While practicing in the ring, you ask your horse to skirt around a horse that stopped in front of you. You squeeze your leg against him, but he continues walking forward, now a little faster.
Later, when you’re riding on the trail or perhaps through the pasture, and you want your horse to avoid stepping in the mud that lies up ahead. You apply a little pressure with one leg to move him over a bit, but your horse ignores you and just ploughs ahead through the mud, anyway. This animal either doesn’t understand what you’re asking, or doesn’t care, and that means you have a problem!
Even a rider with just basic horsemanship skills knows the importance of leg yielding. Whether it’s to move a horse over to avoid sloppy footing or the underlying part of a cue for a particular maneuver at show, leg yields are the deepest part of every horse’s training foundation. Without a proper response to a leg yield, you're not riding the horse, you’re just along for the ride.
Leg yields laid open
At its most basic concept, a leg yield is pressure applied by the rider’s leg to the one side of the horse in order to move the horse over laterally while still moving forward, thus creating a forward diagonal movement.
But leg yields have a purpose beyond just creating a diagonal movement for the fun of it.
“Leg yields aid in creating a more supple and maneuverable horse,” explains Jackie Krshka, a world champion reining and western riding competitor and trainer. “Leg yields allow you to advance the training program of the horse. In addition, leg yields are a useful tool in the show ring to subtly correct a misalignment of your horse, therefore preventing a major error.”
In the training program, Jackie says, leg yields are “an element lateral exercise preferably performed at either the walk or trot along the long side of the arena, or across the diagonal of the ring, with the horse positioned at no more than a 45 degree angle from the direction in which it is moving.”
Marcia King is an award-winning writer specializing in equine, pet, and veterinary topics.