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.