Leg Yield: what is it and what are it's benefits?
Watch most any dressage show warm up arena and you will most likely see several horses leg yielding.
What is a leg yield? It is a movement that teaches the horse to move off of a rider's unilateral leg pressure forward AND sideways simultaneously. In a previous article, the turn on the forehand was highlighted. We learned that the turn on the forehand is the first exercise that we use to teach the horse to move sideways off of our leg pressure by rotating their hind legs around their forehand basically staying on the spot. The leg yield builds on that by adding a forward moving dimension in addition to the sideways element. In Dressage tests, it shows up in first level tests 2 and 3
In a well executed leg yield, the horse should move forward and sideways from one of the rider's legs in a fluid manner. They should cross both the hind legs and forelegs in the trot. We can leg yield in the canter too (called a plie), but in the canter their should be no crossing of the legs. The body of the horse should remain straight with a straight neck and only flexion in the poll in the direction of the driving leg. The contact should remain steady and the tempo neither decreasing or becoming more rapid. Since there is no bend, this is not a lateral bending movement, and therefore, its gymnastic attributes are limited.
The rider's aids for the execution of the leg yield are as follows:
The rider should sit very centered in the saddle with their hips and shoulders straight and equal weight in the seat bones since there is no bend. Whichever way the rider wants the horse to yield, they push with the leg on the opposite side. For example, if I wish to leg yield my horse to the right, I apply left leg pressure. The leg is not clamped on but rather applied in a rhythmical fashion as the hind leg on the side of the rider's driving leg is coming off of the ground. This timing is important as a rider can only displace a hind leg coming off of the ground. Attempting to displace a grounded leg is fruitless endeavor.
The inside rein creates flexion off the poll away from the direction of travel, but this comes with a warning. Too much inside rein disrupts the leg yield badly, so the inside should rein should be used sparingly.
The outside rein is elastic enough to allow for sideways movement, but it should be present enough to hold the shoulders in alignment with haunches. Oftentimes, the effectiveness of the outside rein determines the success of the leg yield.
Now that we know what a leg yield is and how we create it, why do we do it? There are multiple benefits from this movement. First off, as described earlier, it is the first movement that teaches the horse to move forward AND sideways from unilateral leg pressure. Even though it doesn't have bend, it is an important exercise to teach a horse to bend because it teaches the horse to yield the rib cage to leg pressure which is a prerequisite for proper bending. It is also a gateway to the two track lateral bending movements such as shoulder-in. For more advanced horses, it is a nice stretching movement before going to the more advanced two track bending work. Lastly, it can be used as a corrective measure when a horse leans into one of the rider's legs.
There are several variations of how a leg yield may be executed. One may ride it from the center of the arena to outside or from the outside of the arena towards the center. Also, it may be ridden on a circle or along the wall of the arena. To test the sophistication of the leg yield. A zig zag may be ridden, whereby the rider switches off leg yielding, right then left, then back to the right, etc....
What are some common problems to look for when leg yielding? One of the most common problems is crookedness. To avoid crossing the legs in the trot, often times horses will push their shoulders well ahead of their haunches if the rider isn't present enough with the outside rein. A less common crookedness issue is the horse pushing the haunches ahead of the shoulders. Other common problems include the stiffening of the top line, and either losing energy or running through the movement to avoid moving sideways.
In summary, the leg yield is a forward AND sideways movement that is valuable for young and green horses and more educated horses alike. Once your horse understands turn on the forehand, start teaching them leg yield and unlock the numerous benefits from this very important exercise!