Leg-yield in Canter
Posted by Irina Yastrebova on Wednesday, February 1, 2012 10:37 AM
All horses are naturally crooked. They have a concave (hollow) and convex sides. The signs of concave side include:
mane usually falls on this side
bending is easy this direction
horse likes to carry his head toward the side
horse pushes haunches toward the side
On convex side:
the horse appears stiff during turns
likes to lean on the shoulder
ribcage is pushed this way

Lets pretend the horse is concave on the left and convex on the right. During canter on the left lead such horse will lean on the right rein, drop the ribcage down and to the right and push his haunches to the left. It may not feel as much but if allowed to go like that for years the horse will become very accustomed of this way of going. Some horses who never been corrected may drop their ribcage so much it is hard to sit on them during left canter. When asked to perform a circle to the left they start with their haunches pushed in. A rider who knows not to pull on the left rein to steer and use right rein to control the shoulders during turn still encounter problems with this horse because the ribcage is so out of balance. To fix this problem the rider must ride a leg-yield to the left. This will encourage the horse to move his ribcage over to the left through the nature of leg-yield and fill the void that rider feels under the left thigh/seatbone.
To ride a leg-yield to the left in left canter:
  • Pick up a left lead canter on 20 m circle to the left. It is a good idea to ride the circle at the end of the arena.
  • Canter energetically forward and while coming near short side of your ring ask your horse for a slight counterflexion. Help with your right seatbone and right leg.
  • Coming around the second corner aim to go straight and ask your horse to leg-yield from the wall toward the quarter line. You may want to have a whip in your right hand just in case. Horses who collapse that much are not willing to go sideways right away. If you are successful you will feel instant change in your horse's back. It will be level under your seat.
  • After a few strides start turning your horse on the circle line. Avoid grabbing and pulling on the left rein. Think about turning horse's shoulders with both reins, probably more contact on the right. Think micro canter pirouettes for each stride, shoulders turning just a bit more then haunches.
  • Avoid leaning toward the center of your circle, this will encourage your horse to drop his ribcage again.
  • If your first attempt at a leg-yield is unsuccessful do not give up. Horses like as humans need a few tries to make things happen. You are asking your horse for a very unusual movement he will not perform on his own. Be patient but persistent.
The funny thing is. When your horse gets it, it is like a light bulb went on in his head. He will perform that movement every single time and you can start riding your circle without letting him drop his ribcage out from under you. For horses that have this problem on the other lead just reverse everything above from left to right. As an overall principle - do not work on bending your horse too much in canter. Canter itself bends the horse, very often more than you need for your circle. Rather straighten your horse in canter. Balance and position of the shoulders are more important than position of the neck and head. When you teach your horse to canter straight the head position is easy to achieve. It will literally drop into place on it's own.
Happy riding...
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My blog is about teaching, riding and training. I share what is important to me in my work with horses and riders. The writing helps me to think things over and have a better understanding of training ideas and priciples.
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