Leg yielding is the horse moving forwards and sideways at the same time. It can be ridden at walk, jog or lope. When shown as a judged manoeuvre the horse will remain straight with some flexion at the poll away from the direction of travel. This is one of the most important manoeuvres you will teach your horse. Leg yielding is just what it says on the tin – in response to your leg cue, your horse 'yields' and moves away from that pressure. Without this skill you'd struggle to control your horse’s shoulders, rib cage and hips. It would be impossible to ride correct corners and circles and would make staying on a straight line very difficult. Your horse would lack suppleness, balance and engagement. Leg yielding is a pre-requisite for more advanced lateral work such as travers, and also helps your horse to understand side pass.
What do you need now?
You do need to have taught your horse turns on, and about, the forehand and you should have some lateral flexion. Youngsters in particular benefit from having learnt some steps of leg yielding in hand. This is illustrated below by Judith and Skooter.
Here Skooter is taking the first sideways step to the left. This is in response to Judith's raised right hand, which flexes Skooter's head to the right whilst encouraging her to lift through the right shoulder.
Skooter moves away from Judith, who is stepping towards her withers. From this position Judith's left hand can give a cue on Skooter's rib-cage to encourage further steps as necessary.
Here you can clearly see Skooter's right forefoot about to take a step to the left....
....and having completed that step. Note that throughout the manoeuvre Skooter has stayed 'wrapped around' the handler whilst remaining relaxed and obedient. (Sorry about the dust!)
How do you ride a leg-yield
The easiest place in the arena to set up for this movement is from the inside track - this is about 3 metres in from the rail. Ride around the short side of the arena in walk, leaving the rail before the corner. Create some flexionto the inside at the same time as drawing back your inside leg (including your inside seat bone). In time with your horse’s steps use your leg to cue your horse to move sideways towards the rail. Pay attention to your rein contact - too much inside rein will block your horses inside shoulder or create too much bend allow your horse to fall out through the outside shoulder. Be careful not to let go of the outside rein – you need this to regulate the amount of neck bend - but don’t overly restrict either. Also be aware of your position in the saddle - keep your shoulders level and don’t lean over to the outside.
These photographs show Woody leg yielding to the left from the inside track......
.... andto the rail.
Graduallyincrease the number of steps you ask for from your horse as well as the angle they are comfortable with. Once you are happy with leg yielding towards the rail, try leg yielding away from the rail towards the inside of the arena. [This is shownin the picture to the right.] Try moving first one way for a few steps, straightening up, then going back the other way for a few steps. Progress to leg yielding on a circle; begin by spiralling inwards and then leg yielding back out. As soon as your horse understands how to go sideways in walk start to practise the manoeuvre in jog. Over time you'll notice a real difference in your horse's engagement and softness. Riding a few steps of leg yielding before asking for a lope departure will improve your transitions and the quality of the lope. If your horse lacks engagement and softness when returning to jog from lope, ride a few steps of leg yielding again to re-balance and prevent him from falling onto his forehand in downward transitions.
Two tracking is leg yielding down the rail at an angle of about 45 degrees. [See the two tracking photos in How to Travers.] With your horse’s head towards the rail move your horse’s quarters in off the track with a turn about the forehand. Continue down the rail until you're ready to allow the horse to straighten up again. This can also be ridden across the diagonal from one side of the arena to the other. The photograph to the left showsWoody taking the first steps away from the rider's left leg. This begins to position him at the correct angle for two tracking.
Leg yielding as a gymnastic exercise
It can be beneficial to ‘break the rules’ sometimes. By creating much more neck bend to the inside, and deliberately allowing your horse to push out with the outside shoulder, you can set up an exercise that really helps to supple your horse. This isn’t leg yielding in a classical sense as the shoulders are leading and the quarters trailing, but it is a useful manoeuvre that stretches the joints and muscles and improves the athletic ability of the horse. It also gives a good correction to a horse that falls in on circles and corners. This is illustrated to the right.
More leg yielding
This is an exercise that can be practised frequently whilst hacking out. On a quiet road or track you can leg yield from one side to the other. You can even leg yield around a drain cover, or to a particular tree, bush or telegraph pole! Also, don’t forget to use these exercises to help your horse warm up for further schooling or competing.