Stick & Balling a Nappy Horse

polo pony training Mar 06, 2021

It's only natural for your horse to want to go back to its friend whether it's at the stables, the pony lines or in the paddock. You need to think like your horse if you want to be able to overcome the napping problem. 

Stick & Balling A Nappy Horse


Hi guys, Gav again. I've been giving quite a lot of polo lessons lately to people that are bringing on young horses and also beginners that are getting themselves into polo. And I see them making the same mistake with their horse so often, because remember this, that a horse is a herd animal. It wants to go back to the pony lines. It wants to go back to the stables.

So you see these beginners making mistakes because they don't get into the horses head. And what do I mean by that? Get into the horses head. They don't think like the horse. You've got to think like a horse to be able to overcome those problems. And the horse is telling you something all the time if you learn to interpret it's body language and what is telling you.

But the number one issue I'm seeing is the nappyness - the natural urge the horse has to want to go back to the horse lines or the stables. So what people are doing and the mistakes they're making are for example, the horses on the left, okay. And they are going and playing on the off side - now as they play the shot, the horse veers off and runs away from the ball. Why not? Because it's scared of the ball.

A lot of them aren't, they just want to go back to the horse lines, but you're interpreting that as it's being scared of the ball. But if you turn round and actually canter the other way and put the ball between the horse lines or stables and the horse, suddenly you find the horse has not scared of the ball.

It will go straight because it's wanting to go there so you can keep it straight. It's not veering away from the ball. So think about what strokes you are playing and where the stables are and horse lines are in relationship to the shots you trying.

So if you've got stables and horse lines on your left be playing near side, cause the horse wants to go back to that. But also be careful that if you've got a horse, as you play, it makes their turn and goes back to the horse lines, then do it the other way round and put the ball on the other side. So when you play it, it stays straight. So think about all those little things, because the number one problem is that nappiness, you've got to cure your host of nappiness.

I see people riding away from the horse lines, trying to play a near side backhand and the horse immediately jams on anchors and turns and goes back to the horses. And they feel like they're rejecting. It's doing that because it wants to go home. Not because of any other thing, or reason.

You play an offside backhand and the horse turns. Now, if you teaching the horse and allowing it to do that, you so limit what shots you can play, because if you're trying to play in a way backhand and the horse is turning, you've got a neck in the way, you can't play that angle. You've got to have a horse that's going straight so that you can angle the shot.

You might to just drift a little bit and make it easy to play a tail shot. But if the horse is jamming on anchors and turning back to the horse lines, you're going to be fouling. You teaching the horse to do that. So think about where the stables are. Think about where the horse lines are and make it easy for the horse to do what you're asking it to do.

So you would play the backhands, both sides coming back towards the horse lines because the horse is going to go forward and through that shot and make it easy for you. And it learns the good habits of not turning as you hit the ball. So that nappiness for me is the number one thing that you have to think about when you are either training a horse or stick and balling that you don't teach good horses bad habits, because that happens in a heartbeat.

You have a good horse that doesn't have that habit. You've got a bad habit. You don't think about all of that. So you actually, in two or three days have taught the horse to go back to the horses again, and it learns to be nappy because you teaching it to do that. So really think about that when you're doing your stick and ball and be ultimately aware of your surroundings on the field.

And again, I suggest so strongly that you don't use one ball because if you play a backhand and turn and go to that ball again, you're teaching a horse to turn as you play the shot, hit that ball, go to the next one, played the next shot and it doesn't have to be the same shot all the time.

You can also put balls in a big circle and just ride if you've got a host to keep stopping on the backhands, for example, just ride around and for the horse, not for you, make the swing but don't hit the ball swing over the top of the ball as you get there, but be focused on getting the horse to go past that ball to the next one. So you have three or four balls in a circle and you ride ball to ball and keep the horse going along.

Once it's actually just going along and allowing you to make that swing. Now you can start to make contact with the balls - light contact to start with ride for the horse. And once it's letting you just go ball to ball to ball, now you can start to practice the shot for you. So get the horse to help you and then help yourself. And it's really a great way of sticking balling.

If you want to get the horse on the other hand to stop and turn, play the backhand check, stop, back up, do your rollback and out you go to the same ball, but it's not the same thing as the horse turning as you play the backhand - it's doing what you're telling it to do, not acting in a way that it's naturally hardwired to do of I want to go back to the horses and every time I'm allowed to, and also every time that it's done, it's reinforcing that because you're allowing that and it's going back to the horses.

So please really pay attention to what I'm telling you. It will help you so much to keep your horses honest and good, and to help you hit good shots.

Because your horses are helping you to do that.