Have you ever considered that, when riding, you have been thinking about things all wrong? You have been trying to move your horse; rather than asking your horse to move. One of the areas I see riders trying to move their horse is when working laterally. Leg yielding is a great example. Riders will try to push and shove their horse across the arena.
You don’t move the horse. You ask your horse to move. If you began to actually implement this in your riding, it has the power to change everything.
Efforting does not equal results. Especially where lateral work is concerned. The key is to have built responsiveness to a point that you can ask a question of your horse, and your horse will simply respond.
Loss of Forwardness
It is easy to spot a rider who is trying to move their horse. The physical effort it requires to move the mountain results in any forwardness being lost. And leg yielding, as I teach it, is ‘forward and sideways’. Notice the forwards comes first in that sentence.
When you begin shoving or pushing your horse sideways, you mentally stop focusing on moving forwards
This then physically manifests in your horse’s way of going. Yes, maybe your horse will continue to edge up the arena or along the road, but the rhythm and sense of purpose that was taking you there are lost. In fact, most horses become resistant and overly tense because of the change in how the rider is riding.
Shoving, pushing, jabbing, or kicking your horse anywhere does not show a whole lot of respect, and your horse will probably respond accordingly!
I really believe in using doors, particularly open doors, to demonstrate where we would like the energy to flow. It helps riders get things clear in their head about what they are asking. And it helps horses to understand where the rider would like them to move.
With leg yielding, it is easy for riders to get all caught up on their inside aids, while completely forgetting about their outside aids.
Yes, your inside aids are important for flexion and asking. However, if you could use your outside aids to more clearly express where you would like your horse to go, that would really support the work of the inside aids. Opening doors using your outside aids is easier than you think. However, it does require you to be intentional and mindful initially.
You can use your outside seat bone and your outside rein to open two obvious doors for your horse when leg yielding
Part of the aids for leg yielding requires you to ‘weight’ your inside seat bone. If done correctly, you will naturally open a door with your outside seat bone. This will allow your horse to step over or across more naturally. It makes things clearer for him. You can also open a door with your outside rein by simply putting more distance between it and your inside rein. Literally opening it to allow his shoulders to step ‘over’.
When you open doors, you are allowing your horse to actually respond to your ‘ask’ to move over
Timing Your Questions
It is so important to consider that when you ask your horse to do something, such as move over, there is a good time to ask. So many riders are asking questions when the horse simply cannot respond. The riders take this feedback of delayed or late response to mean that their horse is not listening. And that can often be when the forcing or shoving begins.
Start noticing what is moving when underneath you. Learn how your horse moves and then begin asking the right questions at the right time in order to allow your horse to respond.
For example, if you ask your horse to move ‘over’ with his inside back leg, but he has just put his inside back leg on the ground, he won’t be able to respond. Similarly, if you ask him to balance the movement by weighting his outside back leg on the ground a little more when that leg has just been picked up to swing forward, he cannot respond.
Get clear on what you’re asking, how you’re going to ask, and when you’re going to ask.
Allowing Space for Your Horses Response
Once you are clear that you are asking the right questions, at a time when your horse can take action on them, you can begin looking for your horse’s responses. Are they what you want or do they need to be changed or tidied up a little? Often things will have to be worked on before they will be exactly what you want them to be. That is fine. In fact, that is the natural progression when working with horses.
The key thing to remember is that you are not moving your horse. You are simply asking your horse to move.
You can begin working on the answers your horse is giving you by offering feedback. “Yes, that is exactly what I wanted, keep going”, or “No, that’s not quite it, let me explain a little better”.
When you begin taking responsibility for your lack of clarity when asking questions, you can begin changing the outcome of the answers you receive.
Over time, when you are consistently taking responsibility for the quality of the questions you are asking, your horse will begin to feel more confident about his ability to give clear answers. Clear, correct answers. This is how the relationship develops. It all begins with you understanding your role in the saddle and taking action based on that.
Leg Yielding is a Team Effort
When you claim responsibility for everything that happens in the ride, there is no space for other players. It’s not teamwork; it’s a dictatorship! Teamwork is when each of you is clear on the different responsibilities that you are bringing to the movement. And each of you is confident in taking action on those things.
When you begin riding from a place of asking rather than shoving or pushing, you give your horse the opportunity to really respond.
Less efforting on your part results in a much more enjoyable experience in the saddle. And let’s be honest, expecting your body to actually physically move another body that outweighs you by 10 to 1 using sheer force is a really big expectation! And exhausting!