Are you a fan of the humble leg-yield? I’ve used this problem-solving “super tool” all my riding life and was reminded of its versatility recently while interviewing clinician Warwick Schiller. We were working on a how-to piece for fixing the overbridled horse, in which his solution involves a nifty leg-yield exercise.
Warwick loves the leg-yield. To him, it’s a fantastic schooling maneuver because it requires a horse to “get organized,” as he puts it, meaning the horse carries himself better.
What exactly is a leg-yield? It’s a lateral movement where your horse travels forward and sideways at the same time. The forward aspect is what differentiates it from a sidepass, where your horse goes directly sideways—as in sidepassing over a log.
To do a proper leg-yield, your horse must shift his weight onto his hindquarters, raise his shoulders, and position his head correctly. These results are especially apparent in the leg-yield exercise that Warwick, a World Equestrian Games-level reiner, uses for the overbridled horse.
Al Dunning is another top horseman who puts a lot of stock in the leg-yield. The world champion trainer of standouts in reining, reined cow horse, and cutting makes good use of this and other dressage-related maneuvers to improve his horses. I especially love his leg-yield-to-lope-depart exercise.
How do you cue for a leg-yield? The aids aren’t complicated, but getting them to work as intended takes some practice.
To leg-yield to the left (meaning forward and leftward at the same time, as in the photo above):
• get your horse trotting forward with energy;
• use your right rein to tip his nose slightly to the right;
• “open the door” to leftward motion by taking your left leg away from your horse’s side; and
• initiate the leg-yield with pressure from your right leg just behind the girth.
The tricky thing about leg-yielding is keeping your horse’s body relatively straight, without letting his shoulders get ahead of his hips or vice versa. This takes feel and practice, so don’t give up. Having “eyes on the ground” from your trainer or a knowledgeable friend will help you progress more rapidly.
If your horse needs a refresher on how to respond to cues for lateral movement, you can tune him up from the ground to make your under-saddle efforts a bit easier.
BONUS! Once you and your horse understand the basics of leg-yielding, practice the maneuver by incorporating it into different arena exercises—it’s fun!
For example, use Exercise 3, the “Loopy B,” described in “Arena Exercises for Fun & Problem-Solving.”
At the point where the exercise calls for you to ride from the midline of the arena back toward the rail, leg-yield over instead of just angling over.
Keep practicing, and see what problems the humble leg-yield can solve for you!