There are many different reasons why leg-yielding is beneficial in any horse’s training programme and here is one of them: creating more even use of each hindleg.
I like to start it in-hand because the biggest benefit is when the rider can ask for leg-yield from the saddle with minimal aids. Strong use of legs contort the rider and often braces the horse’s back so the overall goodness of the exercise decreases.
The horse that learnt a movement in-hand, has a much easier job understanding the request from the saddle later and so the rider is able to act with more subtle aids.
The roles of the hind legs in the leg-yield
Inside hind leg: flexes, crosses over and under (engages) and creates push
Outside hind leg: carries weight, stabilises the weight
Performed in both directions and adjusted to the horse’s natural crookedness, it is a nice and relatively easy exercise to help the “pushing hind leg” develop more “carrying skills” and vice versa.
Also great exercise for riders to develop feel, coordination and body awareness (how it can communicate with the horse).
To see video of Ferris the ex-racehorse learning leg-yield on the wall see our Instagram HERE.
If you have problems with balanced turns and your horse often cuts the corners or decreases the circles as if some magical forces drew him in, you might find the below tips useful.
1) leg-yield (for the below exercise to be helpful your horse needs to be familiar with leg-yielding on both reins even if it’s just a few steps yield with limited cross over. They don’t need to be able to be performing dressage test standard leg-yield but need to know what it means to yield away from your inside leg when you ask)
2) Lateral flexion at the poll to the left and right (your horse needs to understand how to react when you ask for flexion left and right. They can’t think you are asking for neck bend or a turn)
(described on the right rein)
Ride down 3/4 line of the arena and prepare to ask the horse for the right turn on a line of a half 15m ish circle. To do so, ask for inside flexion at the poll. When the have horse responded, ask for the turn. As your horse moves his inside front leg to turn, ask him to drift away from your inside leg as if asking for a mini leg-yield.
You want to feel that:
– he shifts his his weight ever so slightly to his outside shoulder, lightens the inside one and slightly curves his neck to the inside.
– you ground/anchor him to his outside shoulder
– your torso stays, what might feel like, on the outside of your horse’s neck (not leaning to the inside)
Repeat those leg-yield/drifty turns until you get your head around riding the horse’s balance a little towards his outside shoulder as he turns and you feel that you are able to ask with your inside leg for his inside hind leg to step deeper under his barrel.
Once you can do these turns with a small drift (think of increasing the circle a couple of meters, no massive leg – yields until the end of the world 😉 ) then try to only use the ability to shift your horse’s weight off his inside shoulder and onto his outside one as he turns.
As he does it, continue on your turn with no drift/leg-yield.
Lighter inside shoulder allows for an easy, relaxed inside flexion and vice – versa. Ability to shift your horse’s weight laterally will help you in many situations, not only to ride better corners and circles but also to approach the jumps in better balance 🙂
Lack of feel for the right moment/thing/motion is something many riders struggle with and I have met quite a few who think you either feel it or you don’t.
In my experience, there are people with a very strong, natural, innate feeling of balance able to feel loses of it immediately whether they stand on their own legs or sit on a horse. They somewhat grasp the idea of equilibrium very fast. Then there are those who have very little natural body awareness. And of course, there are millions shades of variations of both in the middle.
I don’t subscribe to the notion that feel cannot be learnt. I have seen to the contrary over and over again with riders who started off with very little of it and slowly developed significantly more awareness.
Arguably, there will always be those riders whose balance is superior, even at a relatively low level of equestrian pursuits. This doesn’t mean that if yours is muted, you can’t improve.
Fun ways of Developing More Awareness and Perception
Children, although they might be falling off a lot in some cases 😉 , do have a great sense of balance. They often sit very naturally upright with no tension in hip joints allowing for a very soft, absorbing seat. There is one thing kids do a lot of to have that heightened body awareness. They PLAY 🙂
I get riders to carry poles, to lunge each-other, to walk on lines, to be pulled off XC jumps, to do many exercises on the lunge, to do the wrong things (like collapsing in the waist, or carrying hands unevenly) – all with just one aim: play with balance and feel of own posture in space.
Below is a short video of several different exercises I like to use. The carrying a pole trick has many advantages. The variant you see on the video is focused on teaching the rider to feel for her upper body posture and rhythm of her steps (especially in leg yield). She tends to angle her upper body when riding lateral work so the exercise is helping her remain parallel to the fence. She can then “carry” that feel with her into the saddle.