In one of our Facebook groups somebody recently asked a question about the most common mistakes that riders make in the leg yield. Many riders struggle with the leg yield, especially in the trot. So I decided to discuss the subject in a blog post in the hopes that it will be of interest to others as well. You can apply this discussion also to the “real” lateral movements. Most of the points I address are universal and tend to occur in all lateral movements.
5 Main Mistakes
There are 5 mistakes that happen very frequently and that make it almost impossible for the horse to perform the leg yield correctly.
1. Overbending with the inside rein
This is probably the most common mistake of all. Many riders tend to exaggerate the bend in general and overuse the inside rein. The bend should feel and look like a continuous shallow curve that runs through the horse’s body. There should be no kink at the base of the neck. Overbending blocks the inside hind leg and almost forces the horse to drift with his outside shoulder. This way, the outside shoulder is faster in moving sideways than the inside hind leg, so the inside hind leg never manages to catch up and cross.
2. Outside rein too long
This mistake goes hand in hand with the first one. When the inside rein is too short, the outside rein is usually kept too long. This contributes to the kink at the base of the neck and the drifting of the outside shoulder. The job of the outside rein in the leg yield is to frame the outside shoulder, to connect the base of the neck to the shoulder, and to help to connect the outside hind leg to the weight and the ground.
3. Leaning/contorting torso
A mistake that many riders make in all lateral movements without realizing it is to lean sideways or to contort their torsos in some way. This is usually triggered by the horse not moving sideways, so the rider intuitively uses her upper body as a lever to push the horse sideways. Unfortunately, this does not address the underlying reason why the horse isn’t moving sideways, but disturbs the horse’s lateral balance. So, rather than solving one problem, it creates a new one. It is better to stay relatively straight and vertical with our torso, and to shift the weight by applying a little more weight to the seat bone that is pointing in the direction of travel. You can also let your pelvis swing more in the direction of travel together with the horse’s ribcage.
4. Not enough pelvic rotation
This is very common because changes to the pelvic position are not usually taught in traditional riding lessons. Or the rider is rotating her pelvis, but the amount of the rotation is insufficient. The pelvic position and the weight aids together form the center piece of all the lateral movements and turns. They give the horse the big picture of what the rider wants to do. Leg and rein aids are only the small print that fills in the details. If the rider doesn’t give clear instruction via her pelvic position and weight placement, the horse will not understand the leg and rein aids. That’s where a lot of resistances against the leg and rein aids come from.
5. Gripping with inside leg
Gripping legs in lateral movements are often the result of incorrect weight aids. If the weight aid tells the horse to go to the left, and the leg aid tells the horse to go to the right, there is a conflict and the horse has to decide which aid he tries to listen to. Weight aids are more primary than leg aids, their effects are more immediate, and horses understand them intuitively. Leg aids, on the other hand, have to be explained to the horse first, and when there is a conflict between the more intuitive aid and the less intuitive aid, the horse will tend to tune in to the intuitive aid and ignore the less intuitive one. That’s why horses will often go with the weight, but against the leg, which then makes most riders grip or kick with their legs, instead of resolving the contradiction by changing their weight aid. Sometimes gripping legs are a result of poor timing of the aids. When the leg aid is applied at a time when the hind leg is not available (e.g. because it is supporting the body mass and is unable to lift off at that moment), the horse will tend to ignore the leg aid, which then leads many riders to grip or kick. Insufficient core muscle engagement and therefore instability of the seat and lack of balance can also be a cause of gripping. In this case it’s a survival mechanism to avoid falling off.
Tips For Riding Leg Yields
All lateral movements require a certain lateral and vertical flexibility of the horse’s haunches. If this mobility is lacking, any sidestepping exercise will be difficult. An important part of the problem is that the hind legs don’t flex enough under the weight. They touch down and push right away, which makes the crossing almost impossible. In the leg yield the inside hind leg is supposed to cross in front of the outside one. This is only possible if the outside hind leg flexes its upper joints and supports the weight long enough for the inside hind leg to cross. If the outside hind leg touches down, skips the weight bearing and flexion phase, and starts pushing right away, it sends the body of the horse straight forward without allowing the inside hind leg the necessary time to cross.
You can create this window of time that is needed for the inside hind leg to cross by half halting (outside stirrup + outside rein) into the outside hind leg to slow down the tempo. The half halt allows you to hold the outside hind leg on the ground longer, and to flex its joints under the weight, which then creates an opportunity for the inside hind leg to cross. In severe cases, you may even have to stop into the outside hind leg a couple of times. Then you can create the leg yield position by asking for a couple of steps of turn on the forehand. As soon as you have the intended angle between the horse’s body and the line of travel, you can walk on while trying to maintain the same angle.
After slowing down the outside hind leg, bring your outside hip forward and your inside hip back. This rotation of your pelvis should create a rotation of the horse’s pelvis.
Shift your weight in the direction of travel so that you can take the horse sideways with your weight, instead of pushing him away from your weight.
In addition, you can apply a driving leg aid with your inside leg to support the rotation of your pelvis and your weight aid. You may have to take your outside leg off at first to create a clear gap for the horse to move into. If you apply pressure with both legs, the horse will be confused.
Everything I described for the leg yield applies to the regular lateral movements as well. The rotation of the rider’s pelvis and the weight shift in the direction of travel form the center piece of the aids. They convey the “big picture” to the horse. Leg and rein aids can then regulate the details.
It is important that the rider’s torso remains vertical when looking from behind. Leaning sideways can easily upset the lateral balance.
The reins need to frame and guide the horse’s shoulders without overbending the neck.
The leg aids support the seat and weight aids. In leg yielding and in shoulder-in the inside leg supports the sideways movement, while the outside leg supports the forward movement. In haunches-in related lateral movements it is the opposite.