Leg-yielding is a very useful exercise that appears in some Elementary dressage tests and can also be used as part of your regular schooling regimen.
Although it’s generally ridden on a straight line parallel to the fence, during training, you can also ride leg-yield to enlarge and reduce the size of a circle.
Here’s how to do it!
What are the benefits of the exercise?
Leg-yielding in and out of a circle has lots of benefits for dressage horses, regardless of the level the horse is working at.
Let’s take a look at the main ones.
Benefit 1 – Improved suppleness
Leg-yielding in and out of a circle has a gymnastic effect on the horse.
When asking the horse to leg-yield outward, the horse’s inside hind leg must step underneath his body, improving both longitudinal suppleness and lateral suppleness.
When performed correctly, the exercise requires that the horse crosses his legs, again improving suppleness, and adding more fluency and expression to the paces.
Benefit 2 – Improved connection to the outside rein
Leg-yielding out on a circle helps to develop a more secure connection through the horse’s back from the rider’s inside leg to the outside rein, providing more control and making the half-halt more effective.
Benefit 3 – Teach the horse to move away from the leg
Leg-yielding is one of the first lateral movements that you will teach your horse and it’s a great exercise to teach your horse that the leg can mean ‘go sideways’ as well as ‘go forwards.’
Benefit 4 – A good exercise for horses that fall in and fall out
If you have a horse that tends to lean inwards on circles or drift outwards, leg-yield is a useful exercise to encourage the horse to stay upright.
Benefit 5 – Helps control the horse’s tempo
Horses that tend to rush can really benefit from this exercise.
The leg-yield helps the horse to accept the leg and prevents the horse from running away from it. (It’s harder for the horse to rush away from the leg when he is traveling sideways.)
Benefit 6 – Helps with canter transitions
Leg-yielding out from a smaller circle onto a larger circle just before transitioning into the canter can help create a more balanced and through transition.
This is because the leg-yield helps to engage the horse’s inside hind leg and create a secure outside rein contact, and the circle establishes a good bend.
Traditional leg-yield versus leg-yield on a circle
Traditionally, the leg-yield is ridden on a straight line, usually from the centerline to the outside track. It can also be ridden from the outside track to the centerline, or from one side of the arena across to the other.
During those exercises, the horse should remain straight in his body and only have a slight flexion at the poll away from the direction in which he is moving.
But when leg-yielding in and out on a circle, the horse must have a uniform bend through his body (rather than remaining straight in his body) because he is on a circle.
How to ride leg-yield in and out on a circle
Here’s how to ride leg-yield in and out on a circle.
You can ride these exercises in walk or trot, however, it’s sometimes easier to maintain the rhythm and fluency of the horse’s steps in trot.
Exercise 1: Leg-yield outwards
Start by riding a 10, 12, or 15-meter circle, depending on your horse’s current level of training. Remember that the smaller the circle diameter, the more bend, balance, and suppleness is required from your horse.
Ensure that the horse is bending correctly and uniformly through his body with a slight flexion to the inside.
To leg-yield out and make the circle larger, you’re going to push your horse sideways by using your inside leg at a girth whilst keeping him firmly connected to your outside rein.
The connection to the outside rein is important because without it the horse will fall out through his outside shoulder as opposed to clearly leg-yielding outwards. If that happens, you’ll lose the all-important throughness, the horse won’t engage his inside hind leg, he won’t cross his legs as he moves sideways, and you’ll lose the suppling and engaging benefits of the exercise.
Don’t ask for too many sideways steps as that could unbalance the horse or cause him to drift and anticipate the sideways movement.
Instead, just ask for a few sideways steps at a time until you’re riding around a 20-meter circle.
Exercise 2: Leg-yield inwards
Now you’re riding around a 20-meter circle, it’s time to turn the tables and leg-yield your horse back onto the smaller circle.
NOTE: This is more difficult for the rider to coordinate, plus it requires more suppleness from the horse so you’ll not get the same degree of sideways movement or the same degree of crossing.
From the larger circle, you’re going to use your outside aids to push the horse and leg-yield inwards.
