Five top tips to – improve your horse’s carriage


If you would like your horse to become rounder, by relaxing the jaw and working in a round, low frame, try riding leg yield on a circle – here’s how:

The leg-yield involves forward and sideways movement. The hindquarters must be engaged in order for the legs to cross sideways, and the horse should have slight poll and neck flexion away from the direction he is travelling.

Your ‘inside’ in the leg yield is always the side to which the horse is slightly bent, and the side he will move away (or yield) from. The ‘outside’ is the direction of movement. Thus, a leg yield to the right in this exercise is performed on a left circle, with slight left (inside) flexion. The low ‘frame’ used in this exercise is just for schooling, rather than for a dressage test.

Author Bengt Ljungquist describes the purpose of the leg yield as: “Making the horse obedient to the unilateral aids (legs and hands on the same side), thus suppling him and preparing him for the shoulder-in, the half-pass, travers (haunches-in), and renvers.” (Source: Practical Dressage Manual, Publisher: Half Halt Press Inc; ISBN-10: 0939481367. Available from online bookshops).

  1. As you warm up in your manege or arena, bear in mind that you don’t need to ask for too much bend, or use too much inside rein in leg yield – as the horse may ‘fall through’ the outside shoulder. Once you’ve warmed up, walk on positively with clear aids, establishing a forward-going pace; not too fast. We are aiming for a round, yet low frame; roundness is actually required for the rider to sit tall, with a straight back. Our aim is for the horse to relax its jaw and show some flexion. 
  1. Ride a small circle – around 10-15 metres. The horse should be attentive and tracking up (eg. where the hind feet fall into the footfalls of the forefeet, or exceed these footfalls). ‘Slower and lower’ is often the key here – don’t rush! You will already have a slight inside bend prior to the leg yield, so maintain this with the inside rein, asking for inside flexion The outside rein retains a contact. 
  1. Ask the horse to leg yield out onto a 20m circle. Your inside leg should ask the horse to move over, and is used slightly behind the girth. Maintain inside flexion and make sure you have a giving, rather than restrictive inside hand, to encourage the horse to become lower and rounder. Be sure to carry your hands, so the wrists don’t turn in.
  1. After a few steps of leg yield onto the larger circle, ride forward with your normal aids – your rhythm should stay the same. The horse should relax its jaw further as you repeat the above exercise; it is important for you to ‘give’ when the horse softens for you. Remember to sit up straight and look ahead at all times; next, start the exercise again on the opposite rein. 
  1. Now move into trot and repeat the exercise. Remember that the exercise will move very quickly – focus on the quality of the steps, not the quantity! Aim to carry out the exercise in sitting trot, as your aids will probably be more consistent.

If you undertake a lot of flatwork schooling, it is important to ensure your saddle is a good fit – ask your saddle fitter to regular check your saddle, especially if your horse changes shape. There are a multitude of great saddle pads available. If your saddle would benefit from a riser pad – ask your saddle fitter or instructor for advice – consider Horze’s Gel Elevating Pad. It helps to elevate the saddle at the front, and is made from a sticky gel that holds the pad in position and prevents slipping, which could be detrimental to the horse and could create pressure points.

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Horze have a team of experienced riders, trainers and equestrian journalists who shared their knowledge and expertise through this blog.

  • Justine J

    I love this! We call these spirals because we spiral
    Into a 10 m circle in haunches in, establish a good 10m circle, then leg yield out to a 20. It takes about 3 to 4 revolutions to leg yield out. We only ask for a couple of good steps in shoulder in before riding straight and fwd.

    • Tabby Jacobs

      Thanks for great feedback, Justine! :)

  • Justine J

    Oops! I mean a few good steps on leg yield going out!