My horse is great out hacking but why is she nappy in the school?!

Posted by in Q & A on Feb 20, 2016


“I’ve recently changed yard and was so excited because it’s the first time I’ve had a menage to ride in. My horse has always been a dream to ride so it came as a real shock to find out she hates going in the menage! She refuses to go forward and does everything she can to get back to the gate. I’m staying in walk, trying to keep her in there for about five minutes at a time (if she’ll let me!) and once I get a few circuits out of her I take her back to the yard as a reward for her good behaviour. What can I do to get through this?”

As you are aware napping is an attitude and it’s something your horse will do to avoid something. In this case it’s the school! The fact she’s going so well out hacking means there’s hope though so don’t give up!

How is she if you ride in a field? Often horses are happy to school in a field but reluctant in a ménage. If that’s the case for her try to do a bit of schooling out in a field (subject to weather of course!) so she gets a feel for schooling without the confines of the menage – and actually just doing something different to riding out on a hack. Most people would expect a horse to find hacking more frightening than schooling but if hacking is what she’s used to doing then schooling may well be stressing her out a bit.

What I think you need to do is work out why she’s reacting like this. Do you always hack out with others? Or is she happy to go out on her own? That could well be a reason for her to constantly wanting to get back to the yard or field. Perhaps try sharing the school with someone else for a while – even follow them and have a trot round for ten minutes. Anything that helps to make the school more of a fun place to be will help.

Think about what it is you’re doing differently when you go into a school as opposed to what you do when you ride away from the yard to hack. It’s quite common for people to tighten themselves up a bit because they’re ‘going to work’ and take up a stronger contact, use more leg and try to sit up straighter than normal. These are little things but they immediately set up a tense feeling between you and her.

She’s only six and that can be a tricky age anyway – once broken horses usually have a sparkling fourth year which may or may not continue into their fifth. Eventually they start to feel as if they can test the boundaries a bit, and that’s exactly what I think your horse is trying to do. Congrats to you for sitting it out and getting at least a few circuits out of her before you call it a day – that’s a must! The second she realises that difficult behaviour means she gets to go in you’ve got a problem.

Change her mood about the school by using it as an ‘add-on’ to hacking – try to take her in the school before you ride out so you don’t make a big event out of it and at the end of a ride go in and walk her round on a long rein for a couple of circuits; especially if you have a friend with you who’ll join you for a few minutes.

When it comes to actually schooling always try to get on in the school rather than ride into it because it avoids any trouble before you get there and it means you don’t spend time trying to close the gate. Mount up away from the gate and work in circles that stay close to the gate end but not right next to it (about 10m away from it).

As you are doing already, keep your sessions short and sweet BUT busy. Loads of circles and turns which will give her something to think about – even if that means turning her head and neck by opening your hand like an indicator(!) to actually get her to budge.

Avoid walk if you can because it’s so much easier for her to nap. Get into trot (or even canter if it’s safe to do so) as soon as possible – really get going and forget about what you look like! If she’s wobbling about, sticking her head up or not really straight don’t worry – concentrate on going forward because that’s all that matters. Go forward anywhere you can – if you feel her trying to slow up or stop ride a turn across the school and kick on. Push on, sit up and look where you want to go and you’ll get there as long as you never give in to her. She might slow down at first and try it on but if you’re really thinking trot you’ll get it. This will work if you’re quick enough because it will break her train of thought. The more you can distract her the better.

Remember to be prepared before you go – get the plan in your head before you get on so you ride confident. If you’re in there wondering what you’re going to do she’ll take advantage of it. An ideal plan for a schooling session would be to lead her in, get on, get into trot heading towards the gate and then try to do a couple of circles on both reins. Then have a walk up the road or around a field before you finish so she blends all the experiences in together rather than huff and puff about ‘that school’!

I hope something here has given you a bit of hope and a few ideas! Any questions please ask!

I wish you loads of luck with her – hopefully in four weeks you’ll have a whole new horse on your hands.

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