Difficulties with Leg Yielding

I’m having difficulty in my leg yield execution.  My horse is rushing over and runs through my outside rein.  My trainer is telling me to open the outside rein away from his neck and with half halts, let him lead slightly with his shoulders and KICK him over. This makes him rush.  I half halt outside but he braces.  I thought the recipe for LY was head slightly turned away from the direction of travel but body essentially staying in line.  It didn’t go well and my horse was not happy. I was confused. 

 BILL–This whole scenario creates a great opportunity be confused. Under certain circumstances I’d say her advice is exactly correct but not this time. One place where you may be in trouble is referring to “the recipe.” As I’ve often said, recipes are good starting points, but they don’t take into account how an individual horse is reacting in the moment.

The first thing to do is be sure you know what the finished product is supposed to look like and, yes, what the generic aids are. You can find them in books like the German Principles of Riding or on my website under Media Productions. There you will find an article with diagrams which I wrote for the USDF Instructors Manual detailing everything you need to know about the exercise.

Then you need to remember conceptually what the movement is trying to accomplish and think of the priorities you must establish and accomplish for it all to fit together. In the beginning simply being able to displace the horse’s center of gravity is your goal. You have to be sure he’s not coasting over or drifting over. He must have an honest respect for the leg and react instantaneously to it. Sometimes in order to make this happen we would use exactly the aids your instructor is describing. The outside rein shows the horse the way even if he pops his shoulder a little bit. The inside leg (I would say at the girth) BOOM makes him jump to the side unequivocally. Where you put your legs in the exercise is covered in a separate article on that same website page.

Once he’s willing to move over, there are other important ideas he must absorb. One is that he cannot hang on you. If there’s no timing to your aids, you end up pushing and pulling at the same time. That will guarantee he braces on you. He also must understand that when you use your aids to yield him, they don’t mean he should go faster. The more you can help him carry himself in basic forward going walk or trot, the more you are able to keep that feeling while he is yielding.

When he wants to go against you, obviously your half halts are not working. A half halt that doesn’t go through is no half halt at all! Things to do about it: Try leg yielding nose to the wall on about a 40° angle. Do it against something solid, not a little flimsy chain but a pasture fence or the solid wall of an indoor arena. Anytime he gets against you, make a meaningful down transition maintaining the angle. It can be trot to walk or walk to halt or trot directly to halt. The main thing is to get the proper reaction–that he unloads off your hand. Then make an upward transition directly back into the yielding and repeat it as often or whenever he forgets his manners.

You can also use a few steps of counter flexing as you yield so he doesn’t fall over his outside shoulder. Yes, in the test his body should stay straight from his tail through his withers all the way to the poll where he is positioned slightly away from the direction of movement. But in the schooling to test if he is in an upright and neutral balance, you should be able to flex him either way – in an upper level horse through his whole length, in a lower level horse at least at the poll.

Unless you are back in the very first stage of yielding where any sideways movement is to be rewarded, maintaining his acceptance and balance our major goals. If you begin to lose those things, don’t just keep going. Remember the “staircase exercise” where you interrupt the yielding steps by intermittently riding straight forward to repair those qualities and then resuming the movement.

Remember that in yielding you put your weight slightly to the direction you wish to go and your hips in the horse’s rhythm move diagonally, not just straight ahead. Also, when it’s happening correctly, you don’t keep pushing. The movement should be self-sustaining, and you just remind him for a moment if he falters. Somewhat ironically, on a well trained horse, the best leg yielding happens when you don’t use your leg! As Mr. Pavlov would remind you, that’s the whole point of second order conditioning.

One last thought about your horse’s tendency to rush sideways – don’t forget your outside, receiving leg that redirects is energy forward into that momentarily non-allowing outside hand! Unless your instructor is seeing something going on that you aren’t describing, those are ways I would have you deal with the problem.