There are several kinds of leg yielding exercises, all resulting in the horse responding or “giving” to leg pressure from the rider, but the most basic (and the first) leg yielding exercise I want my horse to learn is giving to inside leg pressure and re-directing forward motion into forward sideways motion to the outside of the circle.
Purpose of leg yielding
• To teach the horse to give to pressure from the rider’s legs.
• To teach the horse to be unafraid of leg pressure.
• To encourage the horse to willingly give to leg pressure in combination with rein pressure.
• To continue to warm up the horse’s mind and body for more difficult exercises.
The Basic Exercise
Leg yield to the left: As you walk your horse in a large circle on the right rein, keep you left leg off of the horse, apply your right (inside) leg a little behind the cinch, pick up your right (inside) rein to encourage your horse to keep his nose slightly into the circle to maintain the arc, then slowly apply pressure with the left (outside) rein in conjunction with increased pressure from your right leg until the horse changes his forward motion to forward/sideways motion and takes a step or two. Keep your body light in the saddle to encourage forward motion; if he loses forward motion, “cluck”; if he still will not move forward, bump him with your left (outside) leg. When he responds with at least one lateral step, slowly release the reins and remove right leg pressure. Walk relaxed to a new place in the circle and repeat. As he understands the exercise and/or warms up, ask for two or three steps – no more – and walk on. As in the previous exercises, you must only ask what your horse is capable of at his level of training – if he is a two-year-old that you are just starting to ride, you will be satisfied with very little; if he is a trained reining horse, you will expect more correctness and refinement. He should perform the lateral movement, giving to the rider’s hands and legs and stepping forward and sideways, crossing both front and rear legs.
When your horse is responding well to the left, repeat to the right. If he is more advanced in training, repeat both directions at a jog.
The order of aids to the left: left leg off, right leg on, right rein, left rein.
Note: This is the very simplest form of leg yielding – giving to the rider’s inside leg and moving to the outside in a forward-sideways direction. When your horse is more advanced, you will want to leg yield him to the inside of the circle, leg yield directly to the side (as to open a gate) and half-pass.
• Your inside rein should be away from your horse’s neck in a straight line from your horse’s mouth to your elbow; your outside rein should be against your horse’s neck (your hand will be close to outside of the horn). The length of your reins should be such that your hands do not go behind the horn when you apply pressure. Also, your hands should be at the same level even though one is close to the horse’s neck and one is away from the horse’s neck.
• Apply rein aids slowly.
• Release rein aids slowly.
What can go wrong?
• Your horse may “lead” with his shoulder instead of true lateral movement. This is almost always because the rider does not apply enough pressure with the outside rein – that is the rein that restricts forward motion and encourages use of the hind quarters. Gradual increased pressure of the outside rein with increased inside leg pressure corrects this problem. Again – be satisfied with very little until your horse understands where the release is.
• The horse does not move sideways at all, ignoring pressure from your leg. Often this means the rider has not applied enough rein pressure to stop some of the forward motion. Slowly apply more pressure with both reins while at the same time firmly asking him to yield to your leg. If he takes a step – or even a half step – slowly release reins and legs, walk on and repeat. Ask for more when he understands.
• The horse stops or stops and backs up. Cluck and bump his side with your outside leg to ask for forward motion but do not release the rein aids until he moves forward (assuming you are not pulling too hard!) If he still does not move forward, release one rein still asking for forward motion and ask for lateral flexion in that direction (The ladder… step down a step) Walk on and repeat, correcting as necessary until he moves forward/sideways even a half step. Again – don’t ask for too much until he understands.
The Basic Exercise with Refinement
As your horse becomes more trained or if he is already trained, you should expect more correctness, refinement and willingness in his response to the aids for leg yielding. Expect more lightness in his mouth and response to more subtle cues. As in all training, when the horse is learning, cues are exaggerated and, as he becomes trained, more subtle. At this time, you need to “feel” your horse’s response, strive for correctness, feel where the problem is and correct if necessary. You may need spurs to encourage him, but use only what is needed. I apply my leg first, then the heel of my boot, and then, if he still does not move away, I gradually turn my foot so the spur is in contact and push. The next time you ask, start with the softest aid first.
When your horse gives to your hands and gives to your legs (lateral and vertical flexion and leg yielding), it’s the whole program. Everything you do from this point on is about responding to rein and leg pressure. Some maneuvers are simply a combination of these basics. As training progresses, you will expect more refinement and a higher degree of difficulty, for example leg yielding in different way and at different gaits.