The leg-yield is a useful exercise that you can use to help teach your horse to move sideways away from your leg.
It’s also great in helping to loosen your horse’s back and improving his mental and physical relaxation. This aids in improving your horse’s suppleness and elasticity, leading to more expressive and regular paces.
The movement appears in some British Dressage Elementary tests where it’s ridden parallel to the fence in trot, but it’s a very versatile exercise that can add lots of variety to your regular schooling and when you are out hacking.
So, in this article, we go through the benefits of the leg-yield, how to ride and improve upon this movement, and share with you some of the different leg-yielding variations.
What is the leg-yield?
In leg-yielding, the horse moves both forwards and sideways on two tracks. His body remains straight, and there should be a slight flexion at the poll away from the direction of travel. So, if you are leg-yielding to the left, the horse should be flexed to the right.
As the horse travels sideways, his inside feet should step regularly and evenly in front of and across his outside feet.
NOTE: The terms “inside” and “outside” do not refer to the horse’s position within the arena or what rein he is on. Instead, these terms refer to the direction in which the horse is bent and/or flexed. If the horse is bent and/or flexed to the left, then the left is his inside and the right is his outside.
If the horse is leg-yielding to the left, and therefore flexed to the right, the right is his inside and the left is his outside, regardless of which rein he is on. So, his right legs should step regularly and evenly in front of and across his left legs.
Throughout the movement, the positioning should remain consistent and the horse should move freely, working through his back into an elastic contact, without tension or resistance.
Finally, the horse’s rhythm and tempo must be the same before, during, and after the movement.
Is the leg-yield a lateral movement?
Within dressage, the main purpose of lateral movements is to increase the horse’s engagement, thereby developing the horse’s ability to collect.
Although you’ll hear the leg-yield often being described as “the first lateral movement your horse will learn,” it’s a movement that does not require the horse to collect or bend, therefore, it’s often not classified as a lateral movement.
However, as the person who is writing this article, it is my personal view that if a movement requires a horse to travel sideways, then it’s a lateral movement. But just note that not all people and organizations agree with this classification.
The benefits of leg-yielding
Sadly, some trainers do think of the leg-yield as a “useless” exercise once the horse understands and can perform the shoulder-in.
The shoulder-in is no doubt a fantastic lateral movement that works to enhance and improve many aspects of the horse’s overall way of going, but the leg-yield also has many benefits, including the following.
- The leg-yield is one of the easiest ways to teach the horse to move sideways away from the leg.
- Since the leg-yield does not require collection, this makes it an ideal exercise to use with young and novice horses, those coming back into work, and also during the warm-up of more advanced horses.
- The leg-yield is a great supplying exercise, helping to make the horse loose and free in its lateral and longitudinal movement.
- It can be ridden in all three paces and promotes freedom, elasticity, and regularity.
- Leg-yield allows the horse to build the confidence and ability to cross his legs over, helping to further enhance the sideways reach in other, more advanced lateral movements.
- It teaches the horse to be more responsive to the rider’s leg aids and helps to develop the rider’s ‘feel’ and coordination.
- There are many variations of the leg-yield and so it can be used to add variety to the horse’s regular schooling.
- Finally, it helps to prepare young horses for the half-pass.
As you can see, there are many benefits to this exercise and it should not be overlooked. The leg-yield is also a movement that is required in some dressage tests, so being able to ride it well will help to ensure that you receive top marks.
How to ride the leg-yield
During competition, the leg-yield is always asked for in trot. However, when training at home, you can ride the leg-yield in all three paces.
If the exercise is new to you and your horse, then it’s best introduced in walk. Once you are able to coordinate your aids and your horse understands what is required, you can then progress to riding the leg-yield in trot and, eventually, the canter.
Turn from the short side of the arena onto the three-quarter line of the school, and ride a few steps in a straight line.
- The easiest way to introduce leg-yield is to ride it from the three-quarter line back to the track, without making the angle too steep. This is because the horse will naturally gravitate back to the outside track. Once you have mastered this, you can then ride the leg-yield in other places of the arena. We have listed a few of them below.
- It’s important the horse is straight before you apply the aids and ask him to leg-yield. If the horse is not straight before the exercise, then it’s highly unlikely that he will be straight during the exercises.
Ask your horse for a little bit of flexion away from the direction of travel i.e. if you are leg-yielding to the left, ask your horse to flex to the right, and vice versa.
This flexion should only be slight and it should be at the poll only. You want to be able to see the horse’s inside eyelash and nostril, nothing more.
The rest of the horse’s body should remain straight with no bending through the ribs or neck.
Your outside rein is there to prevent any neck bend and to control your horse’s outside shoulder.
Move your inside leg back so that it is very slightly behind the girth (but not too far back so that you are rubbing the saddle cloth) and use it to push the horse both forwards and sideways.
At the same time, you should have a little bit more weight in your inside bone and feel as though your inside seat bone is encouraging your horse to step across and up into your outside rein.
During the leg-yield, although it’s helpful to visualize your horse as being parallel to the track, the horse’s shoulders are actually about one hoof-print in front of his hindquarters.
