Updated: Apr 30
I realised that we havent actually done a troubleshooting tip in a long time!
For those of you that are newer to the training articles, the troubleshooting tips are all about taking a look at a movement and looking at all the possible issues that you might have, why you're struggling with the problems and what to do to fix them and get your leg yields on point.
What is a leg yield?
So to start with it's probably best we go through a bit of background around the leg yields.
Leg yields are a lateral movement meaning it's a movement where we go forward and sideways at the same time. The horses body should be fairly straight with just a little flexion away from the direction they're travelling in and we want those shoulders to be leading and touching the track first. Leg yields though are a great gymnastic exercise that is great at loosening the horses body and helping with suppleness and relaxation and elasticity and all in all it's a really useful movement. It tends to be the first one I teach both horses and riders because it happens quite naturally and easily, doesnt require huge adjustments or changes and is pretty easy for the horse and rider to learn and pick up.
Problem 1: not going sideways / crossing
This is normally the first problem riders encounter when they start teaching with the leg yields and it can be because the horse just genuinely doesnt understand what the riders asking. The other reason this can happen is because the rider is blocking the horse from going sideways by holding on with their outside rein and leg.
You want to think of your horse a bit like a corridor with those sliding French doors on each side. When we ask for a leg yield do the left we need to open up those left hand doors by softening with our left hand and left leg. This gives the horse an open door to go through and then it is our inside leg which pushes the horse through that open door.
If you hold on with your left rein and left leg you will effectively be closing and locking that door and putting a no entry sign on it. And no matter how much you push with that right leg, your horse is never going to be able to get through that locked door so the pressure just builds. Equally though, with some horses you can be very soft with your outside hand and leg and open that door up but a lot of horses especially at the beginning where they are a bit less supple, may need more encouragement with that inside leg to actually go through that open door.
So if this is something you struggle with try softening up on your outside aids and adding a little more inside leg. Another tip someone gave me once was to actually shift your weight to the outside and push a little down into the outside stirrup to encourage your horse to step sideways. Im not sure how i feel about this because, to be fair, it does work, but at some point you will have to shift your weight back to the inside seat bone as that is the correct way because it encourages that inside hindleg to cross over rather than shifting the weight to that outside front leg.
Problem 2: falling out through the shoulder
This problem is probably the most common one that i come across and it usually coincides with the horse over bending through their neck. It tends to be that the rider will pick up on the fall through the shoulder more obviously that the over bending when really it is the over bending that is causing the problem. If we think back to our corridor with the sliding french doors idea, your horse is basically running headlong through that wide open door and what we need to do is close it slightly and encourage them to take their time a bit more with it. To do this, we end up essentially closing the door a little bit, no one runs through a half closed door, and you will feel it helps your horse to hesitate a bit and think through taking each step sideways in less running throwing everything out the side door way.
To do this, you need to focus on keeping your horses neck and nose far straighter, aim to have that nose in the middle of your horses chest, to do this youre going to need to take a little more outside rein to straighten that neck out and this is what ultimately closes the door a little bit. And its a bit of a weighing scales with this one, if you take too much outside rein and close that door entirely your horse will stop leg yielding but let go with that outside rein too much and your horse will go back to running through that door and falling out again so its all a middle ground.
Another really good tip is to imagine in your leg yield that your horse should have 50% of its weight on its left side and left legs and 50% of its weight on its right side and right legs. This will help you to keep your horse straighter and in turn stop them throwing all their weight onto that outside shoulder. Be careful as well that you are not leaning yourself, keep your weight on your inside seat bone and stay nice and tall through your upper body. Be careful too that you arent over doing it with that inside leg, lighten up a bit and it might stop your horse feeling pushed out the door.
The final thing i wanted to talk about with this is that sometimes horses start to anticipate a leg yield and will come down the centre line or 3/4 line and just go straight into it without you actually asking. A really good exercise to do for this is to ride down your 3/4 line nice and straight for a few times first, then ask for a few steps of leg yield and then go straight again and then eventually you can build up until you come down your 3/4 line and go for a few steps sideways, few steps straight, few steps sideways, few steps straight. It will help your horse to stay on their toes and guessing as well as staying more balanced in the leg yields.
Problem 3: slowing down
Tempo variations are quite common especially when horses are a little green with the leg yields and may be finding it a bit hard. Be careful you are not asking for too steep an angle, start on your 3/4 line and aim to just get to your track by the end of the arena.
A leg yield is all about being able to go sideways and forward so you dont want to feel like you lose the forward by going sideways. A really good image that helped me is to imagine a ditch or a line or a track (whatever you prefer) taking you from the 3/4 line or centre line to the end of your school or wherever you want to end up. Your job is to get your horses front legs into that ditch and then ride along that ditch in your leg yield. Keep your eyes on where you want to end up and focus on maintaining the same positive trot you started with.
