Word of The Day

Pacer – A pacer is a horse than paces. Standardbreds, Icelandics and Camels are all natural pacers. Pace used to be the gait used on most horses for riding until the popularity of the Welsh Cob as a driving horse became high. Welshes could not pace but trot and as the popularity of driving increased, the use of pace decreased until there are now few natural pacers.

Hind Leg Activation

I`ve recently been introducing one of my pupils to the concept of dressage. She loves jumping, and whilst I always make her warm up correctly, her Dad wanted her to focus a bit more on the flat, and knowing how to work a horse correctly and how to improve their way of going. Intelligent riding in other words.

We`ve already covered establishing the rhythm and keeping the tempo when warming up, circles for suppleness, in our jumping lessons, so I began with leg yielding to give her an idea of moving sideways. Slowly she`s getting the idea, so I thought we`d have a change.

I started by reminding her that the hindquarters are the engine or the horse, and that riding school horses can become lazy and pull themselves along with their front end because they aren`t ridden correctly all the time.
We started with a few transitions, working on her subtleness, and getting her to feel the hindquarters and what the legs are doing. It also got her horse thinking a bit more about his hindquarters and stepping under in the upwards transition.
Next we moved into the trot, circles, slight leg yielding so that her horse went into the outside rein a bit more and stepped under with his inside hind. More transitions and he began to use his hindlegs a bit more. She was surprised when the speed dropped, but I explained how he was starting to use his engine properly and because it wasn`t as strong I`d like he couldn`t push himself forwards as much as we`d like. She agreed that the trot was very active and bouncy.

So I introduced cavaletti. Which we have done before, but I wanted to tie it in with improving the horses way of going. I always use the jump wings for cavaletti jumps. Those specific blocks you can buy never really lift the poles high enough to push the horses ability, and the riders can`t feel that much improvement. We built it up slowly, and by the end she had a lovely springy step over each pole, and the canter was very nice and correct after.

What I did think would have been beneficial to her, was watching a horse being lunged or free schooled over cavaletti. I`ve done it with my boy, lifting one side of the cavaletti up to about 2`3″. When he approaches the poles you see his head lower, his withers lift, and his shoulders and stifle flex as he rounds his back and prances over the poles. He loves them, and you can see so much movement as he does them. You can see the difference between him before and after. I think she would learn a lot getting a visual representation of what she is feeling. As well as the fact that a naked horse is much freer in their gait.

Here are some videos I`ve found:

Teaching Leg Yielding

Leg Yielding is probably the first lateral movement you will teach a client, so it`s really important that you, as an instructor, explain it succinctly and clearly. I`ve done it a few times recently, and each time I find I miss out, or don`t explain an element sufficiently, so I`ve done a bit of research to collect my thoughts.

I usually begin a couple of lessons before, introducing the idea that the horse moves away from the leg, not just forwards. So I often spend a few minutes spiralling in and out on circles. I don`t tell them about leg yielding, I just work on keeping a consistent contact, checking that they are not pulling their horse round, and that they can use their legs independently. I sometimes tell them, if I don`t think they are already aware, that the inside leg isn`t always the one furthest away from the arena fence. This is usually a mind boggler, especially when combined with the words “counter flexion”. Cue me attempting to bend my body in demonstration.

The next time I see the client, and am planning to introduce leg yield I start off with the circles, spiralling in and then out, and then explain what leg yield is. Put simply, it is when the horse is moving forwards and sideways at the same time, producing a diagonal movement. It is a suppling exercise, and teaches the horse to move away from the leg. Likewise it teaches the rider to use their legs independently. At this point I usually suggest they YouTube “leg yielding” to get a visual interpretation of what they are aiming for. Two good ones are below. If there is a suitable livery or client nearby then I ask for a demonstration.


It becomes a little bit more complicated when trying to explain to the client about how the horse`s body is positioned – i.e. bent slightly away from the direction of movement. Then I move on to explain the aids for leg yield, and help the client position their legs. A lot of people swing the outside leg back wildly and wonder why it`s ineffective. We then discuss how the horse`s legs move, almost crossing in front of the other leg.

I use the riding school horse`s natural inclination to drift to the track, by starting to leg yield from the three quarter line to the track. Initially I find that most clients almost just turn their horse towards the fenceline and walk on two tracks. This is when I remind them that the horse needs to stay parallel with the fenceline. When the horse turns it means there is a problem with their rein contact. Too much outside rein and the horse turns; not enough outside rein contact and the horse falls through the outside shoulder and curves their body. This is usually my sticking point because the client struggles with the rein contact. I can also see that it`s pretty difficult when learning something new because you don`t know what to feel, so you can`t tell if it`s right or wrong, and you aren`t necessarily pressing the right buttons. We usually have a few attempts, while I`m telling them which buttons to press and how to correct themselves. Sometimes the client can be seen sliding to the inside in an attempt to push more with their inside leg!
Another common mistake, is losing the forwards impulsion, the client curls themselves into a ball, applying tension on the rein, and losing their seat aid. This encourages the horse even more the fall through the shoulder and curl themselves excessively round the inside leg. If this happens I send them off into trot to get some impulsion back and to reassess their horse`s rhythm.

After a couple of lessons or attempts, I hope that my client will have a light bulb moment. Either they feel the sideways step, or the correct feel down the reins and pressure on the legs. Usually this means that their aids become a bit more subtle and the leg yield becomes smoother. Once this is established in walk we progress to trot, by which time the horse is usually predicting the exercise and rushing to the track, so I revert back to spiralling in and out on a circle. Except this time it is leg-yielding out. I then ask the client how their outside contact feels. Hopefully it is more secure!

Another exercise is leg yielding away from the track, but it is usually very difficult for the client to set up counter flexion, or at least keep the horse straight coming out of the corner, so I don`t tend to use this when learning leg yield.

We can also discuss how the horse`s trot feels before and after leg yielding. I taught with a lovely, but green, horse last week, and in the trot work we did micro-yielding. That is, moving him around using the leg a step at a time, coming out of the corner, and it just unlocked him! He started stretching and lifting his back. Last night`s client found her horse`s trot more active and he was more alert. Eventually, clients come to understand how being laterally flexible can improve their way of going in straight lines, and circles, and them onto jumping. Hopefully by this point I now have their full attention and we can move on to shoulder in and studying the horse`s straightness a but more, and utilise leg yield into their warm up and improving the horse`s way of going.untitled3

Further Reading:
http://www.dressage-academy.com/schooling-tips/leg-yield.php http://www.newrider.com/Library/Riding_Tips/leg_yield.html