Solving Two Common Problems with the Leg-Yield with Eric Smiley


The leg yield is an essential tool, whether your tests require it or not. Photo by Kris Waldo

In this excerpt from his new book The Sport Horse Problem Solver, former international eventer Eric Smiley uses his easy 5-point system to solve two issues we often run into with the fundamental lateral movement.

The leg-yield is a forward-and-sideways movement, as much forward as it is sideways, with the horse perfectly straight, and an imperceptible bend away from the direction of movement at the poll. This is a great exercise and has many uses.

In a leg-yield to the right, the left rein creates a slight bend to the left. The right rein allows the bend and controls the forwardness. The rider’s left leg goes slightly behind the girth to ask the horse to go sideways. The rider’s right leg is on the girth to “receive” the horse and limit the amount of movement sideways, while at the same time ensuring a forward and connected pace or gait.

Benefits of the exercise include:

• Improvement of the coordination of the rider’s aids.

• Improvement of the horse’s understanding of the rider’s aids.

• Improved balance and connection.

Illustration by Emily Secrett-Hill.

Now let’s talk about two common problems we have with the leg-yield.

Problem: Horse stops going forward in leg-yield. 

Why is the problem there? This occurs because the horse has dropped the connection.

Why does it need solving? It’s a prerequisite of being correct that the horse goes forward in all movements.

How do you solve the problem? Think of traveling from one parallel line to another. As already directed, in a leg-yield to the right, the rider’s left leg is slightly behind the girth, asking for the sideways movement. The right leg (on the girth) is the aid that ensures the forward (as much forward as it is sideways), so use it actively and send the horse straight for a few steps to reconnect the push from the hind legs. Then go sideways again. Get a few more steps sideways and then go straight again to ensure you reconfirm the connection.

As this exercise becomes more refined and the conversation between the horse and the aids is better understood, you’ll be able to accomplish both sideways and forward in the moment. It is as if your sideways aid “gives” the horse to the forward aid, which says, “thank you” and ensures connection at every step. The aid becomes unobtrusive. It’s a physical exercise that depends on a mental understanding. Balance improves through the physical control, and thus the quality of the gait can be maintained. Now the “7” or “8” mark that you achieve while going straight in the dressage arena will stay a “7” or “8” when going sideways as well.

When your horse tries to convince you that it is enough just to go sideways without also going forward, you may need to alter your priorities. Reduce the amount of sideways in favor of going forward, and be quick to remind the horse of the importance of this connection. Often you will feel a lovely, lively trot when going in a straight line suddenly disappear when the horse is asked to go sideways. It’s difficult to maintain forward and regular when the connection has been dropped. Your score of “7” or “8” going straight suddenly gets reduced to a “5” or “6.” Riders must be very alert to feel when the connection gets dropped and reconnect with the help of the forward aids as quickly as possible. Either abort the movement to ensure connection remains, as that is the priority, or if the horse allows, continue the movement with regained connection.

The horse must never be allowed to develop the mindset that, “I’ll drop the connection at the hint of lateral work.”

Problem: The horse’s hindquarters lead. 

Why is the problem there? In this instance, the act of asking for the slight left bend will automatically block the natural drift of the left shoulder. The horse then becomes too responsive to the left leg. The issue will now be ensuring that the hindquarters don’t lead and that the horse brings the shoulder in line with the hindquarters.

Why does it need solving? Remaining parallel to the direction of movement is always difficult, but it’s necessary to properly execute the leg-yield.

How do you solve the problem? The rider’s aids must be coordinated to communicate what is desired. Each aid has a role—to ask and correct. The horse must pay attention to the correction the rider seeks to maintain the right position. Bending left will most likely be harder to encourage than bending right. Work in hand can help this. The hindquarters will be inclined to drift to the right, so the use of the rider’s left leg has to be subtle and the positioning not too far back from the girth. The forehand will be the reluctant part to move over, so the rider’s left leg may actually need to come forward closer to the girth area as the right hand gently leads the forehand to the right. Too much use of the right hand and the bend to the left—part of the leg-yield to the right—may disappear.

Throughout the movement to the right the horse mustn’t try to move the hindquarters more than the forehand. The forehand is the part of “this” horse that will tend to get left behind, so we must be constantly aware of that likelihood.

This excerpt from The Sport Horse Problem Solver by Eric Smiley is reprinted with permission from Trafalgar Square Books ( To order your copy, click here.

0 0 votes
Article Rating
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments