The Leg-yield

Defining the Leg-yield
The leg-yield is a lateral movement which involves forward and sideway stepping. Like all lateral movements, the horse has to cross his legs while engaging his hindquarters and maintaining forward energy to perform it correctly. The steps should always be more forward than they are sideways. The leg-yield is almost similar to the half-pass, with the difference lying in the direction of the bend; for the leg-yield, the horse bends away from the direction he is traveling, while in the half-pass, the horse should be bending towards the direction he is traveling.

The Correct Leg-yield
Performed correctly, the horse should maintain forward energy while executing small steps sideways. The forward steps should always be bigger than the sideway steps, thus preventing the horse from over-bending. The horse should also demonstrate a slight flexion to the inside during the movement. You will know the correct degree of flexion when you can see the horse’s inside lashes. When you are riding a leg-yield to the right, the inside of the horse will be his left side, which clarifies what I mean by ‘flexion to the inside”.

Common Faults
The most common fault when riding a leg-yield is over-flexion of the horse’s neck to the inside. This is a direct result of using too much inside rein and it causes the horse’s outside shoulder to fall out. Some horses also tend to advance their hind legs ahead of their front legs to escape from the rider’s aids. Other horses sometimes rush forward and fall onto their forehand to resist the movement altogether. The picture on the right shows a horse that is over-bent and whose shoulder had fallen out.

The way to overcome such problems is by relaxing the horse, riding him long and low for a few minutes if you have to, half-halting, re-organizing your seat, leg, and rein aids to keep your horse straight, then trying again. Young and green horses may find this movement intimidating because it requires them to cross their legs; they are often frightened of knocking their legs together and stumbling. Be patient, relax your horse, and try again with good coordination of your body aids.

Bottom photo courtesy of Centered Riding by Sally Swift.)


Benefits of the Leg-yield
Since the leg-yield is a movement of lateral nature, it has many benefits for both you and your horse. Among those benefits are the following: -

Performed correctly, it encourages engagement of the hindquarters because the horse lowers his hips, which--
Improves the natural balance of the horse that leads to
Greater control and influence from you as a rider
It helps establish lateral suppleness in the horse
And finally, teaches you body coordination since it requires the use of seat, leg, and rein aids, which prepares you for more complex movements later on.
The Aids for the Leg-yield
For a correct leg-yield, you will be using a set of primary aids and a set of secondary aids. I have divided the aids this way to allow you to pay more attention to what is required to execute the movement.

Your primary aids will be as follows: -

Outside seat bone: shift your weight slightly onto your outside seat bone to encourage your horse to step underneath your center of gravity.
Inside leg: by gently applying your inside leg behind the girth you will be asking the horse to step away from your leg.
Your secondary aids will be as follows:

Outside leg: it will maintain forward energy when applied on the girth.
Outside hand: use your outside rein to control the degree of bend and to prevent the horse’s outside shoulder from falling out by bringing your hand over the horse’s withers. If your horse advances his hindquarters before his forelegs, opening the outside rein will help straighten your horse again. You may do that by shifting your hand away from the withers and sponging the rein.
Inside hand: gently ‘sponge’ the inside rein to encourage the horse to bend only slightly to the inside. Remember to be very soft and forgiving with your inside hand, using it only when needed.
Riding Leg-yield to the Right

Begin at the walk. Turn from A or C down the centerline and half halt the horse and give yourself a chance to center yourself. Bring your left leg behind the girth and shift your weight to your right seat bone while keeping soft and supple at your waist. Use your secondary aids as needed to correct your horse’s stride, then relax all aids. Let the horse take a couple of strides forward, then ask again for the leg-yield. Keep the sideway steps small to prevent the horse from becoming tense. The diagram below shows the pattern to steps that you should expect when you are just starting out, with the horse stepping just underneath his center of balance. Only when your horse becomes stronger, more supple and balanced, you can ask for bigger sideway steps.

Your horse may find it easier to perform this movement at the trot, but you should prepare the horse thoroughly at the walk before moving on to trot.

Further Exercises

Figure One: On the right rein, turn right at A down the centerline and ride a 10-meter circle to the left. Ride your horse straight for a couple of strides then leg-yield to the right.
Figure Two: On the long side of the arena, leg-yield towards the centerline, go straight for three strides, then leg-yield back to the track, changing flexion accordingly. If you are ambitious, you may want to try to half-pass back to the track. You may do that by changing your horse's bend towards the direction you are traveling.

Points to Remember

When doing lateral work with your horse, remember to give him frequent breaks, riding him straight for a few minutes before returning to lateral exercises. This helps the horse relax and think about his balance, and it also makes it more fun for your horse. Also, remember to work your horse equally on both reins to develop his muscles evenly.

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