Western Dressage - Common Errors While Performing Leg Yields

In the last Western dressage blog post, we talked about how to properly execute a leg yield and what the benefits of the exercise are. In this post, we are discussing common errors while performing the leg yield exercise

A correctly executed leg yield: the horse is parallel to the wall with slight flexion to the inside maintaining the over-forward momentum. – Photo credit Lisa Wieben

Loss of impulsion/uneven gaits

When the horse is learning to move laterally in a leg yield it can be quite common for the horse to lose the forward energy and become uneven in its rhythm. Using both the inside and outside leg to maintain a steady rhythm and to encourage the horse to move laterally, correctly, is key. A good way to think about the leg yield in this case is “over, forward, over, forward”, the inside leg asking for the over step and the outside leg maintaining the forward energy. Another way to engage the horse forward and balance out the rhythm is to ride straight for a few strides before asking for a few more steps of leg yield.

Horse is rushing

The opposite of the loss of impulsion is rushing. This may happen if the horse is confused by the aids or thinks leg pressure means forward energy instead of sideways. Using well-timed half-halts on the outside rein to rebalance the horse and slow forward movement will help. Showing the horse what is wanted in the walk first before progressing to the jog aids the horse’s understanding. During the movement in the jog if the horse still wants to rush you could add a small 10-metre circle to rebalance the horse each time the movement starts to get quick.

Horse not crossing over

There are times when the leg yield turns into a straight line ridden toward the wall where the horse’s shoulders are leading the hips and there are no lateral steps. In this case the shoulders can be brought back in line with the hips through the use of the outside rein gently drawn back toward the rider’s hip and a blocking outside leg. The inside rein will maintain the correct bend. The position of the rider will be in alignment with the horse ‘s bend, with the eyes looking in the direction of travel. The rider’s weight will shift slightly to the outside so the horse balances under the weight in the direction of the leg yield. The inside leg may need to increase the push sideways, along with a connecting outside rein to maintain straightness, with a seat that follows the movement over. If the rider’s seat is not following it could be blocking the sideways movement.

Without the outside rein supporting and maintaining straightness, the horse has lost the sideways movement. –

Photo credit Rebecca Wieben

Horse moves sideways too quickly

If the horse’s outside hind leg is moving laterally instead of coming forward and underneath with each stride, the horse will begin to move more exclusively sideways rather than forward and sideways. This is often caused by a rider not using enough forward driving aids (don’t forget your outside leg!) and not enough outside supporting rein to block the sideways movement slightly. Remember, “over, forward, over, forward”. While training, this could become over one step and forward three to four steps so the horse learns to wait for the ‘over’ cue.

Horse leads with hindquarters

In this case the rider may be using the inside leg too far back, causing the hips to move over first, while also using too much outside rein, blocking the shoulder movement. The outside rein is used to support straightness. To allow the horse to lead slightly with the shoulders the rider may need to open the outside rein, like opening a door, to get the horse started in the direction, and then close the rein to maintain the straightness of the movement. This will only be done in the training stage. Once the horse understands the movement the reins remain even, with only a slight half-halt if needed, and the leg and seat will move the horse laterally.

The outside rein is blocking the shoulder from moving and in this case slightly changing the horse’s bend. The haunches are leading to the wall.

Rider leans to the inside of the horse’s bend or collapses at the waist and drops inside shoulder

Leaning to the inside will make it more difficult for the horse to pick up the inside hind leg and inside shoulder to cross over and may impede impulsion. Allowing your body to grow tall with equal length on both sides of the ribcage, with weight shifted very slightly in the direction of travel will allow the horse to move freely sideways under balance.

The rider is collapsing the inside rib cage to push with the inside leg and opening the outside leg away from the horse’s body. – Photo credit Rebecca Wieben.

Horse is overbent

Using too much inside rein and not enough outside supporting rein will cause the horse to overbend. The horse will be unable to move forward/sideways with its body parallel to the long side. The horse’s neck should stay in the middle of its chest and the rider should only see the corner of the horse’s inside eye.

Too much inside rein is causing the horse to overbend and to lead the movement with the outside shoulder. – Photo credit Rebecca Wieben

As always, stay balanced, centred, supple and relaxed. Focus on riding the movement step by step. Ask for two or three strides of correct leg yield, then reward and go straight for a few strides. Ride straight before the movement falls apart and reward the horse often! With practice the horse will learn to maintain even rhythm before, during, and after the movement and will develop more relaxation and suppleness.

This article is the thirteenth 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 versatile and exceptional riding coach, balancing her skills as a Level 2 Centered Riding Instructor, Equine Canada Western Competition Coach, and Irwin Insights Level 4 Master Certified Trainer. Currently specializing in Western and English Dressage, she trains youth, adult amateurs, and professionals as well as coaching a local 4H group at her facility near Bowden/Olds, AB. Through dressage and foundational training she helps riders of all disciplines create stronger partnerships with their horses. Also, as a Hanna Somatic Instructor and Practitioner in Training, Lisa works with riders, in class or privately, learning movement exercises that target specific muscle issues in the body brought on by stress, injuries, surgeries, and overuse. Her approach, using Dressage, Centered Riding, Irwin Insights principles, and Somatics, all come together to develop a balanced rider and a balanced horse. http://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, mentorship programs, intensive horsemanship courses, workshops, short courses and demos on various topics, as well as working 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, biomechanics, as well as fundamental riding skills based on classical dressage. http://www.fallingstarranch.ca.


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