Leg-yield in canter
Posted by Irina Yastrebova on Saturday, April 3, 2021 07:49 PM
When I introduce these exercises to my students they are usually not familiar with them at all even though they already have been riding leg-yields in walk and trot before starting lessons with me. However, leg-yield away from the lead or into a lead are two very interesting and effective exercises that can improve balance, suppleness, contact, straightness and engagement of the canter. Leg-yield into the lead is a great precursor to canter zigzag. The fun part about these exercises they can be started fairly early in horse's education and gradually developed into more sophisticated versions improving horse's canter along the way.
Leg-yield away from the lead
The purpose of this exercise is to encourage a horse to step under himself with inside hind, learn to rebalance to more uphill frame and slow down it's tempo. This exercise feels different then normal leg-yield. A horse does not cross legs, it jumps sideways. It must be done carefully with a lot of attention to horse's "ideas" on how to do it. :) Many horses find it difficult due to their stiffness in the body and/or novelty of the exercises. Some may trot feeling the aids, some try changing the lead. However, the most common mistake is actually going sideways too much and falling into outside shoulder instead of engaging inside hind.
Aids are slightly different from normal leg-yield because a rider must not bring inside leg behind the girth and must continue to seat for the lead keeping seat and legs in exact position as before. To begin - inside leg, outside rein and outside seatbone ask almost at the same time. Inside leg gives a nudge a moment earlier when the horse is pushing off the ground with hind legs, next moment outside rein firms up and creates a notion of "leading" a horse to the outside, outside seatbones weighs a smidge more upon landing stretching the weight into outside heel, Other aids play supportive role in helping to control straightness, like inside rein helps balance the neck keeping inside flexion and not letting a horse "follow" outside rein with its nose. This creates a framing effect and helps a rider to control the shoulders. Inside seatbone still deep, forward and well connected to the canter lead. Outside leg, slightly weighed down, quietly stays behind the girth being on guard to enforce canter lead and helps control haunches if they decide to fall out. Torso tall, shoulders square, staying supple and rhythmical.
Common rider's mistakes:
  • Pulling inside rein and overbending the neck
  • Pulling outside rein across the neck and losing control of outside shoulder
  • Leaning out disconnecting inside seatbone
  • Leaning in, overbending the horse, losing balance, disconnecting outside seatbone
  • Stiffening up trying to push the horse sideways
  • Squeezing with inside leg
Leg-yield into the lead
The main purpose of this exercise is suppleness, developing more agility and coordination in the horse, ability to move sideways effortlessly with good balance. This exercise somewhat easier for the horse then the first one, as moving sideways into the lead feels simpler. However, it is also very easy for him to lean on inside shoulder and ribcage and simply fall over putting legs under as he falls, no effort required, hind legs end up left behind somewhat, front is leading excessively with heavy feeling in the reins. This leg-yield can be way more sideways still jumping over not crossing.
Aids are more similar to normal leg-yield. Outside leg is already behind the girth for canter. You ask for a flexion away from the direction of travel and this is were things can become interesting. Not all horses find it easy to give to such flexion in canter. Some can be so set in their ways that they try to change their lead instead of giving to the flexion. The better strategy is to work on counter flexion by itself without asking for a leg-yield. And when it is established and a horse is willing and supple in the flexion ask for a leg-yield. The rein that is leading a leg-yield is inside rein for the canter but it acts as outside rein in the leg-yield. It has the same role as in previous exercise. The canter inside leg stays at the girth and encourages the horse to stand up, jump under and forward enough so balance is not lost. The seat stays centered with canter inside hip/seatbone slightly ahead and connected to the canter and slightly loaded to encourage sideways displacement. Canter outside seatbone should land with horse's outside leg thus offering a horse moment of stability and control over sideways motion. Common rider's mistakes:
  • Leaning into the direction of travel, especially if the horse resisting the aids, disconnecting outside seatbone
  • Pulling rein/s across the neck
  • Pushing sideways with the seat
  • Letting the horse speed up
  • Collapsing/twisting upper body
Quality of canter - rhythm, balance, good jump through, straightness, feel of unity and connection must not be lost in attempt to leg-yield. If that starts to happen cancel the leg-yield and go forward and straight restoring the canter. Then try again. With younger/greener horse this canceling may happen once on a long side. With more trained horse you can do a few of this transitions between a leg-yield and straight line to improve horse's focus, obedience and agility along with balance and canter quality.
- Combine both leg-yields with a moment of a few straight strides, until only one straight stride is needed
- Either leg-yield can be ridden along a wall. Be ware that along a wall the leg-yield away from the lead must be done in counter-canter. The horse must be balanced and obedient, otherwise, it will change the lead. - For a horse, who knows flying changes - leg-yield into a lead, straighten, ask for a flying change and then either go straight, leg yield away or into a lead depending on horse's issues or training plan.
- Combine a leg-yield with a circle, transition to walk, transition to half-pass, shoulder-in, etc., possibilities are endless...
Happy riding...
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