If you’ve been following us over the past year, we’ve been covering the movements of Western dressage as well as training exercises to help improve your horse. In a past blog post you have already learned how to do the spiral exercise, which is the beginning of a leg yield.
In thispost, we are looking at how to properly execute a leg yield. The leg yield is a basic lateral exercise, in which the horse travels both forward and sideways at the same time. Just as the name of the exercise implies, it teaches the horse to move sideways, or yield, away from the rider’s leg pressure.
The leg yield benefits as both a suppling and straightening exercise, therefore improving a horse’s balance. The horse will also develop more swing and stretch as he develops more suppleness. The exercise also helps prepare the horse for more advanced maneuvers, such as the shoulder-in and later the half pass. It is also a great exercise to teach the rider how to use her aids independently and bring the horse properly into the outside rein.
The leg yield is a required movement in the Level 1 Western dressage tests and is performed from the centre line to the track.
Horse and rider are showing a lovely straight leg yield at the centre line. The horse is crossing over nicely and has a slight bend around the rider’s pushing leg.
How to execute the leg yield
The horse should be fairly straight through his body while performing a leg yield, with only a slight flexion of the poll away from the direction of travel. The inside legs should cross in front of the outside legs with the rider being able to see the inside eye slightly. The horse should remain relaxed in his gaits, without speeding up or slowing down, during the execution of the movement. We initially teach the leg yield from the quarterline to the outside track, keeping the horse’s body parallel to the wall. The wall acts as a magnet, drawing the horse over, as opposed to starting in the centre of the arena, where the horse doesn’t have a guideline.
* Sit tall with eyes forward and shoulders parallel to the horse’s shoulders. Shift your weight very slightly in the direction of travel (leg yield to the left, shift left). The horse will always balance under the rider’s weight. Shifting in the direction of travel will aid the horse to the direction as well as creating lightness on the rider’s inside hip, aiding the horse to bring his inside hind up and forward.
* Start in a working jog, sitting or posting (if you are unfamiliar with the leg yield aids, we recommend practicing the exercise at the walk first).
* Turn the horse onto the quarterline.
* Ask your horse to move sideways by applying your inside leg at or slightly behind the girth, depending on the level of your horse’s training, in rhythm with the horse’s swing of the barrel (apply leg pressure as the barrel swings away from the inside leg as this is the timing when the inside hind leg is moving forward and can cross over).
* Your outside leg is positioned slightly behind the girth of the horse in order to continue forward movement and to prevent the horse from rushing away from the rider’s inside leg, or to prevent the hip from leading the movement. The outside leg does not apply a steady pressure, but is ready if needed, lightly on the horse’s side.
* The outside rein is a supporting rein and guides the horse into the direction of travel, while also preventing the horse from overbending through his neck and bulging through the outside shoulder. Use half-halts to maintain the straightness of the movement as well as rhythm.
* Gently apply the inside rein for slight flexion at the poll. Keep consistent, elastic contact (not alternating slack and tight). If you use too much inside rein the horse’s shoulders will bulge out in the direction of the movement and he will lose his rhythm.
* Half-halts may be used as needed to control forward movement, if the horse gets rushing or pushy.
* Start out with only a few steps at a time, then ride straight forward again. You may also start the exercise by turning down a line that is only a metre away from the long side of the arena, then gradually increase the distance away from the outside track. With more practice, you will be able to leg yield the entire length of the arena from the centre line.
With more advanced horses, leg yielding can also be executed from the outside track to the quarterline. To do this you would have to change your horse’s bend before proceeding off the wall.
Another common way to perform the leg yield exercise is with the horse’s nose facing the rail/wall, with his body at no more than a 30-degree angle to the wall. A variation of this is the horse being leg yielded with his haunches to the rail/wall.
Leg yielding down the long side with the horse’s nose facing the wall. The horse maintains bend around the rider’s pushing leg (right) and the rider’s left leg is maintaining forward energy.
The leg yield is a beneficial training movement and should be in every rider’s tool box. A horse with balance issues can be leg yielded on a circle, into corners, and on straight lines. It is a tool to aid with the obedience of the horse as he begins to yield from the rider’s leg. It is a wonderful warm-up exercise to create suppleness and looseness in the horse. Play with the exercise!
Stay tuned next month for common errors of the leg yield and how to fix them.
This article is the twelfth in a series of articles on Western dressage and is a collaboration between Lisa Wieben (see biography below) and Birgit Stutz. The articles appear in the horse magazine SaddleUp on a monthly basis.
Lisa Wieben is a Level 2 Centered Riding Instructor, Irwin Insights Level 4 Master Certified Trainer, and Equine Canada Western Competition Coach. She works with youth, adult amateurs and professionals as well as teaching a local 4H club at her facility near Bowden, AB. Western and English dressage has become her main focus, but many of her students compete in open competitions as well as obstacle challenges. Lisa has also added Somatics to help her students maintain and create further body awareness as it works to release muscle patterns in the body brought on by stress, injuries, surgeries, and repetitive movements that can be work related. Getting riders in correct balance helps horses develop correct balance. www.mountainviewtrainingstables.com
Birgit Stutz is an Irwin Insights Level 4 Master Certified Trainer and offers horse training, riding lessons in the English and Western disciplines, horsemanship clinics, workshops, short courses and demos on various topics, mentorship programs, as well as student programs at Falling Star Ranch Academy of Foundational Horsemanship in Dunster, BC. Birgit’s passion is to help humans have a better relationship with their horses through understanding of equine psychology and body language as well as fundamental riding skills based on classical dressage. www.fallingstarranch.ca.