25) Scapula Release Down and Back Notes, Tips, and things to Remember

Position the Horse
Position the horse so that there is room for both you and the horse to work. The best place is in the center, diagonally across the stall. As he steps back you don’t want him to hit his butt on the wall and bounce forward. In addition, when in the center of the stall if he has the sudden urge to move he has room to move away from you rather than through you.
It always helps to simply ask the horse to move before you begin working on him. Just by moving to where you want him he is yielding to you from the start. You’re working together, both on the same page. Asking the horse to move his feet is a helpful trick in working with any horse.
And finally, make sure that the horse is standing somewhat square whenever you pick up any one of his legs. It’s important that he keeps his balance. You don’t want him to have to step or fall into the position you’re asking for before he is ready.

Position Yourself
With both Scapula Releases – Down and Back, and Down and Forward – it’s easier to bring a foot or leg toward you rather than push it away from you. So, when you are asking the horse to release the leg down and back, you should be facing the front of the horse. When you are asking the horse to release the leg down and forward, you should be facing back. This allows you to bring the leg toward you in both cases.
So, with this technique – Scapula Release Down and Back – stand at the horse’s shoulder facing toward the front of the horse.

Support Yourself
It may help to rest your elbows on your knees to support your back while in this position.
You may also get down on one knee if you feel comfortable doing so next to the horse. This might make it easier on your back. However, make sure there is room for the horse to move away from you if he needs to move, and be prepared to move away from the horse if you need to move.
You may support your back by getting down on one knee. (shown in photo 1)

Pick up the foot.
If facing forward and asking for the horse’s foot is awkward, then face the hind end and ask for the foot as if you were going to clean it, then turn and face forward while holding the foot.
On the left leg, facing forward, hold the leg with your right hand on the pastern as shown,
Hold the pastern in your right hand and hold the knee with your left hand as shown. (photo 2)
Place your right hand on the knee. (photo 3)

Note: It’s important to have your hand placed on the ankle, rather than below the ankle. This leaves the foot dangling so that the horse can step on it as you set it down, rather than buckle onto the pastern.

Photo 1

Photo 2

Photo 3

On the right side do the reverse. Hold the pastern in your left hand as shown, and the knee with your right hand as shown.

Allow the horse to relax. This may take 5 seconds, or it may take 15 seconds. Support the weight of the leg. You can take advantage of this time to massage the flexor tendons, or do the “hoof rotation” – hold your hand flat across the bottom of the hoof or shoe, move the hoof in a circular motion. This gently wiggles the leg. This relaxes the shoulder and relaxes the joints.

When you feel the horse has relaxed as much as he is going to relax, start guiding his foot down and back.

Pick a spot on the ground for the foot.
Use this point as a place to aim for, but also feel for what is comfortable for the horse as you lower the leg. We’re looking for a little farther back than he would normally rest it on his own. The horse may easily be able to relax the foot down to this point, or he may not. If he has trouble reaching this spot, then guide his foot down to a spot a little closer.
It’s better to give him a more comfortable position that he can relax in longer, than a more stretched position that he has trouble relaxing into.
Go where the horse is most comfortable. Some horses will be more comfortable going straight back and under, others back and out more to the side.

Important. Straighten his leg as you bring the foot down. Do this by using your ‘knee hand’ to straighten his leg as you lower your “foot hand” toward the ground. Don’t ask the horse to step back and set his foot down while holding his foot up. Just isn’t fair!

Hold knee with one hand and one hand on the pastern (photo 3)

Use your ‘knee hand’ to straighten the leg as he relaxes it down. (photo 4)

Photo 4

This is not a stretch.
Remember that we are not pulling or stretching the leg back. We are supporting the leg until the horse relaxes, then guiding the leg down and back. The goal is to allow the scapula to drop just a little bit beyond where it would normally drop in a relaxed state.
The scapula only has to drop an inch or so before the foot is down to release tension. Once you have a mental picture of where you want the foot to set down, get in the habit of looking at the “point of the shoulder” as you feel for the scapula to drop.
You will be able to see and feel when you get a slight drop. Remember – you only need to feel a slight relaxation for it to work.

Note on Release vs. Movement
There is a difference between an active movement of the scapula down and back such as in walking, and in releasing the scapula: 
– When the scapula drops down and back in normal movement, the muscles involved in that movement are active. 
– When you ask for the movement through a certain point in a relaxed state, the horse releases tension in the muscles involved. 
This is also different than a passive stretch. In a passive stretch, you are doing the work. With these releases you are putting the horse in a position to “let go”.

Watch and feel for the release.
The release is visible. If you watch the shoulder and leg as you set the leg back, you can see the release movement. Also, when you know what to look for, then you can see release responses such as eyes twitching, licking and chewing, and yawning.
The release is palpable. When your hands are on the leg you can feel when the horse lets go.
When the foot is resting back on the ground, if there is not a lot of weight on it you can gently wiggle the leg and shoulder to encourage the horse to relax it even more. If you wiggle the leg and he tenses, stop. If he has weight on the leg and you can’t wiggle it, that’s alright, too.
The longer he is able to relax in the foot back position the more he will release. Keep your hand on the foot or on the leg. Most horses will pick the foot back up when you take your hand off. You may slide your hand farther up the leg to give your back a break, but as long as your hand stays on the leg he will stay in this position longer.
Sometimes the horse will step back and hold his position, and sometimes he will step back and then pick up the front leg, and sometimes he will step back and then step forward again. All of these are o.k., as long as you see or feel that he has dropped the scapula before his foot reaches the ground. If you aren’t sure, then you step back for about 30 seconds and see what he has to say.

The Scapula Release is a major endorphin releaser. Watch the horse’s eyes after this release and you’ll see what we mean. (photo 5)

Photo 5

See what the horse has to say.
Take a step back when you are finished to see what the horse has to say. You need to give him time to feel what has happened. Look for the release responses. You’ll be surprised sometimes at the responses you get with the seemingly smallest drop of the scapula.

Give the horse space.
When you step back, step way back. The temptation is often to stand up close and pet the horse. However, some horses need more space than others to show you a release. Some horses are more “self-conscious” than others, some need more space, and others just plain ole’ don’t want to release in front of you. Release responses, licking and chewing for example, are signs of submission in the herd, and some horses don’t want to show that.

Happy practicing