Another good exercise is to repeat that same few steps sideways few steps straight exercise i spoke about before but each time you go straight just push your horse a bit more forward and refresh the trot a bit before focussing on seeing if you can maintain it for a few steps of leg yield and then repeat that.
Problem 4: speeding up
Then you get the opposite problem where some horses speed up in the leg yield. This can be because the horse is confused. When we start a horse off we teach them that the leg means go forward and then suddenly we start to say that our leg means go sideways. Now obviously we know what were trying to get but sometimes our horse doesnt. Its important to be really clear with your aids when youre having this problem and make sure that your inside leg is back behind the girth with your outside leg off so your horse understands the difference between this being your leg yield aid and your usual go forward aid which should be both legs on the girth.
Try riding your leg yields in walk first because it'll help you to solidify those aids and then when you do go trot, start it on a circle first. The circle naturally helps to slow your horse down a bit so you can bring the circle into 10-12m and then leg yield back out again
Usually i see a horse speeding up in the leg yield is also a horse that tends to fall through the shoulder and become unbalanced. Make sure your horse isnt over bending or falling out. And again we can come back to that exercise of few steps leg yield, few steps straight and this time you can ride a half halt or downwards transition or just steady the trot up on each straight line before you ask for the leg yield again.
Problem 5: stiffening, tightening or tensing in the leg yield
A leg yield is a lateral movement that is meant to supple your horse so your horse should feel more supple, softer, more squishy almost at the end of it. If they dont, it may be that your horse is stiffening or tightening in the leg yield. Again, like with a horse slowing down it may be because the line is too hard and you are riding a leg yield with too much angle. Try riding a really shallow line from the 3/4 line to the track and see if you have the same problem; if you dont stay there for a bit and then slowly build it up. If you do have the same problem then it may be that your horse is just a little bit stiff, the good news is leg yields are great for helping with this. Try riding them on a circle doing that spiral exercise i spoke about before. Riding them on a circle will help you to start the leg yield already with a certain amount of bend and suppleness which will help to set your horse up. Your aim is to get your horse feeling more soft and more supple than they did at the beginning!
Nearly all of you will realise when you ride your leg yields that one way feels easier and better than the other and this is totally normal. We all have a better more supple side and so do our horses., The aim though is to get that difference to be as small as possible so keep trying to get your leg yields as good as each other.
Problem 6: quarters leading
The final problem i want to talk about when it comes to leg yields is probably the most complex which is when a horse leads with their quarters so their quarters get to the track before their shoulders do. When we ride a leg yield we need to aim for the shoulders to touch the track just a tiny bit before the quarters do so we need the shoulders to lead at all times in the leg yield. Leading with the quarters though, is far less common and usually i tend to see far more horses that fall through the shoulder than lead with their quarters but it does happen. A lot of the time though this is less to do with the horse and more with the rider over riding the leg yield and trying too hard and trying to get the horse sideways and those quarters over. Leading with the quarters actually makes it far harder for the horse so most wont tend to evade in this way and will prefer to fall through the shoulder instead. But If you over ride with your inside leg a lot of horses will fall out through their shoulder, but if you are a little tight this way or you try to stop your horse falling out but keep that inside leg going; a horse may shift to going quarters leading. The fix for this is easy which is to lessen up on that inside leg.
Normally, most riders i teach tend to be unaware that their horse is leading with their quarters until a coach or someone picks up on it so its definitely something to keep an eye on, especially if you ride on your own quite a lot. The first thing you have to try is backing off with that inside leg and stop over riding and this might solve the problem entirely. You can also try softening with that outside rein and see if that helps get that fluency and straightness back.
A really great exercise again is to think about that ditch from where you are to where you want to get to on the track, put those shoulders in that ditch and ride the shoulders forward and down that ditch. This will help you to keep those shoulders leading and will stop you trying to hold the shoulders back without letting them fall out.
If your horse is getting tight and rigid and this is what is making them lead with his quarters you can try riding a 10m circle in the middle of your leg yield (so going a few steps in the leg yield then riding a 10m circle then continuing with your leg yield) this will help give you that extra bit of suppleness and give around your inside leg. Remember to position those shoulders first before you do your leg yield so you make sure you start from a position of those shoulder leading before you ask for the leg yield.
For those of you that are at Elementary level or with a horse that knows shoulder fore you can try riding across the diagonal in shoulder fore and then moving to leg yield and the back into shoulder fore, this is also great for suppleness but helps you to get control over those shoulders too.
Ultimately though the leg yield is a lateral movement that is really great for getting your horses more supple but its all a balancing act with that inside leg and outside rein. If you go too heavy with that inside leg and too soft with that outside rein; your horse will probably fall out through the shoulder; equally if you are too fixed with that outside rein the odds are your horse probably wont be able to step sideways and will either carry on straight or lead with their quarters. So you have to play around and find the best balance of inside leg and outside rein that works for you to keep your horse straight whilst also going forward and sideways. Once you've cracked it though a leg yield is something that you will be able to keep coming back to to get your horse supple, elastic and working from behind.