Want to know why your horse is napping? Kelly Marks has the answers

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The hardest thing about dealing with napping is working out why he is doing it in the first place. Kelly Marks, who specialises in horse psychology and behaviour, is here to help.

Give him an MOT

  • The first thing you need to look at is whether your horse has any physical problems, such as soreness or discomfort. Get your vet to give him a complete check over – they can recommend a physiotherapist/ chiropracter/oesteopath if there are back problems. Also get his teeth checked. If they can’t find anything wrong, but your horse still seems ‘depressed’ ask for a blood test to check for viruses or worm damage.
  • Check his tack. Does the saddle fit correctly, is the bit comfortable in his mouth, and is any of his equipment (eg martingale, noseband) too tight – or even necessary?
  • Assess the general management of your horse. He is over fed and under exercised, or under fed and over exercised. Is he bored with his routine?

Clear communication

  • Does your horse understand what you are asking him? Sometimes we need to go back to basics with our schooling – starting with groundwork.
  • If you have a young horse, or one that is new to your yard, has he been pushed into going out on his own too soon?
  • Does your horse enjoy going out on rides? If he doesn’t he may need a friend to reassure him.
  • If your horse has ‘over-bonded’ with another horse try moving him to a different field or stable.
  • During the winter it can be hard to find time to ride, so when do go out, your horse may be reluctant to suddenly leave his friends.
  • Do you ask your horse to work in an outline before he is properly warmed up? Your horse may object to this by napping because he needs to let his tired muscles ‘break free’. Olympic Gold medallists Charlotte Dujardin and Carl Hester constantly stress the need for dressage horses to be rewarded with a stretch and loose work.

Natural instincts

  • Be honest with yourself – are you insecure or nervous? If you are inconsistent with your aids, pushing him forward one moment and pulling him back the next, you will teach him to nap.
  • Horses are creatures of habit, so if you always ride the same route and then suddenly go a different way, he thinks: ‘Hey you’ve made a mistake here!’
  • If your horse’s heart is beating faster and he is ignoring your best efforts to make him move forward he isn’t napping, he is just scared of something and having a look. Fear and adrenalin takes the horse back to his natural instincts, which are to back INTO pressure, so he starts running backwards. This is normal behaviour. Give him time to process what he is seeing and he will become bolder and braver in the future.
  • If you deal with napping by bullying or punishing your horse, you will only make him confused and resentful and determined to ‘fight for his rights’ at every opportunity.