The Thorny Problem that is Leg Yield

Seems whenever I explain to anyone that I do not do leg yield, I get furrowed brows and protestations and have to go into my full spiel about why not.  Well mostly, sometimes it’s all I can do to muster up … “I just don’t find it helpful”.

leg YieldClearly the reason why you should hassle yourself and your horse with the exercise is because you need to for the Elementary Test and as such it seems impossible to grasp how the ‘all knowing dressage superpowers’ can possibly include an exercise in the progressive test process that will do anything other than aid your progression!  And, yes, I know, I understand why you would think this; I am not telling you what to do; I am advising that in my current enlightened state, having followed many methods for many years which ended in me becoming a frustrated dribbling wreck, with all of my horses potentially for sale and the very real prospect of taking up cross-stitch as my primary hobby, I have found that I agree with the classical purists who sit firmly on the side of the fence that says leg yield has no benefits to the scale of training and may even hinder progress.  Cross StitchFor me, it simply does not help.

Often quoted as being a pre-cursor to more advanced lateral work, leg yielding is controversial because its biomechanics are often not understood.  Clearly, there is a benefit to teaching your horse to move forwards and sideways, however, in leg yield the hind quarters do not take more weight and your horse will struggle to remain light in the forehand, often the very act of leg yielding will put the horse onto the forehand.  In leg yield your horse will be bent in the opposite direction to how he bends in the more advanced lateral movements so for me it is counter-productive to spend time on the exercise, much better to skip leg yield and move straight onto two-track exercises to develop suppleness than to incorporate an exercise that actually (in my view!) produces stiffness in the horse.

I have seen over-use of the leg-yield which has had a negative effect on the horse’s training, causing him to lose the all-important forwardness, and instil short, broken paces.  But, having said all of that, if you cannot move your horse sideways at will, you have no hope of ever getting him straight. Mmmm … what to do?

If you are experiencing any difficulties with over bend through the neck (laterally); the horse blocking the flow of movement; if your horse tends to go onto the forehand or if you are struggling to co-ordinate your aids, use leg-yield sparingly.  Yes, train your horse to ‘yield to the leg’, but maybe think more about the fact that your horse should move willingly off your leg, using shoulder-fore, shoulder-in and travers.  At the end of the day it is ‘each to their own’ – I’m getting on better without leg-yield, so I guess I don’t need it – you may!

Patricia – The Dressage Tipster


10 Responses

  1. Interesting point of view! I too am finding trying to teach leg yield rather counter productive too, but with ambitions to move up to elementary level there’s no alternative.. Nice to know others feel the same!! 🙂

    1. Niamh, perhaps a little ambitious, I don’t know, but I usually skip elementary and go straight to the lower level medium tests. Like one of my followers on facebook said, she doesn’t put too much effort into leg yield and does a sort of ‘crappy’ half pass instead foregoing the points on the leg yield and recovering in other areas of her test. Another interesting viewpoint.

  2. This is really interesting, as I struggle not with the more “advanced movements” but leg-yield. I loose the forward motion that other people seem to get successfully. I think I am incorrectly asking, but I know it is meant to be in your foundation toolbox. If you can shed any light on this that would help me massively as I get really dis-hearted with this movement.

    1. Emily, follow your instincts, leg yield is not working for you, bin it. You are not struggling with shoulder-in and travers, you may even be ready for half-pass, but do not beat yourself up about not being able to do leg-yield. It’s alien and as long as you have control of your horse’s quarters and can move him sideways it has served it’s purpose.

  3. Yes, it is hard,,I was just trying all different seat positions & weight distributions today in the leg yield, we got one to the left that felt really good for about 10metre’s,, felt like she was really reaching & sort of uphill,,, though to the right is complete fail, fail of the year , she really just won’t reach & gets cranky, I get out of balance & twisted up, like you say Patricia moving the rear quarters around nice & lightly the horse seems to like & soften up so well & pop up into canters & nicely down to the trot again,,you both get lighter & more confident, then we try the leg yield again & its choppy, block cranky time lol,,, cheers.

  4. I totally agree with your article. When I asked my classical dressage instructor to help me with leg yielding, she asked why do I want to leg yield as it serves no purpose and leads to confusion when doing half pass. She instead recommended and taught me quarters out. As soon as she explained this, I could see the reason not to worry about leg yielding. I am happier and so is the horse.

  5. Interesting! Never thought of that – I prefer shoulder in anyway – here in Austria, there is no leg yield in any test so no need to practice it. I use stepping over (sort of) from the ground an in walk for the warm up phase though!

  6. WeInteresting perspective and makes great sense! I always tell my students, leg yield is NOT a lateral exercise. To be lateral, there MUST be bend. In the leg yield, there is no bend in the horse’s body at all, the body remains parallel to the long side. I ask for no bend in the neck at all….just flexion at the poll. I think of it as a suppling exercise, a stretch over the back, similar to the stretch you would feel if you wrapped your arms around your body tightly, you feel the stretch in your back. Forward is very important! If our horse loses the rhythm at any point, then we give up on the sideways motion and just ride forward, forward, forward! Once we re-establish the rhythm, then we can ask for the horse to move off the leg again. We ride off the quarter line. The rider first comes straight, then weights the outside seat bone (the right seat bone, if we are leg yielding right to the wall) and turns the head to look at the point on the wall that they want to finish on (the letter), the left leg comes behind the girth to ask for the sideways movement, in a rhythmical squeezing motion in conjunction with the squeezing of the outside (right, in this case) rein…..small half halts if you will…this is very important, as it stops the outside shoulder from taking off, which basically creates disaster! 😉 This works very well for us and I have my fourteen-year-old students (with about 8 years of lessons under their belts) gliding happily forward and laterally over to the wall. But I must say, I am really liking your idea and seeing how the leg yield could indeed cause confusion and that focusing more on shoulder fore/shoulder in/renvers/travers would indeed be the better way to go.

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