Have you ever heard the words “leg yielding” or “lateral movement” and thought “ugh, no, no dressage stuff for me thanks”?
There was definitely a time when I would have said those words myself. Especially as a rider who’s no1 love is for cross country and thinking that any of those sideways fancy moves were just for show, with no place in the jumping phases. However, we are all aware of how our sport has changed and as riders we now understand taking some training elements from other disciplines, can be hugely beneficial to our horses.
But do you know just how much those fancy sideways movements can help?
In this blog post, I will focus on the lateral movement of Leg Yielding – What, Why and How?
And, I have added some exercises at the end to help get you started.
What is Leg Yielding?
Leg-Yielding is a lateral movement in which the horse moves both forward and sideways at the same time. The horse should be fairly straight through their body and flexed at the poll, away from the direction that it is going. When being viewed from the front or back, the horse can be seen crossing its legs.
Why should we do it?
You don’t have to be “into” Dressage in order to justify teaching your horse leg yielding. There are so many benefits to teaching your horse to leg yield…
Lateral Suppleness; Leg yielding will help to promote your horse’s lateral suppleness and help loosen its muscles. It will encourage the horse to use ALL of its body.
Hind End Engagement: During the leg yield, the horse steps under and across with its inside hind leg (the leg on the same side to which it is flexed). Upon placing its leg on the ground, it will bear weight and push itself forward and sideways off that inside hind leg.
It is this movement which encourages hind end engagement
Increased Strength and Balance: As mentioned above, leg yielding has similar gains to a horse’s strength and balance as a squat. Having a strong and well balanced horse gives them the best chance of staying sounder for longer.
Straightness: It may sound counter intuitive but in order for a horse to be straight, they must be bilaterally supple.
Acceptance of the Leg: Leg yielding is one of the first lateral movements I teach to my young horses as it encourages them to respond correctly / move away from my leg aids. It teaches them to accept and respect the rider’s leg.
Contact / Connection: Leg Yielding can be used to achieve the desired “Inside leg – Outside Rein” connection between horse and rider. If you find that you tend to ride with more weight in the inside rein, introducing leg yield can help transfer the weight, using more inside leg, into the outside rein.
Grow Rider Confidence: Many riders with forward thinking horses may find themselves riding with very little leg connection for fear of the horse becoming too fast. If the rider teaches the horse that the leg can also mean “sideways” and not just “forward”, the rider may not worry so much and benefit from a better feel and connection with their horse.
Rider Coordination: When asking for a leg yield, the rider needs to be mindful of what both legs and hands are doing. As a result, leg yielding can be used to highlight any rider asymmetries and help to improve rider coordination.
So as you can see, there are many many benefits to teaching your horse leg yielding, and I am all about the things we teach our young horses being “Simple but Effective”.
How do we do it?
The foundation to teaching your horse leg yield can begin on the ground, using your hand where your leg would be, and nudge the horse to move over, removing pressure immediately when they do. I think many of us will do it (often without realising) in the basic handling of our horses. Essentially,we teach them to yield to pressure. For this reason, many horses, if well handled, will learn the concept of leg yielding quite quickly.
(Video tutorial on In-Hand Leg Yielding coming soon. Sign up to the Equicoach Online Mailing List to receive notification of when it goes live!)
When on board, you apply pressure with your inside leg and as above, once you get the desired response, ease the pressure immediately. This is very important as if you do not remove the pressure, the horse will understand that it was indeed the correct response.For this reason, the leg yield aids should be applied in a “step by step” or “on / off” manner.
Day to Day Applications of Leg Yield.
Leg yielding is not just a fancy movement, reserved for the dressage arena, there are many times during a schooling or jump session that I will call on leg yield to help me out.
As transitions are most commonly when a horse will have a loss of balance, encouraging the hind end engagement by doing a step of leg yield prior to asking for the transition, will help prevent the horse from falling onto its forehand.
When riding corners or turns, adding a subtle step of leg yield will not only make as much use of the arena as possible but will also prevent the horse from falling in with its shoulders in a slightly “motorbike” way of going.
When riding a very forward horse, adding in a step of leg yield here or there will prevent them from becoming too fast. It will also help keep the lines of communication open and encourage focus.
On a circle – when I wish to spiral a circle in or out, I will apply the aids for leg yield to do so.
Leg yield also has its purpose in the showjumping ring and during cross country. For Example, if you find yourself having cut a turn too tight or you wish to take an outside line in a combination, having the ability to add a bit of sideways to a stride, will give the horse the space it needs in front of a fence and get you where you need to be.
Sample Leg Yield Exercises
If you or your horse is not overly familiar with leg yield, I would advise to begin at walk, giving yourself time to practice coordination of the aids prior to attempting in trot or canter. It will also give you time to answer any questions your horse may have, being clear, concise and allowing time for reward (easing of pressure) when steps are made in the right direction.
As horses tend to gravitate back to the track, to introduce leg yield to them, I would use that to my advantage. Begin by riding up the 3/4 line of the arena and leg yield gently back to the track. You can increase the difficulty of this exercise by making the leg yield steeper ie. using the centre-line as your starting point.
Leg yielding from the track to the centre-line or 3/4 line, can prove a little trickier but is another good progression. If doing this, you need to make you change the horse’s flexion prior to moving sideways.
A variation that I like to do with my younger and more wobbly horses is to begin the leg yield, then ride straight for a couple of strides before going sideways again. I will repeat this until I reach the track.
The main purpose of this is to prevent the horse from taking over and “falling” to the track or leading with their shoulders. It helps the rider to maintain control of the shoulders, never giving the horse a chance to lose straightness in the leg yield.
An exercise that I find quite fun is using leg yield to ride a zig zag pattern over the centreline. It is important to ride a couple of strides straight before changing direction and once again, be sure that the horse is flexed away from the direction that it is going. This exercise can really help the rider with their coordination and timely use of their aids and it also helps to keep the horse on the riders aids, preventing anticipation.
Some Points to Remember!
- Horse must have “inside flexion” i.e. flexion at the poll, away from the direction it is travelling.
- The horse’s body should remain parallel to the arena fence.
- Be mindful of shoulders leading or hitting the track first.
- Be mindful of the horse’s hind quarters leading or hitting the track first.
- Leg yielding is a forward and sideways movement – don’t sacrifice “forward” for “sideways”.
- Take the time to establish the correct application of the aids before moving on to more difficult variations.
- The riders “inside” aids are the side to which the horse is flexed.
- If the horse needs help in understanding that you want them to go sideways, the rider can open the outside rein to the side (not backwards) to give them “room” to take that sideways step.
I hope you have found this blog post interesting and can take some useful tips from it.
To follow on from this post, I have both an In Hand and Ridden Tutorial on leg yield coming later in the month.
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(Photos with thanks to Aisling at Equestrian Antics Photography)