Friday, December 6, 2013

The Dying Art of the Leg Yield

Nobody does leg yields much anymore. They're only called for in First Level now, and only at trot.  I've talked to people who believe leg yields shouldn't even be practiced once you're done with First Level, and others who didn't even know that leg yields were possible at canter.  To each their own, I suppose.  If you're getting things done without them, then I guess you don't really need them.

But, for myself, I had a bit of an epiphany about leg yields in my last lesson....

I use leg yields quite a bit, at trot and canter, because they're very good for getting Spider to be sensitive to my leg. I don't have a lot of strength in my legs, and I'm rather short, so I need my horse to be sharp off my aids. Leg yields are excellent for that. I especially like to ride up and down the driveway, leg yielding between the cherry trees.

Very fun.


 In one of my lessons a month or so ago, my trainer had suggested an exercise where you half pass, then leg yield in the same direction, then switch back to half pass, rinse, repeat, until you get to the end of the arena. So, if you were tracking left, it would be: half pass left, straighten, leg yield left, half pass left, repeat until you run out of space. Then you change direction and do it again tracking right.  (It took me two explanations and then my trainer drawing the exercise out in the sand before I understood what I was supposed to do, so I apologize if that description stinks.)

The idea behind this exercise is to get Spider's outside hind leg working.  He likes to let it wander out and do its own thing.  On a horse with a back as long as Spider's, this causes problems.  If that outside hind is not engaged and pulling it's weight, it feels like you're riding two guys in a horse suit.  

Not very fun.


The half pass-leg yield exercise is fun, though, and does help Spider engage.  We've been working on it in pretty much every ride.  Spider even adds his own little flair to the transitions, a sort of happy little "jump" as he goes from one to the other.  I like to imagine he's doing Jazz Hands as he transitions between the leg yields and half passes.  We mostly do it at trot, but have been practicing a bit at canter, too.

In my last lesson, the one where I had my epiphany, my trot work was quite nice, but the canter was falling apart a bit.  My outside aids just weren't sharp enough, and I was trying to ride two guys in a horse suit.

At one point my trainer yelled "Leg yield!".  I dutifully leg yielded, but it seemed like an odd request.... until he yelled, "No!  Leg yield from the outside aids!"

Aha!

Suddenly, it all came together.  The outside aids are a leg yield!  This is why we train leg yields, why every Classical text emphasizes leg yields and why the First Level horse is required to perform them.  Once I started thinking about my outside aids in the same way I think about leg yields, my canter improved.  Now, I wasn't actually doing a leg yield, but I was thinking leg yield and that made all the difference.

And that's how the sad little leg yield that nobody ever pays attention to saved the day.....






19 comments:

  1. I used the half-pass/leg yield in the same direction quite a bit when I had a horse that did a half pass lol. It's not only great to sharpen them up, but can also be super helpful when you are riding along through the movements thinking everything is fine, when in fact you don't have the right contact/pace/engagement. If you're doing something wrong it's really obvious in that movement...it can be UGLY!

    Glad you had an epiphany about the outside aids...I'd never really thought about it like that either, and I like it!

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    1. So true about it getting ugly if something goes wrong! It's like a litmus test for correct work.

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  2. I love leg yields! (Almost as much as I love shoulder-in)

    Leg yields taught my horse to stop rushing and gave him the balance and engagement to pick up the canters nicely. I have used half pass to let yield in the opposite direction, but your trainers idea is new to me. Maybe I can give it a try at the wall this weekend if Harley is up to it. He loves lateral work.

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    1. I've used the half pass/leg yield zigzags, too. It never occurred to me to do it in the same direction, which is why it had to be explained a couple times! Sometimes I'm a little slow....

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  3. I leg yield a lot at walk trot and canter! I like to do mini little zig zags - leg yield left 3 steps, go back to the right 3 steps, repeat - which really helps loosen the lower back (ahem my horse really is tight in that area) and gets them sharp to the aids too.

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    1. I love that exercise! It's so much fun. I like to do it on the trails, too. Makes things more interesting. One of these days we'll work up to half pass zigzags, which are even more fun!

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  4. I start most rides with a leg-yield, it gets their attention on you and off whatever else might be going on around you.

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    1. Leg yields are excellent for that, especially if you've got a fractious, hot horse. They're really an under-utilized exercise in dressage!

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  5. Leg yield left, half pass left, repeat until you run out of space. Then you change direction and do it again tracking right.

    Regards,
    Komatsu Parts

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    1. This is the saddest attempt at spamming I've ever seen. I'm embarrassed for you.

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  6. Hmm.... not that I don't have plenty else to work on, but I like the half-pass/ leg yield idea....

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  7. Lateral work is good for suppling as well. And, as you note, a great way to get a horse to respond more quickly to the aids. It's also a good way to get a balky horse moving.

    Leg yielding in and out on a twenty meter circle is another good exercise to increase suppleness and engagement.

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  8. I forgot to ask - could you give a more detailed description - for those of us who are not dressage experts - of how you transition from half pass to leg yield and back again - what you're doing.

    I use leg yield a lot, and my horses and I find it enjoyable.

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  9. I'll make a whole post for it, since it's quickly becoming one of my favorites! Thanks for asking!

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    1. Thanks! I'll look forward to it.

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    2. Oh, and one (sub-)question - I'm thinking it's more about changing what the hind legs are doing than simply changing the bend . . .

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  10. Just last night I leg yielded back and forth down the dirt road on the way back to the barn after a hack around the neighborhood. Granted, w're showing First Level in 2014 and need it for our tests, but even Christian Schacht, the clinician with whom I rode last weekend, had all of the riders doing some type of leg yield during their rides. Very interesting post!

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