People often tell me that their horses leg yield works very well as far as
going sideways is concerned, but they tend to toss their heads and show
resistance to the reins. In desperation, some riders even use a tie down
to put pressure on the nose to discourage their horses from yanking at
If your horse finds it fairly easy to cross his legs and move sideways
with his body, yet he's tossing his head during leg yields, it's
possible that he's objecting to your contact with his mouth. Any effort
to steady his head such as by tying it down or using draw reins is
simply treating the symptom rather than the cause.
1. The first thing that occurs to me is that you might be
"rein-yielding" rather than leg yielding. Often when riders begin to
teach their horses to leg yield, they try to move them sideways by
pulling them over with the reins. As a result, their horses feel
restricted and unhappy.
Your reins actually do very little during a leg yield. It's not their
job to help your horse go sideways. When leg-yielding to the right, for
example, turn your left wrist as if unlocking a door to ask your horse
flex at the poll to the left. While flexing with your left wrist, keep
your right rein steady and supporting like a side rein to prevent your
horse from bending his neck too much to the left.
2. Your legs ask your horse to move over. In the above example, your
left leg moves slightly behind the girth to ask your horse to go
sideways while your right leg stays on the girth to insure that he goes
forward as well.
3. Keep your weight balanced over the center of your horse. It's easy to
get "left behind" and lean to the left. This happens partly because the
horse is moving to the right and partly because some riders push too
hard with their left leg. If your leg says, "move over" but your weight
says, "I'm going to make it difficult for you to do so", you'll probably
resort to using your reins for leverage. To counteract this tendency to
lean, pretend you're going to dismount. That is, if you're leg yielding
to the right, step down into the right iron and pretend you're going to
dismount off the right side of your horse.
4. Now let's look at the quality of your contact. Here are the
ingredients that contribute to an inviting and sympathetic contact.
First, maintain a straight line from the bit to your hand to your elbow.
Keep your thumb the highest point of your hand. Make sure one hand is
the mirror image of the other so that you offer an even contact on both
sides of the bit.
Next, establish a firm connection with your horse's mouth. "Lightness"
becomes a goal only after you begin to collect your horse and ask for
self-carriage. At this stage of your horse's training, a light contact
means that there isn't a solid connection from his hind legs to your hands.
The contact should also be consistent. The reins shouldn't alternately
go slack and then tight. Your horse might not mind when the reins get
loopy, but you'll be jerking him in the mouth each time he hits your
Next, strive for an elastic contact by using your elbows to allow for
movement-- either your movement or your horse's movement. In the walk
and canter, your horse moves his head and neck forward and back. So an
elastic contact requires that your arms follow this movement by moving
forward and back as well. The motion is like rowing a boat.
In the rising trot, your horse's head and neck is steady, but you go up
and down. You need to allow for this motion by opening your elbows as
you rise. Think of pushing your hands down as you rise (rather than
forward as in the walk and canter) and bending them again as you sit.
The motion is like a hinge on a door opening and closing.
Run over this list while you're still on a straight line, and then
strive to maintain all of these qualities during the leg yield.
Challenge yourself gradually and systematically by starting with a small
leg yield. For example, turn down a line that is only one meter away
from the long side of your arena. Before you start moving sideways, run
through your "contact check list". Then keep the contact exactly the
same as you move towards the track. When you can do this easily,
progressively increase the distance away from the track.
Ask someone to watch your hands during the leg yields. If you don't have
a ground person, peek at your hands. Of course, ideally you should have
your eyes up, but if you work alone, you might have to look at your
hands for a while to get feedback. Once you can see what you're doing
and can feel how to make a correction, you'll have more "educated hands"
and can look up again.
For more information on leg yielding, check out Train with Jane Volumes
1 and 2, Cross-Train Your Horse, and A Happy Horse Home study course.
Article Courtesy of Jane Savoie www.janesavoie.com or contact Jane at firstname.lastname@example.org