What is napping?
I come across a lot of napping horses. Napping is a reluctance from the horse to go away from known environments and/or their buddies. At first, you may feel your horse hesitate, or move off slowly. At worst, napping can lead to the horse planting and becoming incredibly difficult to move forward. If you think you have a horse that naps, there are some great lessons within Your Horsemanship that can help, including a the “Lack of Forward” Module within the Problem Solving library.
What are the causes of napping?
Napping is basically caused by a lack of response to the rider’s (or handler’s) forward cue. However, sometimes there’s more to the situation than first meets the eye. When I am teaching, I have to be a bit of a detective! My lesson with Nicky and her lovely (big!) ID mare, Shadow, being a case in point.
Nicky came to me with napping issues, as Shadow had taken to planting herself and reversing when she didn’t feel like going out on a hack. She also said that she had started to do this on the ground when she was bringing her in from the field. Starting from the ground always gives me an idea of what is happening with the horse. So when I asked Shadow into a lunge, I was taken by surprise as she took off up the arena with me “skiing” behind!
“Does she do that often?!”
“Yes, that’s her new trick!”
“So, do you worry that she’s going to do that when you’re riding her?”
“Yes, if she did that with me on her, there’s no way I could stop her!”
And therein lay the real problem. The napping was a by-product of Nicky’s forward cues not being convincing as she was worried that she could lose control. Therefore, the first part of the lesson was spent on giving Nicky techniques to control Shadow, such as the one rein stop, so that she knew she could stop her in all situations. Once she was confident in these processes, I then taught the “tapping” technique to solve the napping issue.
Horses have two forms of resistance. The first is, “I don’t know”, and the second is, “I don’t want to”. Without calm, consistent and decisive forward cues, these resistances can turn into napping, planting, spinning and rearing. When Shadow planted, I showed Nicky how to tap her rhythmically and fluently with her whip just behind the leg. At the same time she gave a light leg cue to go forwards and gave with her hands. The leg cue did not increase in intensity but more energy was put into the tapping until we got a forward step. When we got the forward response we were looking for, Nicky immediately stopped the tapping and took her leg off, so Shadow understood that she had done the right thing. It is so important to add energy from something other than our leg cue, otherwise our horse will become completely “dead to the leg” and unresponsive in all our ridden work! After a few goes, Shadow was responding to the light leg cue with no need for the tapping. I am delighted to say that after this one lesson, Nicky and Shadow are enjoying hacking out with only the slight hesitation that Nicky can now quickly manage.
This technique will only work if you completely commit to getting that forward step without getting flustered or disrupting the rhythm of the tapping. Don’t ever resort to “beating” your horse or kicking for all your worth… you will not win!
Although I don’t have footage of Nicky’s lesson, you can check out the before and after of Nicky and Shadow’s lesson here. https://vimeo.com/444173440. You can also check out these related blogs on napping https://yourhorsemanship.com/riding-a-napping-horse/ and https://yourhorsemanship.com/horse-started-napping-competitions/