Over or Out?
Are you finding lateral work difficult? Or thinking of giving it a go? Either way don’t think it’s beyond your capabilities. It may seem impossible but so was canter when you first learnt to ride! Any rider and any horse can do it. OK, maybe not to Olympic standard, but if you can go forwards you can definitely go sideways.
To move your horse sideways it’s a good idea to get control of his shoulders and quarters too. Check out these posts to find easy exercises you can use. http://www.schoolyourhorse.com/2011/08/27/soft-in-the-back-or-the-head/http://www.schoolyourhorse.com/2011/05/07/one-step-at-a-time/
Leg yielding is the first real movement you’ll use to show your horse how to move his whole body sideways away from your leg. It’s a great suppling exercise but it also encourages him to use his hocks. He should move away from your inside leg, taking his inside hind leg forward and in front of his outside hind leg.
Common problems with leg yield
- Your horse won’t go over – to move in any direction he needs energy. Most riders get so focused on the sideways they forget about the forward. Push too hard with one leg and it draws up and your body collapses down towards it. If your shoulder, hip and heel get closer together so do his. You’ll end up with a tight knot of a horse that can’t even go forward let alone sideways!
- Your horse just turns – you need to help him understand you don’t want him to turn towards the track, he must step sideways. Your contact should be even in both reins and relaxed when he’s going forward. When you want him to step over tighten your fingers on both reins so he knows not to go forward. Use your inside heel to push him over and as you feel him move across ‘catch’ (or block) him with your outside leg so he only takes one step. Relax your fingers and he’ll know he can move forward again.
- Your horse’s outside shoulder gets to the track first – when you’re trying to encourage him to bend to the inside or even trying to stop him turning towards the track it’s easy to forget your outside rein. It acts as a barrier that stops his outside shoulder drifting away from his inside one.
Without a contact on your outside rein your horse’s head will turn to the inside but his outside shoulder will ‘fall out’ (of line with his inside shoulder) and drift over to the track. If this happens his outside front leg will reach the track one or two strides ahead of his outside hind. When a horse falls out his inside hind doesn’t have to step forward and in front of the outside hind – his hind legs just trail along behind his shoulders.
The hardest thing to do in any lateral movement is move. That’s move your body not your horse’s! Many riders freeze. Once their leg goes on it never comes off. Leaving your leg on your horse’s side actually makes your leg aid less clear. One quick nudge is far more effective. Move your legs separately and use different parts of it and you’ll help him understand your aids.
Your horse goes forward from both legs but over from one. How you use different parts of your lower leg will help make things clearer. When you push him forward use your calf muscles together but push him over with the side of one heel.
Use your legs in time with the rhythm of each pace. You should push your horse over for one beat of the pace and forward for the others.
- Walk is 4-time (four steps/ beats per stride). Push him over for one step and forward for three.
1- over with the side of your heel
2,3,4 – forward from both calf muscles
- Trot is 2-time. Push him over for one, forward for one.
1 – over with your heel
2 – forward from both legs
- Canter is 3-time. Over for one, forward for two.
1 – over with your heel
2, 3 – forward from both legs
Timing of your leg takes practise. Think it through as you ride each pace. It’s great thing to work on while you’re hacking out. Say it out loud or in your head – just get into the habit of thinking over and forward, over and forward. (nudge/squeeze/nudge/squeeze)
One step at a time
It’s common to be taught to leg yield from the ¾ line to the track but it’s the worst place to do it. Your horse will be drawn to the track and move over quicker but that is exactly the problem! When you ask him to step over he needs to do it because you asked not because he’s heading back to the track. He should take one step over every time you use the side of your heel. What you don’t need is a lateral tank – when he feels your leg and shoots over until he reaches the track. He needs to start and stop when you tell him.
Use the centre line. You may not feel as if you’re getting big steps over but they’ll be steadier and straighter. Control of lateral work is half of the battle. Once you have the hang of it you’ll be able to ask wherever you like and for as many steps as you like.
Don’t forget you can move and breathe while you’re doing lateral work! Start to think of it as just another transition. If your horse doesn’t respond when you ask him to trot you’d use your whip to sharpen him up – right? Do it as you ask him to go over too if he doesn’t listen the first time and he’ll soon start to pay attention.
Turn onto the centre line and get your horse straight. Keep his head and neck straight in front of you. Tighten your fingers around both reins so he knows not to go forward. Then ask him to take one step over with your heel. As he steps over relax your heel and your fingers and squeeze with both calf muscles so he stops moving sideways and walks forward.
Initially take your time. Ride three full strides forward to get into your head – and your horse’s – that you can control the sideways flow. Ask again when you’re ready.
Think back to when you first learnt to canter and you’ll remember you only did a few wobbly strides initially. It’s the same with leg yield. Don’t expect huge sweeping strides. If your horse moves away from your heel when you use it be pleased. Length and width of strides comes with confidence and that comes from knowing and understanding what you’re doing.
Good luck and enjoy your schooling.
If you have a problem with riding or schooling your horse get in touch via Twitter or Facebook. Don’t be shy – I’ll answer any question – however simple you think it sounds.
Do you struggle to school your horse between lessons? Why not try one of the downloadable schooling guides in the shop? They’re full of exercises and ideas especially designed to keep you and your horse busy. At 99p they’re affordable too.