In a normal leg-yield, you want the horse to be flexed at the poll away from the direction of travel. Since you are wanting to leg-yield inwards, this would mean flexing the horse to the outside, right?
…Remember that you are on a circle which requires that the horse bends uniformly through his body with flexion to the inside. Adopting outside flexion at the same time as applying pressure with your outside leg can cause the horse to lose the bend to the inside and instead encourage him to lean and fall inwards through his shoulder.
Instead, you need to balance the use of your outside rein with your outside leg to ask the horse to leg-yield inwards whilst still keeping the correct bend to the inside.
The outside rein can ask the horse to slightly straighten his neck, but be careful that you don’t cause the horse to turn his head to the outside because then you’ll lose the correct inside bend.
Ask the horse for only a few sideways steps before riding the horse forward to maintain the thoroughness, rhythm, and correct bend.
Keep repeating steps 2 and 3 until you are back on your smaller circle.
How to increase the crossing of legs
In a high-scoring leg-yield the horse is required to cross his legs over.
You can influence the degree of crossing by timing your leg aids.
When you are leg-yielding out (from the smaller circle to the larger circle) you need to apply your inside leg aid rhythmically at the same time as your horse’s inside hind leg leaves the ground. At this precise moment, you can influence the horse’s inside hind leg to step further across and under, therefore improving the horse’s suppleness and the degree of crossing.
When you are leg-yielding inwards (from the larger circle to the smaller circle) then the same principle is reversed. So, you would be applying your outside leg rhythmically at the same time as your horse’s outside hind leg leaves the ground, as this is the one that we now want to influence to step further across and under.
To further elasticize the horse, you can incorporate transitions and/or allow the horse to stretch on a long rein.
Here are some examples.
- Start on your smaller circle in trot and leg-yield outwards onto your large circle. Upon reaching the larger circle, transition to canter.
- Start on your smaller circle in a collected trot. Leg-yield onto your larger circle whilst also slowly transitioning the horse into a medium trot.
- Leg-yield back on your smaller circle whilst also slowly transitioning your horse back into a collected trot.
- Start on your larger circle in trot and leg-yield inwards onto your smaller circle. Upon reaching your smaller circle, transition to walk.
- Start on your smaller circle in trot. Leg-yield out to your larger circle whilst also allowing the horse to take the reins forward and down and stretch over his topline.
Here are some of the common problems that can occur when leg-yield in and out on a circle.
Problem 1 – The horse loses impulsion and/or rhythm
This can sometimes happen when the rider gets too focused on ‘going sideways’ and forgets to ride forwards.
If this happens, stop the leg-yield and ride forwards (either on the circle or go large around the school) to re-establish the rhythm and impulsion, and then repeat the exercise.
Always remember: Forwards first, sideways second.
Problem 2 – The rider over-flexes the horse
The horse should continue to show a uniform bend through its body. If the rider asks for too much flexion (either to the inside or the outside) then the horse loses its alignment and balance, and it causes the horse to drift in/out through its opposite shoulder.
Problem 3 – The horse anticipates the sideways movement
The speed at which the horse moves sideways should be dictated by the rider.
If the horse tries to take over, then ride a few sideways steps, then circle, and then a few more sideways steps. The horse will learn to wait for the aid and you will regain control of the movement.
Problem 4 – The horse becomes tense and hollow
If this happens, ride the horse forwards and re-establish the horse’s relaxation, rhythm, throughness, and connection.
Once that has been achieved, try the exercise again but don’t ask for as much sideways movement or as many steps, and reward the horse for each positive attempt.
Eventually, the horse will begin to increase in confidence and understanding which is when you can ask the horse for more whilst still being able to maintain his relaxation and connection.
Riding leg-yield in and out on a circle is a very effective way of improving your horse’s responsiveness to your leg aids, as well as developing engagement, connection, and suppleness.
Focus on keeping a correct and uniform bend with the horse working nicely forward in a good rhythm before pushing your horse in and out on the circle.
Once you have mastered the basic exercise, you can add in transitions and stretches for added variety and gymnastic effect.