Whilst leg-yielding is employed by most dressage riders as an invaluable suppling exercise in their horses' schooling repertoire, any horse can benefit from learning the movement. Leg-yielding teaches the horse to do exactly that; to yield to (move away from) the rider's leg and is something every horse should learn to do as part of his basic training under saddle. Otherwise, how else can you expect to position him to enable you to open gates out hacking or move to the side of the road to allow a car to pass safely? Teaching something new also makes schooling sessions fun and leg-yield is actually a very versatile exercise.
Leg-yield is a lateral movement in which the horse steps sideways whilst continuing to move forwards. The horse is bent slightly away from his direction of travel. In addition to suppling the horse, correctly executed leg-yielding encourages the horse to lower his hips which in turn develops greater engagement and consequently improved balance. The exercise requires the rider to use a combination of seat, leg and rein aids so is brilliant for helping to develop you own co-ordination as well as your horse's.
It's best to begin teaching the exercise in walk until the horse gets the gist of what you want him to do. You'll also have more time to think and get yourself organised.
Turn down the centre or three quarter line of the arena or ride parallel with a fence or hedge if you are schooling in a field. You are going to ask your horse to leg-yield to the fence, staying on the same rein.
Flex the horse slightly so that you can just see his inside eye. Bring your inside leg slightly behind the girth and shift your weight into your inside seat bone. Keep your body soft and supple at the waist and don't lean to one side or the other. Use your inside leg to create impulsion and ask him to move sideways and your outside hand to regulate the forwards movement and control the speed thus encouraging the horse to take small steps sideways. Ride forwards for a couple of strides then ask for leg-yield again. Your outside leg remains on the girth to support the horse and control the amount of lateral movement. Don't ask for too many steps at first and if things go wrong, keep calm, reposition the horse and start again.
Problems and solutions
Too much neck bend and horse sliding out through his shoulder: Keep a good contact with your outside rein and ease the inside contact to ask for less bend. Hold your outside hand on the horse's neck, close to his wither and make sure you have enough forward momentum ridden from your outside leg.
Hindquarters trailing: Keep control of the outside shoulder with your outside rein. Ask for two sideways steps; then two forward, then two sideways. This will help to keep him straighter. Make sure you have your weight in your inside seat bone.
Horse not moving sideways from your leg: Check that your contact is soft and not restricting the horse's forward movement. Some horses are a little slow on the uptake – try a light tap behind your leg with a schooling whip to emphasise your aid. Sometimes it's easier to teach the exercise while out hacking when the horse is more relaxed and thinking more forward.
Once your horse has mastered the basic technique and can leg-yield confidently in walk, try it in trot and then canter. You can leg-yield in and out on a circle to vary things too or in and out of jump wings, cones etc.
As with any new exercise, make sure you give your horse plenty of breaks. Lateral exercises are hard work so don't keep repeating the same thing over and over again. Once the horse has got it right, reward him by making a fuss of him and ending the session. Remember to work him equally on both reins to ensure even muscle development.
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