When I went out to Debbie's stable Wednesday I had my notes about the low release for jumping in my pocket. While Debbie was finishing a stall I read them to her and asked her to help me during the lesson. Last week during my non-lesson ride, when I tried the low release on Mia I "heard" Mia ask me what in the world I was doing (Mia is a horse who tends to halt whenever she does not understand anything new.) I obviously needed eyes on the ground!
After we got out to the ring I spent time warming Mick up. He walked sort of stiff at first but that is natural since he had been in a stall all night and he is not young any more. During our warm up I showed Debbie what I had tried on Mia, and after trotting Mick around some Debbie set up some trotting poles and told me to go over them trying the low release. Mick, trotting over poles (or headed to a jump), increases his impulsion a good bit, he springs from diagonal to diagonal giving me a good chance to practice keeping my lower leg steady! Debbie did not particularly like my first effort, as I was trying to slide my hands down the slope of the shoulder she said I rounded my back, NOT good for learning how to jump properly (though she did say she liked my leg). So she told me to put my hands half way up Mick's neck just like I would if I did a crest release and to let my hands go down the side of Mick's neck as he lowered his head for the trotting poles. This, unfortunately, opened my hip joints instead of letting me crouch down and I felt quite insecure and my lower legs were moving more.
At that point I had to rest. As we slowly walked around the ring I remembered that the lady who wrote about the low release rode OTTBs and Warmbloods, not the much smaller Arabians. So I told Debbie about this and asked if it would be all right if I put my hands more down on the withers instead of half-way up the neck. Since Debbie knows that I can slow down a horse with loose reins and that I always give the amount of rein that the horse wants she has few worries about me hanging onto the horse's mouth, and after I rested enough she told me to try it once over the poles again. Starting with my hands near the top of the withers made a BIG DIFFERENCE. I made sure that the reins were sagging some in case I messed up, and as we approached the poles I put my hands on the sides near the top of Mick's withers and started sliding them down and forward as Mick bounded over the poles. THIS time I was balanced, this time my hips did not open up and my back stayed flat. Each step I could feel the thrust of Mick's hind legs come up through the stirrups and my feet, ankles, legs and hips absorbed each shock and I remained balanced over my stirrups. For once I did not feel behind the motion of the horse over the poles, I was moving in unison with my horse. YEAH!!!! Debbie was also quite pleased with me and Mick, who moved more freely. Then I was really tired and we ended the lesson.
Friday my husband and I got Mia ready to ride. Since I was brushing off my pad I did not see Mia being led up, but when I curried her I noticed she was not standing quite right. So we groomed her without any problem but when I started rasping down the toes of her hooves she started getting restive. By the time I got to the fourth hoof I was pretty sure something was wrong, and when Mia refused to pick up her right hind she was obviously not going to put her left hind foot flat on the ground. I looked at Mia and then went to find Debbie, saying I needed her eyes. After inspecting the left hind hoof (with Mia starting to kick harder) Debbie went up her leg and found soreness in her stifle. So she led Mia down the aisle and then backed her up several times, and though Mia was moving a little better after being backed up Debbie and I decided that Mia could not be ridden, in fact Mia did not get turned back out into the mare pasture but put in the big paddock around the ring with two old geldings. We both think that Mia, the lowest mare on the totem pole, had been driven away from the round bale and had moved a leg wrong. We got the problem just about right at the start fortunately. So Debbie massaged some remedy on and around the stifle joint and we turned Mia out. Debbie offered me another mount but the weather was weird, warm, muggy, and with strong wind gusts, horses were bellowing at each other, many of the geldings were rocketing around the paddocks, most of the mares were super antsy, and I decided that Friday was not a good day to ride an unfamiliar horse.
Today I got to work with Merlin again. I had gotten him a shorter girth (the other one was at the top holes of the billet straps) so all of Merlin's tack fits him now. Merlin acted diffently today, Shannon had given a little girl a pony ride on Merlin which he had enjoyed, so today he faithfully followed Shannon wherever she went. So I had to start off getting Merlin NOT to move, and finally he settled down and I did not let him follow Shannon when she went off. Merlin was NOT pleased, he tried backing up, he tried fuming some, he turned his head around so that his muzzle touched my left toe, but finally he sighed and I said WALK, counted off 4 seconds and squeezed with my legs, counted off another 4 seconds and gave a light touch of the spurs and he moved off toward Shannon, something like 10 strides away. Halfway there I told him to go to Shannon and praised him when he stopped in front of her. We went through this procedure a few times, with Merlin stamping his left front hoof anytime he thought I was going too fast, when I told him I was sorry and we waited around until he decided he wanted to get back to Shannon. Then I said WALK and he walked! This is the first time he showed any understanding of the word. As a reward he did not get a leg squeeze and I told him to go the Shannon. Twice more he obeyed the word WALK (when he was good and ready to, once taking the whole 4 seconds to make up his mind), then I had to go back to the escalation of my driving aids. Then I tried steering him to Shannon's side but he did not like that at all, flinging his head, backing up, fretting and fuming. So we stopped and I alternated a light opening rein with my turning seat (both outside hip and shoulder forward), and finally he turned sort of in place. More praise. Finally I got him to move AWAY from Shannon, walked a little bit, then I told him to go to Shannon and I got off. I told Shannon that it might take 5 months of this before he would obey me reliably, and then she told me that Merlin had started getting sour after a benign growth had been removed from inside his stifle. Then it became clear to me, people had forced him to stand still, it ended up hurting after the pain killer wore off, and he decided he was THROUGH with obeying people. Merlin realizes he is much, much stronger than I am, and I think he realizes he is much bigger and stronger than any human. We need cooperation, not compulsion, to work with this horse.
Have a great ride!