26) Questions with Scapula Release Down and Back

What if the horse refuses to let me lift the leg, or repeatedly pulls away?
Be aware of possible discomfort or injury. If the horse absolutely refuses, with his ears pinned back, then there is probably a reason. It could be that he is guarding something in that leg, or that there is discomfort or injury in the opposite leg that is making it difficult for him to hold up the one you are working with. If that happens, move on to the next techniques. You can come back to this after you see how the horse behaves with other techniques.
If he still refuses and you suspect an injury, then have a veterinarian look at the horse.
It is a good idea to determine whether it is a stubbornness issue or not – to make sure it isn’t a veterinary issue.

What if my horse resists releasing the leg down?
If the horse is uncomfortable releasing the leg down it is an indication that there is pain or restriction somewhere in this junction. Supporting the weight of the leg more – even lifting up on the bent leg – may make it easier for him to relax it.
Don’t be in a hurry. Be patient and wait for him to relax a little, then slowly straighten the knee and guide it to the spot you’ve picked for the foot.
It will also make it easier for him if you only ask him to set it down just a short distance back rather than a longer distance.
The longer he can comfortably stay in the leg back position, the better the release. However, it doesn’t mean you’ve failed if he doesn’t stay in this position.
If there is resistance to any move you ask of the horse it is an indication that there is pain or restriction. That means that you need to help the horse release it. In general, when you run into resistance, soften slightly to give the horse a chance to relax the resistance slightly then move forward with the movement. In the case of the scapula release, to soften means not only not to pull the leg, but even to lift slightly to give the horse a chance to relax the leg slightly before moving on.

What if my horse begins to relax the leg down, then pulls up?
At some point while lowering the leg, the horse will likely pull the leg up. This is normal.
When it happens don’t pull back on the leg. Keep your hands on the knee and ankle, and go up with the leg a little, “keeping him in the neighborhood” until he relaxes into your hand again. (see photo 1 & 2)
When the horse resists or starts to pull, and you yield to it, he usually stops pulling. When you take away the resistance, the horse usually stops fighting it. Then you can continue.
As he relaxes into your hand be ready to guide the leg down to your “landing spot”.
What is happening here is that he is relaxing into a point of discomfort or restriction in the withers, scapula, sternum, or somewhere in this junction that he normally moves through in a non-relaxed state, and this discomfort causes him to pull the leg up.
Another thing that is happening is that each time he pulls up, he is releasing tension or restriction. This may happen multiple times, depending on how much tension or restriction is there. Each time you will feel the leg more relaxed.
As mentioned in the last question, it may make it easier for him if you only ask him to set the foot down a short distance back rather than a longer distance.

Photo 1: When the horse ‘pulls up’ go with him.

Photo 2: Then as he relaxes the leg, guide it down.

How many times should I repeat this exercise within one session?
If the horse can easily do what you’re asking and relaxes the leg down in one try, then once is enough.
If the horse has difficulty with it, then you may want to do this a few times, feeling for an improvement each time. In this case, try to go slower the second time, giving the horse a chance to relax into the release.
Also, it helps to break it up a little by going from one side to the other, or doing another technique and then coming back to this one. Don’t become obsessed with doing it over and over to get it right.
If you repeat the same thing more than two or three times in a row the horse will quickly learn to either go through the exercise without relaxing through it, or to simply evade the exercise.
In most cases you won’t release all of the tension in one session, especially if the horse is in work, or whatever is causing the tension is still there. But you will make an improvement each time. Each time you repeat a technique, or a session with the horse, look (or feel) for the improvement.