Napping: When a horse, runs to the back of a ride, runs or drags towards the exit of the school or arenas, plants feet when taken out on own and refuses to go foward etc. Or the horse stands still and refuses to move in reaction to a worrisome or unpleasant situation (NewRiderForum).
As long as I know have her, Bonnie was prone to napping. In the first few months of owning her, it wasn’t a huge issue. Then, in July, it started to affect our partnership as it became more and more frequent and was beginning to get dangerous.
When your horse is a frequent napper, you often get used to it and it becomes a habit that you encounter in your daily routine. At the beginning, it didn’t bother me much. Of course, I rode her out of it, and made sure she ONLY got praised when she went forward again, but it can be very hard; especially if you are a nervous rider.
There are several questions you must ask yourself, the most important one being is my horse in pain?. When Bonnie’s habit began to get out of hand, and she was stopping half way around courses just to take a break for herself, and then when she began to rear we knew something had to be up. If you have read my previous blog post on how my first time Eventing went (click here to read me!), you will know that it turned out that Bonnie was in pain. The problem I then encountered was that Bonnie had discovered this wonderful bad habit that was a pain in the butt to kick out.
When Bonnie was completely cleared to come back into full work, she was spookier than ever. She began to nap at everything; and was often coming up with sneaky tactics to try and get me off. She succeeded once (you’ll hear about that in a blog post that is yet to come), but she has made me more nervous when riding her because she was being so dirty about it.
If your horse has been cleared by professionals and is not in pain, and it is simply a bad habit, finding the route of the problem can help eliminate the issue altogether. Some common issues that can be identified are things as simple as your horse may just miss their friends. However, stopping to try and break down the situation for small details can help get to the route of the issue. Is your horse actually napping, or is it spooking?
Many times I didn’t actually know the difference. Whilst I showed the definition of napping according to NewRiderForum above, spooking is when your horse is genuinely scared of something. In the case for me, Bonnie was terrified of a hidden monster in the top corner of the arena. This led to her napping way before she even got near there, because she was scared. But how do you tell the difference between spooking and napping?
Through observation in my years around horses and research before writing this blog post (I can’t be posting false information), it turns out that whilst the reactions are the same (spinning/taking off, refusing to move, etc); you can tell by the horses ears. A spooking horse will be alert – their ears pinned forward, normally in a panic and blowing their nostrils. Horses are flight animals and their instinct is to run. A napping horse will normally have their ears pinned back, not wanting to go anywhere and generally just being grumpy.
LEFT: Spooking, ears pricked, bolting to the side trying to run away.
RIGHT: Napping, refusal to go forward.
One of the biggest things that has made a difference to us in eliminating this issue was changing our routine. I always tack Bonnie up in her stable, and get on right outside the door before making my way out to the arena. Now, I lead Bonnie to the arena and get on inside, so that the arena means work time, and outside of the arena she can relax. This has made a huge difference in getting Bonnie over her napping.
At the beginning, Bonnie only napped at gates; but this evolved until she would nap anywhere and everywhere to stop doing work. When gates were our only issue, my instructor would have me walk only towards the gate, and the second we passed we sped up into trot so that she was always trotting away from the gate, never towards. This worked at the time, but Bonnie had decided she quite liked napping; and the issue got so bad she wouldn’t move forward at all.
When we got to this stage, our biggest aim when she stopped was to get her moving in any direction. To achieve this, I would pull her in a tight circle and kick to get her going anywhere but backwards. It didn’t matter if it wasn’t the direction I wanted her to go, because those little wins helped to begin to break the bad habit in the long run. I had forgotten how effective this technique was, and it was only when reminded by Lucca who has been schooling Bonnie whilst I am ill reminded me how effective it was I tried it again…and it worked!
3 months on Bonnie still does nap; this will be a long-term, continuous process to truly try and break the habit of a lifetime. However, she hasn’t reared in quite a while…so I’d say I’m definitely getting somewhere.
I’ll see you next time!
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