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4 Tips to Improve Leg Yields

People often tell me that their horses leg yield works very well as far as

going sideways is concerned, but they tend to toss their heads and show

resistance to the reins. In desperation, some riders even use a tie down

to put pressure on the nose to discourage their horses from yanking at

the reins.

If your horse finds it fairly easy to cross his legs and move sideways

with his body, yet he's tossing his head during leg yields, it's

possible that he's objecting to your contact with his mouth. Any effort

to steady his head such as by tying it down or using draw reins is

simply treating the symptom rather than the cause.

1. The first thing that occurs to me is that you might be

"rein-yielding" rather than leg yielding. Often when riders begin to

teach their horses to leg yield, they try to move them sideways by

pulling them over with the reins. As a result, their horses feel

restricted and unhappy.

Your reins actually do very little during a leg yield. It's not their

job to help your horse go sideways. When leg-yielding to the right, for

example, turn your left wrist as if unlocking a door to ask your horse

flex at the poll to the left. While flexing with your left wrist, keep

your right rein steady and supporting like a side rein to prevent your

horse from bending his neck too much to the left.

2. Your legs ask your horse to move over. In the above example, your

left leg moves slightly behind the girth to ask your horse to go

sideways while your right leg stays on the girth to insure that he goes

forward as well.

3. Keep your weight balanced over the center of your horse. It's easy to

get "left behind" and lean to the left. This happens partly because the

horse is moving to the right and partly because some riders push too

hard with their left leg. If your leg says, "move over" but your weight

says, "I'm going to make it difficult for you to do so", you'll probably

resort to using your reins for leverage. To counteract this tendency to

lean, pretend you're going to dismount. That is, if you're leg yielding

to the right, step down into the right iron and pretend you're going to

dismount off the right side of your horse.

4. Now let's look at the quality of your contact. Here are the

ingredients that contribute to an inviting and sympathetic contact.

First, maintain a straight line from the bit to your hand to your elbow.

Keep your thumb the highest point of your hand. Make sure one hand is

the mirror image of the other so that you offer an even contact on both

sides of the bit.

Next, establish a firm connection with your horse's mouth. "Lightness"

becomes a goal only after you begin to collect your horse and ask for

self-carriage. At this stage of your horse's training, a light contact

means that there isn't a solid connection from his hind legs to your hands.

The contact should also be consistent. The reins shouldn't alternately

go slack and then tight. Your horse might not mind when the reins get

loopy, but you'll be jerking him in the mouth each time he hits your

hands again.

Next, strive for an elastic contact by using your elbows to allow for

movement-- either your movement or your horse's movement. In the walk

and canter, your horse moves his head and neck forward and back. So an

elastic contact requires that your arms follow this movement by moving

forward and back as well. The motion is like rowing a boat.

In the rising trot, your horse's head and neck is steady, but you go up

and down. You need to allow for this motion by opening your elbows as

you rise. Think of pushing your hands down as you rise (rather than

forward as in the walk and canter) and bending them again as you sit.

The motion is like a hinge on a door opening and closing.

Run over this list while you're still on a straight line, and then

strive to maintain all of these qualities during the leg yield.

Challenge yourself gradually and systematically by starting with a small

leg yield. For example, turn down a line that is only one meter away

from the long side of your arena. Before you start moving sideways, run

through your "contact check list". Then keep the contact exactly the

same as you move towards the track. When you can do this easily,

progressively increase the distance away from the track.

Ask someone to watch your hands during the leg yields. If you don't have

a ground person, peek at your hands. Of course, ideally you should have

your eyes up, but if you work alone, you might have to look at your

hands for a while to get feedback. Once you can see what you're doing

and can feel how to make a correction, you'll have more "educated hands"

and can look up again.

For more information on leg yielding, check out Train with Jane Volumes

1 and 2, Cross-Train Your Horse, and A Happy Horse Home study course at



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