A useful exercise that is the easiest of all the lateral movements for the horse to perform. The horse is flexed away from the direction of movement and then asked to step sideways away from pressure of your leg (right leg in the diagram below) whilst still travelling forward.
It is easy for the horse because of the bend to the inside we are not asking for stretching of the outside shoulder and neck which we would need for half pass. It is the inside front leg which is crossing over to get the sideways movement.
To perform it well the horse should stay parallel with the sides of the school and not trail his quarters or shoulders which are common problems.
How to Do It
The first thing we need before attempting leg yield is a good, straight forward-going walk. This can take some work depending on the horse but let's assume we have got a good walk.
To make it easier for us we can turn down the three-quarter line of the school and use the horse's natural inclination to return back to the wall or side of the arena to help us get started. (This can also work against us if the horse is too keen to get back to the track - you can get a hurried over-bent movement. If you have this problem you might need to try some other tactics like coming down the centre line.)
So after turning down the three-quarter line our inside rein flexes the horse to the inside. How do we do this? Ask the horse to flex by gently curling and uncurling your inside hand around the reins until the horse flexes. This is all that should be needed. Do not pull back on the reins and try to pull his head around - not only will the horse resent it, you are likely to cause too much bend in the neck and you'll never get a good leg yield from there. We have enough bend when you can just see the eye and nostril.
This clip shows Claire on Claude attempting leg yielding at walk. Claude is a 14 year old thoroughbred who has raced and now team chases. How it could be improved is discussed below in Common Problems.
The clip is 393kB in size and should around 2 minutes to download on a 56k modem.
Click here to see the clip.
Once we have this bend we can begin to ask for the sideways motion. Use your inside leg a little behind the girth in time with the stride. It's important to use the leg in the press-relax-press-relax way - a constant pressure will cause the horse to lean against your leg and not move away from it. To time your leg aid you need to press as you feel the horse's belly swing away from your inside leg. This is the point when the horse's inside rear leg is coming underneath for the next step forward and is the only point you can effectively influence the horse's stride.
The outside rein is held against the neck but doesn't do anything actively. The horse will feel the outside rein against its neck and it stops him from falling out through this shoulder and diving back to the outer track which is another common problem.
The outside leg doesn't move from your normal riding position but can be used to ask for more forward impulsion if the walk begins to fade away.
It's much easier to get started if you have help from an instructor but if that's not possible do try and get a friend to watch, especially from behind as you leg yield, as they can tell you how straight you and the horse are.
It's a fair enough question to ask. What benefits does learning these movements bring to my ordinary riding?
Leg yielding is the beginning of teaching your horse to listen to your leg aids and to move away from your leg when asked. It's useful, for example, in positioning the horse at gates, moving to the side of the road whilst keeping the quarters from swinging out.
The showjumper can make use of leg yielding. If you've turned into a jump a bit wrong and you are not central to the jump just adjusting the approach by turning the horse can leave you jumping at an angle. Making your correction by leg yielding will leave you square on to the jump and could save you valuable seconds in a jump-off situation.
It also should be fun for you and the horse and gives him something new to think about. When we move on to exercises like shoulder in these lateral movements can be a very useful way of straightening and improving the suppleness of any horse regardless of whether you ever intend to do any dressage.
They are also great for teaching the rider to use legs, hands and seat independently of each other, which can take a while to get the hang of. Proneness to lean to the side or collapse a hip will also show up in trying these movement, all of which if worked on will improve your general riding.
This clip shows Claire and Claude trying leg yielding at trot. Claude is showing a very common problem that many of us encounter - see below for details.
The clip is 281kB in size and should take around 2 minutes to download on a 56k modem.
Click here to see the clip.
Unfortunately one of the most common problems is an inexperienced rider trying the movements on an inexperienced horse. However, very few of us have regular access to highly trained schoolmaster horses and so sometimes we have to try and educate ourselves and the horse at the same time. If you can get a lesson on an experienced horse it will be a great benefit because you'll feel what the movement should be like which you can then aim for on another horse.
As mentioned above, the diving back to the track with an over bent neck can be a problem. This is where you will need to use the outside rein a little more actively. Press the outside rein firmly against his neck to block his movement through that shoulder. If you still have trouble bring your outside leg back behind the girth and apply a strong pressure whilst moving your inside rein out sideways (not back). This should straighten the horse and stop him diving back to the track.
If you look at Claude in the video clips he is not quite there with the leg yield and is showing a very common problem. He is tending to drift back to the track through his outside shoulder and not crossing his hind legs. He would benefit from less bend to the inside and the use of a dressage whip in the right hand to tap his hindquarters and encourage his hind legs to step across. Opening the inside rein (moving the right rein away sideways, not back) and bringing the outside rein in towards his neck would help to control the tendancy to drift. If you look closely Claire is slightly off-centre and her upper body is leaning to the inside. Most of us are one-sided and will have a proneness to tip one way more than the other.
Another common problem is that the rider is so busy trying to concentrate on their legs and hands that they forget to move their lower back with the horse's walk and the horse slows down. Try and remember to keep going with the forward movement of the horse. The outside leg can also be used to ask for more forwards impulsion.
If it all starts to go horribly wrong it's usually best to straighten up and get some good steps on a straight line before asking again.
Taking it Further
Once you are happy leg yielding at walk and trot (sitting and rising) then you can always try it at canter. Don't think this is the preserve of expensive dressage horses. As long as your horse has a balanced canter there's no reason not to have a go.
A horse I ride called Frizby who is a stocky cob type can perform some nice steps of leg yield at canter and is something that can usefully improve the overall canter pace as the horse will have to be thinking quite carefully about where he puts his feet. Now we are not going to win any prizes for it but it's fun, a great sense when you get it right and feel it happening and I'm sure gives some interesting variety to Frizby's work.
In all these movements don't forget to be pleased with small successes and to praise and reward the horse and yourself when you get a couple of good steps. Slow and sure is the best way to improvement.