As the warmer months roll around, many of us like to add more regular hacking to our riding routines. Variety is key. To us, there’s simply nothing better than cantering over open fields or taking a stroll around the countryside in the summer, but sometimes, our horses don’t feel the same way which means they may nap and want to turn back towards home.
Riding a horse that tends to nap can be a very frustrating and unpleasant experience and, in some cases, it can be dangerous too. That’s why it’s important to learn how to stop a horse from napping before it becomes a much larger problem
What is napping?
Napping is a behavioural issue where a horse is reluctant or outright refuses to move in the direction you want them to go. This may take many different forms such as spinning around, rearing, bucking, or planting themselves and refusing to move.
Napping is not to be confused with spooking, which is where your horse is actually scared of something. A good indicator of whether your horse is napping or spooking is to look at their ears, horses that nap tend to pin them back, whereas spooking horses will often have them pointing forward, toward the thing that’s scared them.
How to stop a horse napping
If your horse naps, it’s important to start correcting the behaviour as early as possible before it becomes established. Here are our top tips for tackling a horse with a tendency to nap:
1. Get them checked out first
It’s easy to chalk misbehaviours such as napping down to “oh, he’s just being naughty”, but sometimes horses can act in these strange ways because there’s something genuinely wrong. Your first port of call whenever a horse starts displaying a new misbehaviour is to get them checked out. Contact your vet and arrange a check-up to look for any medical concerns such as back or tooth pain and they will be able to recommend if they feel your horse should see a physiotherapist, chiropractor or osteopathist in addition. Also, get a qualified saddle fitter to come and check your tack to make sure it fits well and isn’t pinching which can be uncomfortable. It is equally important to keep up routine maintenance appointments such as farrier visits and dental checks.
2. Think about where your horse naps
If the vet confirms your horse is just trying it on, your next step when thinking about how to stop your horse napping is to look at where they are doing it. If it’s in the arena by the gate, do you tend to finish your schooling sessions here? If so, horses are incredibly quick to learn that the gate means no more work and they may start drifting towards it earlier on or even planting by it and refusing to go on. When riding in the arena, keep them distracted with plenty of transitions, changes of rein and work them away from the gate. When it’s time for your ride to finish, vary where/when you get off each time and if possible, always make sure it’s away from the gate.
If your horse tends to nap when you’re out hacking, think about the routes you ride on. Do you always tend to just go one way and then turn around and go back on yourself? If so, your horse may learn to associate certain spots with home time. Try some circular routes or vary where you turn around each time so they don’t learn to anticipate. It’s also a good idea to reserve any canter or gallop work for when you’re riding away from home and instead make them walk back. This can help to reduce the sense of urgency and the rush to get home to safety.
3. Go back to basics with groundwork
It can be the case that horses nap because they don’t have enough trust in their rider. Build your bond with your horse by spending some more time with them and introduce some simple groundwork exercises to help them realise that they can trust you and you won’t lead them into danger.
4. Stop the nap before it starts
A big part of stopping a horse from napping is preventing it before it even starts. Learn to recognise the signs that your horse is about to nap and distract them. Keep your horse moving and if they won’t go forwards, try bending their head and asking them to go sideways, they should soon learn that forwards is the easier route.
5. Try going out with a companion
If your horse tends to nap when going out alone, try hacking out with another horse or have someone accompany you on foot to help you get past the tricky spots where they tend to decide against it. Having someone come with you may help to gain their confidence when out hacking and help them learn that it’s a positive experience.
6. Get off and lead
It’s a huge misconception that getting off and leading is a sign of defeat and means that your horse has won. If you’ve tried everything you can to get them past a spot and they’re just not budging, if you feel it’s safe, getting off and leading them past calmly whilst talking to them can show them there’s nothing to worry about and can help them to build their trust in you. Leading them past something is a much better solution than just allowing them to turn around and go home as this will reinforce the napping behaviour.
7. Don’t forget to praise
This is something that can be easily forgotten with the stress of napping, but when they do go forwards, praise them and give them a pat! Be vocal and allow your horse to hear that you are there with them and that you’re not worried, so they don’t need to be. Always reward good behaviour and make sure you’re making the ride a positive experience. Punishing your horse will often go the wrong way and will instead instil the idea that they were right and home is the safe place to be after all.