Lateral Work

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Achieving leg yield

If you are preparing for spring and setting training goals for the rest of 2015, no doubt you will be going back to basics with your schooling – getting the basics right is a sure-fire way to start the year positively, and develop your riding. No matter what your discipline, sound flatwork will help you excel – whether you plan to ride over fences, succeed in the dressage arena, or simply hack safely.

One of the most useful flatwork exercises you can do is the leg yield. In leg yield, the horse steps diagonally forwards and sideways, crossing one fore leg in front of the other and one hind leg in front of the other. The horse has slight poll flexion away from the direction of movement.

Leg yield can be very useful for developing suppleness and ‘throughness’, and can be utilised outside of the dressage arena – for example, if you are avoiding obstacles out hacking.

Here are our top ten tips for achieving a good leg yield –

  1. Firstly, it is important to ensure your chosen pace is forward going and energetic. Many riders carry out the leg yield at trot; but if you are trotting, ensure the pace isn’t too fast – a steady rhythm will help the horse to engage the quarters, while a fast pace could tip him onto the forehand.
  2. Make sure you have a soft outline – it isn’t necessary to be in a perfect, ‘dressage test’ shape if the horse is still learning, but he should be balanced through his neck and back, with his quarters swinging freely. This will help the horse to carry himself whilst maintaining impulsion, which is necessary in order to develop lateral movements such as leg yield.
  3. Choose the line of your leg yield – down the three quarter or centre line is a good place to start.
  4. Leg yield along this line in walk before attempting the movement in trot, to make sure you can see the lines for your turn, and have established a forward-going pace.
  5. Before asking for the leg yield, apply a half halt with your outside rein to balance the horse; it is important to maintain an even, steady rhythm, so try not to let the horse rush or anticipate.
  6. During a leg yield the horse will have slight inside flexion; establish your line down the school and ask for an inside bend by ‘spongeing’ the inside rein – also, keep a steady outside rein contact. Let your outside seat-bone take slightly more weight.
  7. Use your inside leg at the girth to quietly ask the horse to step over as his inside hind foot steps off the ground; put your outside leg a little further back to stop the quarters from swinging out. (If your horse is still learning to move away from the leg, use your inside leg slightly behind the girth and hone the aids as the horse learns.)
  8. Just ask for a few steps initially, and build it up if the horse is responding well and moving laterally.
  9. Once you have the desired amount of lateral steps, stop asking for the inside bend, and apply your legs at the girth to ask for forward movement in a straight line.
  10. Don’t tip to either side of the saddle – make sure you are sitting tall and looking up and ahead towards the end of the school. Many people ‘collapse’ their hips accidentally.

Trouble shooting

Having trouble getting the desired results? Here are our suggestions-

  • Don’t forget to ride the exercise on both reins, and try to avoid making the exercise too repetitive – the horse may be anticipating.
  • If the horse falls out at the outside shoulder during the leg yield, apply more outside rein and ask for less inside bend.
  • Try and keep the horse’s body straight – too much inside leg, and the quarters may lead the movement.
  • If the horse is not crossing its legs and moving laterally, practice spiralling out from a small circle to a large circle, applying your inside leg slightly behind the girth and maintaining an even contact on the outside rein to stop the horse over-bending to the inside.
  • If the horse slows down, try not to rush him through that particular movement – concentrate on getting a few lateral steps with a good rhythm, and build up the forward movement next time.
  • Go and watch the movement being ridden in dressage tests and observe other riders being taught as often as you can.
  • Talk to your instructor about the best aids to use – as different people teach the exercise differently, or adapt the aids according to the horse’s experience.

Check your saddle

Remember, the right saddle can mean the difference between good and bad lateral work. According to the Society of Master Saddlers, ‘Unlevelness’, even slight, in your horse’s gait, especially behind, can cause the saddle to move or gyrate, thus possibly exacerbating an existing problem’.

An ill-fitting saddle can create high pressure points, or pinch the withers because the saddle is too narrow. An ill fitting saddle can even cause shortening of the horse’s stride, or make it more difficult for the horse to engage his quarters and come onto the bit.

Ask your local saddler to check the fit of your saddle, and always invest in a good saddle that suits your discipline. We like the Horze Domar Clinic Saddle

Team it with Horze’s Shaped Dressage Girth. This anatomically shaped leather dressage girth has soft black lining and silver-coloured stainless steel fittings, plus triple elastic at both ends, soft flaps under the buckles, leather loops near the buckles and solid girth roller buckles.

 Visit www.horze.com for details of these and other products.

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