If you have been working on the previous steps, you should now be quite comfortable with starting, stopping, and moving your horse sideways and backwards, which means you’ve achieved a fair level of control. Most of these early steps involve little movement, but now it’s time to start testing your abilities on the move.
Whilst ‘leg’ yield isn’t quite the right term, as there is no leg aid involved in ground work, the movement we are asking the horse to perform is identical, so I shall continue to use the descriptor.
Reasons to teach Leg Yield
- provided you achieve correct crossing of the legs, this is a great way to supple and mobilise your horse’s lower back
- done slowly and correctly, crossing also achieves engagement of the core muscles, helping to develop strength
- it will help you to gain greater control of both ends of your horse at the same time
- also prepares your horse to learn this movement under saddle
What do you want to see in a good leg yield?
- You want your horse to step forward and sideways at the same time
- His shoulder should always be slightly in the lead
- The legs should pass and cross over at every step, with the inside hind moving in front of the outside hind
- The entire thing should be steady and controlled
- Unlike the ridden competition version, if there is some neck bend, don’t worry, this is a suppling exercise and provided the legs are crossing, the job is being done!
- Finish with a clear halt and praise.
Leg Yield in hand
- It is often easiest to start out of step 2, turn around the forehand. This way, he is already understanding to continually cross his legs
- perform a half turn around, keeping it quite forward, and then when you are parallel with a fence, start inviting him with your body language to step forward as well as asking him to move sideways towards the fence
- stand upright with an open chest, and while facing the tail walk backward
- you can use your rein hand to push his shoulders a little towards the fence, or slow his shoulders down if he falls outward
- with your whip, ask his inside hind to cross over by tapping or pressing the whip against the leg either just before, or as it starts to lift into the air
- you will need to practice this timing – like everything else, it gets easier with repetition
- Always remember to stay out of reach of the hind legs – a horse can cow kick with force! Using a proper ground work whip is going to make your life easier and safer from here on in.
Progressive learning steps
This first video shows one of Maggie’s first attempts at leg yield
Taking the learning process slowly like this allows both horse and handler to think about what they are doing, and not panic. Once again I want to emphasise: the goal here is a harmonious understanding with both parties working together – rushed and anxious, bullying and fear, will never achieve this, so stay calm, quiet, and if in doubt, stop and regroup.
Video 2 shows Maggie and Beam starting to get to grips with achieving leg crossing, although you will see Maggie still needing to lean forward to touch the leg. Her timing is improving, but she is still using her schooling whip at this point.
The next step was for her to try using the long whip, which takes a bit of getting used to!
And finally it all started to come together.
You will see in this last video the almost excessive neck bend I mentioned that might occur. You should also see that it was not detrimental to the smooth suppleness of the exercise, and the understanding these two developed over the course of this session.
To give you some perspective, all four videos come from the same training session, which was about half an hour long, and involved Maggie learning something she had never before attempted.
As ever, if you have any specific questions, please leave them in the comments below or contact me via the Contact me page.