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Getting started with lateral exercises in dressage: Leg yielding

Often riders think that lateral movements are something ‘fancy’ reserved only for ‘proper’ or higher level dressage riders. However, the truth is that lateral exercises can benefit horses of any level as long as they are used wisely (more about this later). Once horses can comfortably carry a rider, maintain their balance and start developing pushing power, we can start including lateral exercises in their training.

What is lateral movement?

Basically these are any exercises during which we ask the horse to move sideways. They can be carried out in all three gaits and include:

  • leg-yielding
  • shoulder in
  • traver (haunches in)
  • renver
  • half-pass

When to start with lateral exercises?

In order to be able to go sideways the horse needs to be able to move forward with sufficient energy as they will naturally loose a bit of impulsion when moving sideways as it is much harder than going in a straight line. Due to the greater demands on the horse’s body, we should only include lateral exercises when the horses is sufficiently balanced and pushing forward and we should also use these exercises purposefully.

I am not dressage rider – How do I start?

The simplest lateral movement exercise is leg-yielding. The horses body is relatively straight and the horse is moving away from the pressure of our leg and also following your weight (see the points below). You should see the front and back legs crossing if you watch the horse from the ground. 

Rider learning how to ride a leg-yielding exercise: You can see her shifting her weight to the right and the horse is stepping sideways and showing some crossing over with his legs.

How to ride leg-yielding

Let’s break it down a little bit more (the following example is for riding on the right rein):

  1. Make sure the horse is forward and straight (I cannot stress this enough!)
  2. Choose a line which is away from the arena fence – for example a line few yards away from the fence of a 3/4 line. Ride straight (I will keep reminding you 😉 and then ask your horse for a small flexion to the right (which means a tinny bend so that you can see the corner of their right eye). The horse should not look like a banana so do not go crazy 🙂
  3. After a few steps move your weight towards the direction of where you want your horse to go (in this example towards the fence) so more weight on your left seat bone. But no tea-potting! You need to keep your shoulders above your hips! Try not to twist through your upper body.
  4. Use the pressure of your lower leg to ask the horse to move sideways away from the pressure – here towards the fence so moving to the left away from your right leg.
  5. Be careful that you do not become too rigid in the saddle and that you do not block with your hands – the horse is already finding this hard without you putting the hand break on 😉
  6. Start with just a couple of steps sideways and then ride positively forward in a straight line.

Final notes on leg-yielding

  • Make sure you ride on this exercise on both reins and notice if your horse finds one side easier than the other.
  • Once you get the hang of it and your horse gets stronger you can increase the number of steps or try riding leg yielding from different lines (for example centre line to 3/4 line or the other way round, track to the 3/4) or even while out hacking.
  • Later you can progress to riding leg yielding on a bend (think spiralling out from a smaller circle to the bigger circle).

For inspiration for more leg-yielding exercises see one of my other blog ‘Leg-yielding exercises for increased suppleness’.

Have you always wanted to give dressage a go but don’t know where to start? Or are you already competing in dressage but are looking for a dressage coach to help you improve? I would love to hear from you 🙂 I offer dressage training in Hertfordshire and Buckinghamshire for riders of all levels.

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