In my last blog, I shared a few tips that I think are important to keep in mind while training young horses. Click here to read it.
The following exercise is one I like to teach when the horse begins to learn about bending. It combines a basic leg yield with a half turn on the forehand. It is a nice way to introduce the horse to the rider’s inside leg, which will be required in all future bending work. Remember, it is with an understanding of the lateral and bending aids, that you can begin to influence the horse’s suppleness, which will be how you create impulsion, straightness and collection in the future. In order to bend, the horse must learn to yield the ribcage from the rider’s inside leg. This exercise is an excellent one for educating the horse to yield the ribcage.
There are two dimensions we must address when training the horse: the longitudinal dimension and the lateral dimension. The longitudinal dimension refers to the plane that runs from the front of the horse to the back and includes how the horse balances through transitions and how he contacts the bit. The lateral dimension refers to the way the horse balances from side to side. It is only by learning how to ride both dimensions that we can truly influence our horse’s balance and way of moving.
If you can do this exercise in a large space such as an outdoor arena or field, your horse will find it a little easier as the turn in a regulation dressage arena can be a little tight for some big-moving young horses.
Editor's Note. We have received various comments and questions online about leg yield and bend and we would like to offer some additional clarification from Jenna:
In order to educate the horse about how to bend, he must first learn to yield from the rider’s leg. While leg yield is not a bending exercise, it does teach the horse that he should yield sideways and forward when the lateral leg aid is applied and this exercise helps the horse to understand the sideways driving leg of the rider.
Whether the leg yield should be considered a lateral movement has been under debate for decades, if not centuries and you will find different answers depending on which book you read or which trainer you talk to. But even though we can agree it is not a movement that involves bend, the concept of yielding the ribcage to the leg is important when teaching the horse to bend.
Prerequisites: Make sure your horse is moving actively forward. Do not try this exercise with a horse who has not first learned to move forward from the rider’s leg. He must first understand the driving aid before learning the lateral leg aid.
1. When the horse is moving actively forward, come down the long side and balance your horse through the corner by maintaining consistent connection and adding inside leg.
2. Ride down centerline (or if you can ride in a larger space, just find some line to ride and take a gradual turn to get there) and allow the horse’s natural tendency to drift to the rail work in your favor and allow him to drift about five meters to the side in a gradual leg yield, approximately to the quarter line. If you were tracking left (shown in diagram), drift to the right after making your turn. If you were tracking right, drift to the left after making your turn.
The purpose of the leg yield is to educate the horse to yield from the rider’s inside leg, which is a prerequisite for all lateral bending work to come. The leg yield, ridden from the trot, uses the horse’s forward momentum that should be established at this point to introduce the idea of moving laterally. For the first few times you ride this exercise, just allow the shoulders to lead. Don’t worry too much about straightness at this time. That will come with proficiency.
3. After riding those few meters over, make a walk transition and ...
4. Fairly quickly, ride a half turn on the forehand. If you have ridden a leg yield right (see diagram), make the turn on the forehand from the left leg to continue the horse's education to the left leg. If you have ridden a leg yield left, make the turn on the forehand from the right leg to continue the horse’s education of the right leg. Make sure not to ride the turn on the forehand too close to the rail. Your horse may feel a little claustrophobic if he feels he cannot move his haunches around without hitting the fence or arena wall. The turn on the forehand is an exercise I use on all of my horses in their warm ups, regardless of the horse's level of training. It gets the horse to yield the ribcage and hind legs away from the pressure of the inside leg. It can even be taught to the horse while in hand, using gentle pressure from the whip on the hind leg to teach the horse to yield. The turn on the forehand also has the added benefit of stretching the hips of the horse as he yields the inside hind leg towards the outside of his body.
After you ride the turn, you can either make a circle line and pick up the trot on that line or, if your horse is a little further along, you can pick up the trot on the straight line and then ride forward.
Young horses usually are pretty quick to learn about the inside leg and how to yield to it. The next step will be teaching the horse how the outside rein controls the outside shoulder and then true straightness can begin! Remember to ride forward and be patient!
Jenna Arnold is a USDF bronze, silver and gold medalist and bronze, silver and gold Freestyle Bar recipient. She is a writer and founder of Mindful Riding, a website and program dedicated to helping riders develop a more meaningful relationship with their horse and with themselves by balancing mind, body and spirit. She is the mother of two young daughters and runs Concordia Dressage with her husband, Martin Arnold, near Austin, Texas.