How to Leg Yield Your Horse

how to leg yield with Alex Harrison

In this article, you can learn how to leg yield your horse with D&H Brand Ambassador, Alex Harrison. The article covers

  • What is leg yield;
  • Primary aids;
  • Exercises to incorporate leg yield;
  • Common problems.

What is leg yield and what is the purpose of the movement?

Leg yield is typically the first form of lateral movement that would be introduced in a horses training. Although it is only required in Elementary tests leg-yield is arguably one of the most important lateral movements. It teaches a basic reaction to lateral aids providing the horse with an advantageous level of preparation for further lateral training.

Albeit only required to be performed in working trot on a diagonal line in tests, leg-yields can be ridden in walk, trot and canter either on a diagonal line or along the wall in training in order to increase suppleness and acceptance of the rider aids.

Alex Harrison describes how to leg yield your horse
Your trainer, Alex Harrison

Primary aids: How to use leg yield effectively and the primary aids are

To effectively use leg-yield, you must have a clear comprehension of what you are trying to accomplish. Here are some factors to keep in mind when envisaging what you wish to achieve.

  • The horse will have a slight flexion away from the direction of travel, just enough to be able to see your horse’s eyelashes is plenty
  • The horse’s body will be nearly parallel, the shoulders should be slightly in advance of the hind quarters to avoid a loss of engagement
  • The inside legs should pass in front and across the outside legs
The inside legs should pass in front and across the outside legs
The inside legs should pass in front and across the outside legs

As ever, with dressage movements there can be a seemingly infinite number of intricate steps. To be concise, here are the primary aids:

  • Slightly shift your weight to the direction you wish to travel
  • Take a very slight flexion away from the direction of travel
  • Put your leg either on or slightly behind the girth (left leg if going right and vice versa)
  • Keep looking at the line you are riding, try to keep riding the horse’s shoulder to that line
  • If your horse speeds up too much or tries to drift with the shoulder use your outside rein to help regain control and positioning

It is important not to over-face your horse with a line that is too steep. If the line you are riding is inappropriate you are more likely to make your horse tight and confused. When picking lines to ride your leg yields on, I would follow this rough guide as a rule of progression:

  • ¼ line to the track
  • Centre line to the track
  • Corner marker to centre line
  • ¼ line to ¾ line
  • Corner marker to corner marker

Exercises that you can do to incorporate leg yielding

Here are some of my favourite leg-yield exercises, they can be done in either walk, trot or canter:

  • Exercise 1

Trot your horse straight on a diagonal, from H-X for example. When you get to X continue to F but now turn it into a leg-yield. This is a great way of keeping your horse thinking forward and staying fluent when in a leg-yield.

Typical Dressage Arena Layout
Typical Dressage Arena Layout
  • Exercise 2

During the leg-yield, if you feel your horse falling in through the shoulder (starts moving too much to the side), use your outside rein to take control of the shoulder and ride straight (parallel to the long side) for a few strides until you feel you have control. Once the horse has straightened up, then proceed with the leg-yield once again. This will teach your horse to have control of the shoulder, and not to simply run sideways as fast as possible!

  • Exercise 3

If your horse gets stiff when performing leg yields, use them in conjunction with 10m circles to encourage softening and acceptance of the leg. For example, turn down the centre line (C to A), at X perform a 10m circle left, on returning to the track perform a leg-yield right towards F. This can be done by working left and right – choosing your end letter depending on the direction you choose to bend. Using lots of circles really gets the horse listening to the leg and helps to stop them bracing against the aids.

Common problems with leg yield to look out for and how to combat them 

The biggest problem I see when judging leg-yields is riders over flexing their horses in the neck laterally, this can sometimes feel better for the rider as the horse does indeed travel more sideways (due to the horse falling through the shoulder) but will likely mean the hind quarters’ trail and lack engagement. When riding your leg yields ensure that you can only just see your horse’s eyelashes or nostrils and that will be a good indication of enough flexion in the neck.

When riding your leg yields ensure that you can only just see your horse’s eyelashes or nostrils and that will be a good indication of enough flexion in the neck.

Alex Harrison

The second biggest problem I see is a combination showing a lovely working trot before the leg-yield, once in the movement however the horse quickly loses the fluency and suppleness of the trot.

Probably the harder of the two problems to correct as it can be caused by a multitude of factors; most commonly the rider has asked for too much sideways movement. Be sure to keep thinking forward when riding the leg-yield to encourage the horse to stay pushing from behind.

5 Top tips for leg yield

  • Keep looking where you are going. Your focus will shift your weight, which in turn will give your horse more guidance
  • Make sure the quality of the trot is not sacrificed. You cannot get a 7 for a leg-yield if the trot is only worth a 5
  • Not too much flexion in the neck. If there is, ask yourself “is my horse moving off the leg or simply drifting through the shoulder”
  • Do not over face your horse with too much angle at the beginning
  • Control shoulder with the outside rein

Our thanks to Alex Harrison and D&H Feeds.

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