Friday Lesson with Laura Hermanson

On Friday Laura walked me through what she does with Nilla. Her big thing was that I need to act as a physical therapist for Nilla and teach her how to go correctly. And this doesn't just start in the ring. It starts in the stall the moment I go to get her.

In order to build her topline and get her going correctly, I need to de-develop the massie muscles she's built on the underside of her neck. So Nilla has to lower her neck and bend towards me at the atlas. We do this before haltering and then endlessly until she's put away. As she's standing tied, I have to ask her to stand square, lower her head, and bend.

Once she's tacked up and ready to go in the ring, she gets side-reins placed on and then has to start working on putting her head and neck in the right place and yielding her shoulders. Nilla needs lots and lots of work on transitions, so Laura worked on asking her to yield her shoulder out into the walk and then from walk to trot. If Nilla hurled herself forward into the transitions, she was brought back down and asked again until she flexed and moved up into the transition without bracing or hollowing her back. Lots of work on flexion and lots of work on transitions before she evens gets to be ridden.

palomino mule lunging
Note the slack in the side-reins; they aren't there to force anything

Laura walked me through everything really slowly so it took about 2 hours just to go from stall through lunging before we got to riding. However, she did say she normally lunges her for a good 45 minutes before riding. This isn't a forever thing, it's just the work she needs right now to learn how to carry herself.

palomino mule lunging
Listening ear
After lunging, Laura had me ride her with her still attached to the side-reins and lunge-line and I wasn't allowed to do any steering. I basically just got to hold on to the ends of the reins to practice holding my hands in the correct place. I haven't do this since I was in middle-school maybe so it was a really interesting feeling. The goal was for me to feel how Nilla was supposed to go without interfering - or at least with limited interference. I could really feel how far Nilla had come in such a short time. It's not like she's magically fully trained now, but she's much more balanced and starting to use herself correctly.

It was pretty late at this point, so we stopped and Laura fed her mules including her adorable new baby mule who I totally wanted to steal. She's from the same breeder as Dyna, the mule Laura took to Nationals. Then Laura was generous enough to share her Chinese food with me and let me sleep in her guest room. I also got to meet some old friends of Laura's who were staying with her on their way to Yosemite to work at one of the pack stations there.

Sunset at the Oak Star Ranch
Sunset at the Oak Star Ranch

I'm really, really grateful for her generosity. Day two to come soon.

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