your horse ion the real situation.
3. Value straightness above speed or proximity to the concern
Rather than pushing your horse towards his concern look for him to be straight in his body position. I do not mean rigid & braced I mean that he is looking forward and he is not pushing on your hands or legs, but standing or moving forwards in a straight line. This may mean that he has to move very slowly, or he may need to move laterally so he can maintain a little distance from his concern as he passes.
4. Show your horse the way past a concern
As he approaches and passes his concern you need to show your horse what you want from him. Do not become over focussed on his concern yourself. Instead, look ahead to where you want to go so he can clearly feel from you that there is a way past his concern. At the same time allow him to drift laterally away from his concern so that he can maintain straightness.
- Horses form habits, just like we do. And habits take time to break so be patient and look for improvement rather than perfection. Each little improvement is a step in the right direction.
- Horses use behaviours that are effective to them. Once a horse has learnt that napping is a way for them to take control of a situation they may use it at other times, like when they do not want to leave the yard, for instance. Use the same principals of allowing time, seeking and valuing straightness and giving a clear way forward to deal with these situations.
- If you become nervous on board, dismount and carry on from the ground. If you think this is likely I would recommend wearing a halter & line under your bridle so you have an effective groundwork tool to use. Bridles & bits are not the best way to help a horse from the ground.
- Take care of yourself. Do not attempt a training processes that you are not experienced enough to achieve. Seek professional help before you get hurt.
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