Thursday, December 8, 2011

Leg yields

Leg yielding with Jane Savoie:

Remember to create a 'tunnel' with your aids - hands on either side of the neck (NEVER crossing over the neck), legs on each side of the horse. The leg yield should be equal sideways with equal forward movement.

When interpreting Savoie's aids, remember that the 'inside' is the side inside the bend, or concave side of the bend (always). The 'outside' of the horse and therefore the outside aids, is the side outside or bulging/convex side of the bend (always).

Personally, I do not vibrate or squeeze and release the inside rein. I like to offer that contact and feel the horse come through and onto the bit without releasing. However both methods work so figure out what works best for you and your horse!

In a nutshell: your inside rein tips the horse's nose just slightly to the inside. The inside leg is behind the girth, specifically instructing the haunches to move sideways - while the shoulders of the horse may lead slightly (as Savoie mentions), it is the inside haunch that drives under the horse to push him over sideways. The outside leg is at the girth and is supporting. The outside rein is also supportive. You are driving inside leg to outside rein - you are driving the haunch beneath the horse and are channeling that impulsion through the horse, over his back, and into your hands - to your outside hand. Contact should be even on both reins - if you find your rein length changes, apply appropriate leg aids to correct the horse, not rein (it is never about the rein, the reins are merely supportive and guiding, so corrections should always be made with the application of leg).

If you feel the horse lead too far with his shoulders (his shoulders 'fall out' - in this case he will also have excessive bend if your reins remain even), drive the inside haunch further beneath the horse by applying more leg behind the girth on the inside, or you can also gently apply a slight amount of pressure or a brief and gentle 'bump' with your outside leg just in front of the girth (just sort of a reminder to the horse: hey buddy, not so far with the shoulders - thanks!). Ultimately, correcting the haunches on the inside will likely be most effective. Do either while also closing your outside hand and essentially 'closing that door' to the horse so he cannot fall through that leg and hand. The preceding drives the haunches further underneath the horse and therefore as a direct result causes the shoulder to lift and corrects their falling out. The latter (applying outside leg) instructs the horse to stop falling out in that moment (then you resume your appropriate aids). If the horse leads with his haunches or is too straight, you are likely applying too much inside leg. Last reminder - do not correct with rein, correct with leg.

If the horse slows, simply open your hands and allow him to move a few steps forward, freely. Then re-ask for the leg yield. Your horse may slow and even resist if he does not understand what you are asking or if he lacks balance and strength to perform the maneuver - that's okay! Expect a lot, reward little. Reward what you do get, even if at first it is only a shift off the track or a few steps of leg yield. When first introducing this exercise to a young horse, ask for only a few steps at a time - few steps leg yield, forward a few steps, few steps leg yield, few steps forward... do not drill. Ask, reward, move on to the next exercise. If your horse resists initially, maintain the proper position (ie, aids) and wait - ask, ask, ask, (WITHOUT RELEASING) then reward (release!) as soon as there is some progress, even if it is only the slightest try. Reward with a release of pressure (allowing the horse to move forward or even walking on a loose rein and allowing him to stretch afterward). Most young horses are not going to perform the maneuver as nicely and correctly as Savoie's horse does in the above video, initially. Ask for the maneuver and refine it with a straighter, more correct and through and supple horse, as you develop the maneuver over several sessions.

To set the horse up initially, you may circle at one corner of the arena, achieve the appropriate bend, then drive the horse sideways from there. Initially I teach the leg yield at the walk but proceed to the trot rather soon - as soon as the horse 'gets it'. At the trot, you have more impulsion to channel and guide. Most exercises are easiest when performed at the trot.

To teach the horse the appropriate skills and aids for the leg yielding exercise, you can start on the ground with teaching the horse to release to pressure - turns on the forehand and turns on the haunches, specifically. Remember to apply pressure in phases - phase 1, 2, 3, 4... make your phases long initially as you teach the horse, then you can increase your expectations and move through your phases of ask quicker. A light rider makes a light horse. Though certain horses have certain tendencies, it is the RIDER who creates either a light or dull horse. Don't fool yourself in blaming the horse.

On the ground, for the turn on the haunches, place one hand and apply pressure (via your FINGERTIPS) either on the horse's nose, jaw, or neck - whatever works for that horse. Where the nose goes, the body follows, hence the pressure up front. Under-saddle, the nose is controlled by the rein. Place your other hand at the girth (where your leg would be under-saddle) and apply pressure simultaneously with your other hand, which is directing the horse's nose and neck. Release at the slightest try and build off that. See how light you can get your horse, and - eventually - how many steps can you get - can you achieve a full 360 degree pivot on the haunches? The horse should be crossing its front legs - ultimately and there should be absolutely no steps forward, no forward movement. You should be able to draw a circle in the sand around your horse's hind feet (say 2-2 1/2 feet in diameter), and though the feet will shift as the horse pivots on the circle, the horse's hind feet should not be actively stepping forward outside that circle. Understand this is your ultimate goal but may not be what your horse is capable of giving over the course of initial sessions. Having the horse cross his front legs and pivot in place on his hinds is your goal, your ultimate destination. Not your expectation on Day 1 or maybe even Days 2, 3 or 4.

For the turn on the forehand, apply pressure on the big thigh muscle of the horse's haunches. Though your leg will not slide back this far (obviously) under-saddle, if you apply the correct aids under-saddle the horse will make the connection between this ground application of the TOF and the under-saddle cues. Same as with the TOH (turn on the haunches), the horse should ultimately be shifting and pivoting on the front end this time, with no forward movement. The hinds should - ultimately - be crossing over (again - this may not happen at first, but it is ultimately what you will look for).