If you have a young and novice horse, then it can be helpful to allow the shoulders to lead a little more, making the movement more parallel as the horse progresses. This helps the horse to keep moving forward through the movement and prevents him from leading with his quarters.
As you hit the track, finish the movement by removing the flexion and making the horse straight in the contact.
It’s very important that you make a point of always finishing the movement and riding the horse forwards and straight, especially if you intend to ask the horse to immediately leg-yield back again in the opposite direction.
Once you have mastered riding the leg-yield from the quarter line to the outside track, there are many other patterns and variations that you can introduce into your schooling sessions.
Here are a few of them.
- Centerline to the outside track.
- Quarterline to quarterline
- Outside track to the quarterline line and back again.
- Outside track to the centerline line and back again.
- Quarterline to quarterline to quarterline (zig-zag)
- Spiraling in and out on a circle
- Down a wall (head to the wall or quarters to the wall)
Increasing the crossing of legs
When you first start riding this exercise, you’ll probably only get a very minimal amount of leg crossing, if any at all. This is because it requires a lot of balance and suppleness for the horse to feel confident enough and to have the ability to sufficiently cross his legs over.
You can help to encourage a higher degree of crossing by applying your inside leg aid rhythmically at the same time as your horse’s inside hind leg leaves the ground.
As we mentioned, it’s the horse’s inside legs that should cross regularly and evenly in front of the horse’s outside legs. Therefore, by applying your inside leg aid (pushing the horse both forward and sideways) at the same precise moment as your horse lifts his inside hind leg, you can then influence that leg to step further across and under.
Over time, your horse’s lateral and longitudinal suppleness will begin to improve and he will start to build the confidence needed in order to take bigger sweeping steps across and underneath his body.
Common faults in leg-yielding
Here are some of the common problems that can happen when leg-yielding, along with some advice on how to correct them.
1 – Quarters leading
One of the biggest faults is that the rider allows the horse to lead with the quarters.
It often happens when the rider brings their inside leg too far back and instead of pushing the whole horse sideways, they push just the quarters.
To correct this issue, firstly, check the position of your inside leg, and secondly, let the shoulders move into the movement first. The rest of the horse’s body will follow and then you work on making the horse more parallel as you both improve.
2 – Too much neck bend and falling through the outside shoulder
The horse that falls through its shoulder does so because the rider has allowed it to bend through its neck.
To correct this problem, focus on keeping the horse’s neck straight and in line with the rest of his spine, and control the shoulder with your outside rein.
You should only be asking for a small amount of inside flexion at the poll, not for a bend in the horse’s neck. Remember that you only want to be able to see the horse’s inside eyelash and nostril.
3 – Angle too steep and horse not moving forwards
If the horse is not moving forward sufficiently, the angle you create will be too steep. This also works in reverse. So, if you ask for too steep of an angle, the horse will be unable to move sufficiently forward.
All lateral movements (and the leg-yield, if you don’t classify it as a lateral movement) should be ridden forward first, and sideways second.
As soon as you feel the horse’s energy levels dip and the impulsion start to dwindle, stop riding sideways and ride forwards to refresh the pace.
Once the horse is in front of the leg and working in a good rhythm and tempo with good impulsion, you can then try the exercise again, making the angle a little shallower to maintain the horse’s forward thought.
4 – The horse anticipates and drifts
After a few times of riding the leg-yield exercise (especially if you continue to ride it in the same place of the arena), the horse may begin to anticipate the movement and start to drift sideways on its own as opposed to purposely stepping sideways.
To help combat this issue, you need to change things up a bit. So, ride the exercise in different parts of the arena and intersperse the sideways steps with some forward steps.
For example, turn on the centerline and start leg-yielding to the left. After 4-steps, ride the horse straight and forwards for 4-steps. Then leg-yield left again for 6-steps. Ride straight forwards for 2-steps, and then leg-yield right all the way to the opposite side of the arena. This will prevent the horse from anticipating and drifting because he will not know what is coming next.
5 – Rider leaning and/or wriggling in the saddle
Although you should have a little bit more weight in your inside seat bone, you should not be leaning to the inside (or the outside for that matter). Your body should remain central and sat up straight.
If the horse doesn’t move away from your inside leg, re-emphasize the aid. If you still don’t get an adequate response, then tap the horse with your schooling whip behind your inside leg.
Don’t try to compensate for the horse’s lack of response by leaning to one side, or wriggling around in the saddle! This will only unbalance the horse and make it harder for him to provide you with the response that you want.
Leg-yielding is a useful full-body suppling exercise that can be incorporated into your regular schooling session.
It helps to teach the horse that the leg can mean “go sideways” as well as “go forwards,” helping to provide a good foundation for more advanced lateral work.
And since the leg-yield does not require collection, it’s a great exercise for young and novice horses, as well as a suitable warm-up exercise for more advanced horses.
The key to correct leg-yielding is to have the horse moving confidently forwards and sideways, whilst maintaining a slight flexion at the poll away from the direction of travel, with the horse’s inside legs crossing over and in front of the horse’s outside legs.