Understanding leg yield and how to ride it to improve your horse’s suppleness

  • If you’re looking to learn how to ride leg yield, then first you need to understand the movement. Leg yield is a basic exercise within the range of lateral work for horses. The movement asks the horse to travel both forward and sideways at the same time with a slight flexion away from the direction of travel. It’s found in elementary level dressage tests under British Dressage rulings and is a useful schooling and suppling tool. It is one of the first lateral movements riders typically teach their horses.

    What is a correct leg yield?

    The horse should show a slight flexion of the poll away from the direction in which he is travelling in a leg yield. The inside legs should cross in front of the outside legs. The shoulders should be slightly in advance of the hind quarters. Leg yield can be ridden on a straight or curved line.

    What are the benefits of leg yield?

    Even if you are not required to ride leg yield for the purpose of competition, it is a very useful lateral movement to use within your training sessions. If you are ultimately looking to introduce half pass and shoulder-in, leg yield is the place to start. It is also useful for helping your horse to become more supple, straight and balanced and develop more expression in the paces.

    The leg yield is not only a helpful tool while schooling, but it can aid you when you put your horse in other circumstances, such as our hacking or in a competition setting. If your horse takes a dislike to something and spooks, you can use leg yield to divert his attention away from the cause of the problem.

    How to ride leg yield

    how to ride leg yield

    During leg yield, the horse’s inside legs cross in front of the outside legs while he maintains a slight flexion of the poll away from the direction in which he is travelling

    If you or your horse are unfamiliar with this movement, practise it first in walk. This will help you both understand the aids for leg yield before you increase the pace.

    • Establish a good, active and balanced pace (on the left rein)
    • Apply a half-halt as you approach the quarter or three-quarter line of the long-side of the arena. Ride onto the quarter/three-quarter line
    • Put slightly more weight into your left seat bone
    • Put your left leg fractionally behind the girth and ask your horse to move sideways away from your leg towards the edge of the arena
    • Use your right rein to help control the direction of travel
    • Use your right leg to maintain forward momentum, control the angle and to prevent your horse from falling out onto his right side
    • Use your left rein to ask for a small amount of flexion, but make sure your horse stays balanced between both reins
    • Once you reach the edge of the arena, straighten your horse up and ride him forward out of the leg yield

    Half-halts can be used as needed, alongside appropriate release and praise.

    Once you and your horse are confident with the movement in walk, it can be ridden in all three paces.

    Spencer Wilton on how to ride leg yield

    Common problems to watch out for

    • A loss of straightness
    • Too much inside bend with the horse falling through the outside shoulder
    • The horse rushes forwards away from your inside leg
    • Horse leads with his hindquarters

    Can I teach leg yield from the ground?

    Long-reining can be used to teach the horse to leg yield without a rider on board. Here is an exercise from Fizz Marshall, former equine therapy centre manager at Hartpury College.

    The first few attempts will need an extra assistant on the ground and the horse must be confident with the basic long-reining techniques and commands before attempting this exercise.  Ensure you are also competent in your long-reining skills before you start this exercise.

    1. Ask the horse to walk while staying in a straight line, not asking them to move over at all, travelling nice and forwardly, and evenly in the hand.
    2. Bring a handler in to walk besides the horse at girth level. They will place their hand just behind where the girth is, almost where your inside leg would be if you were asking for leg yield when you were riding.
    3. The driver gives a little tap with the inside long-rein and holds the outside long-rein to ask the horse to move over, whilst positioning themselves slightly outside of the horse on a straight line.
    4. Do the above a couple of times and then take the handler away. The driver keeps their position the same and uses the inside long rein to move the horse over.

    How to teach your horse to leg yield on long reins

    Is leg yield in any British Dressage tests?

    Leg yield is only found in elementary level dressage tests in British Dressage.

    A basic leg yield exercise suitable for all horses

    Showing producer Sue-Helen Shuttleworth uses basic lateral work on all her horses, many of which have won at HOYS and the RIHS

    The aim of this leg-yielding exercise is to lighten the horse’s forehand while improving strength, balance, suppleness and straightness. It also helps to teach him to move away from the inside leg and work into the outside hand.

    The idea is that the horse has a slight flexion at the poll, away from the direction of travel. His inside legs should cross in front of his outside legs, and he should maintain a forward rhythm.

    The exercise: step by step

    1. It’s best to start in walk, as this will help both horse and rider to understand and coordinate the aids. Then move up to trot.

    2. Starting on the right rein, go large around the arena and establish a balanced and forward walk or working trot, while asking for a small amount of flexion with your right rein. Try to use a little “feel and release”. The inside rein is there to guide your horse — it’s not there to drag him around the bends and turns. I like to make sure I can see just the corner of the horse’s eye.

    3. When you reach A on the short side of the arena, apply a half-halt using the outside rein to signal you would like your horse to wait and listen for his next instruction. Then ride on to the three-quarter line. I like to ride straight down this line once before asking for any sideways steps.

    4. Repeat the above, but this time ride halfway down the three-quarter line before applying another half-halt. Put your right leg very slightly behind the girth and ask him to move sideways, shoulder first, towards the fence, while maintaining the right flexion.

    5. Use your left leg to maintain the forward rhythm, control the angle of his body and prevent him from falling out on to his left side. If the horse gives too much inside bend, remember to keep an elastic feel down the inside rein and support the angle of the bend by using your outside rein and leg.

    6. When you reach the edge of the arena, praise the horse and give the right rein to keep him soft. Once back on the track, ride straight again while maintaining forward momentum. Change the rein and repeat.

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