Here is an overview of the 3-part maneuver I teach a horse when applying the TOF and TOH under-saddle. Reminder - the TOF and TOH allows you shoulder control, and control of the haunches... which is applicable to the leg yield and other exercises.

Next, I proceed to teaching the horse to sidepass. Again, I teach this on the ground. You can apply pressure with your fingertips or - what I do - I ask the horse to move sideways, out of my space using body language. It gets the horse thinking sideways, while your other exercises on the ground such as the TOF and TOH (and more) teach the horse to move away from pressure, which the horse will learn to apply to a variety of situations (including to sidepass under-saddle).

Both on the ground and under-saddle, I initially use the fence to block forward movement when introducing the sidepass - it sets the horse up in such a way where it will succeed easier. On the ground, you can send the horse out on a circle and allow his circle to intersect with the arena fence or wall. The reason for sending him out on a circle is to give you momentum to play with, to push sideways. As he comes to the arena wall, pick up your energy and drive him sideways. Focus on the front end of the horse - his nose - and the haunches simultaneously. Whatever end of the horse (nose or tail) lags behind and presents itself toward you as the horse moves sideways, drive that end to straighten the horse so he is again at a 90 degree angle to the wall. To start, use the end of your leadrope or a stick or whip to back up your energy and intent. Remember to continue to ask in phases - use your body language then wiggle your stick or swing your lead, and increase in intensity before finally applying 'touch'. The same exercise may be done but by applying physical pressure to the horse in lieu of using intent and body language. Apply pressure with your fingertips in the areas that cause your horse to move sideways ie, shoulder and hip.

Under-saddle, ride the horse up to the fence with impulsion. Upon reaching the fence, without pause, apply the appropriate aids:
1 - Outside hand - the outside being the direction of travel in this case (ie, left hand if you are asking the horse to sidepass left) - out from the side of the horse's neck, about level with the horn or withers. This is your 'opening' rein, inviting the horse to move in this direction.
2 - Inside rein supports and prevents the horse from actually turning toward the outside, the direction of travel (sideways). It should also be about horn or wither height and should be firm. The horse's nose may be tipped slightly toward the inside with this (inside) rein and - primarily - with the inside leg. Ie, the horse is bent around your leg.
** both hands are closed to inhibit forward steps, forward movement. This is in preparation for the fence to later be taken away. The legs initiate movement in the horse, the hands guide, in this case, by closing a door to the horse by closing.
3 - Inside leg slightly behind the girth, pushing the horse over. The inside leg initiates movement in the horse by adding energy and impulsion to the haunch.
4 - Outside leg relaxed at the girth.
Weight should be distributed evenly in the saddle and should be centered, though to initially introduce the exercise, you can weight your outside seatbone slightly. This encourages the horse to step back beneath you to center your weight, therefore leading him to move sideways in the direction of your weighted seatbone. As soon as the horse 'gets it', your seat should be centered and your even lightened slightly (imperceptibly) in the direction of travel, to free the horse on that side to move in that direction.

The sidepass should be all sideways and no forward. If the horse tries forward as an answer when you take away the fence, allow him to come up against your closed hands and apply leg to direct sideways movement - wait and release as soon as the horse gives. As soon as the horse steps sideways in lieu of forward, soften your hands. If the horse falls out in his outside shoulder, apply the same aids as you would in the leg yield. Ultimately, the key is the haunches (as always) - apply outside leg just behind the girth to direct the haunches to 'catch up'. When you have reached the stage where you are no longer using the fence, your leading or opening outside rein will be less so to where both hands are about even and equal distance from the horse's neck on either side. The horse should be bent only slightly - neither shoulders nor haunches should lead and the horse's body should ultimately be moving straight as the horse moves sideways. Ultimately, both front and hind legs cross simultaneously. Of course, same as in the leg yield, the movement will not be 100 percent correct at first. At first, reward sideways thinking and tries. Refine later.

While a horse moving off a rider's leg may be referred to the horse yielding to the leg or leg yielding, the actual leg yielding exercise is performed as above - in both western and english disciplines. With the leg yield, the horse's shoulders lead a little and the horse moves with equal forward and sideways. In the sidepass, the horse's body remains ultimately straight with only a slight bend and all movement is directed sideways with no forward.

This all starts on the ground and progresses to under-saddle. Under-saddle, start with real basic exercises such as the TOF and TOH then proceed to the sidepass and finally, proceed to the leg yield.

The leg yield is a great (rather) basic exercise for the young horse that introduces hind end engagement and their moving 'through'. It allows the rider a lot of control, including as it pertains to suppling and relaxing the horse, and is a stepping stone for a variety of other exercises. Your horse does not have to be a show horse for this exercise to be both beneficial and necessary. Whether a trail horse or a working horse or a show horse - control of the horse is vital. The sidepass and leg yield and TOH and TOF allow a rider to perform simple tasks on their horse such as opening a gate, directing the horse over or past a spooky object (a bridge or stream, for example), and much much more. If you have control of the horse's shoulders and haunches you can prevent the horse's shoulders and haunches from ending up somewhere you do not want them - off the edge of a cliff, into a crowd of people, etc. You might not understand the importance of teaching your horse to confidently and thoroughly yield off your leg until the day he spooks sideways while riding next to a road and you need him to stop before his sideways leap puts him in the middle of traffic - in such a case, applying leg on the side of the road and having your horse respond, might be a matter of life or death. Teaching the horse these exercises makes them more obedient to the rider and gives you tools. Tools that you can use to relax and supple the horse and tools you may use to maintain the horse's focus - all this can be very crucial even in a non-show environment. You can never have too many tools in your toolbox - you never know when one day you might need to grab for one tool. For the competitive horse or the horse who will continue training, this is an important elementary exercise from which to build off of for canter leads and more.

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