Getting Control of Your Horse’s Shoulders with the Leg Yield Hexagon

leg yield

Leg yielding can be such a useful exercise, but one of the most common things that goes wrong is the horse falling over his outside shoulder instead of stepping across his body with his inside hind leg. Here’s a simple exercise to help improve the quality of the leg yield you are getting and give you control over your horse’s shoulders by encouraging him to hold himself up instead of falling on the forehand.

To begin, if you need to review what a leg yield is or how to do it, you can read about it here.

The other easy piece of this exercise is to turn, or even better, do a little turn on the haunches.  I’ll go ahead an assume anyone interested in leg yield exercises can make a turn, but riding it like a baby turn on the haunches will make it more effective, both generally speaking and for the purpose of this exercise. It can be tempting to ride turns with the inside rein, but when you think of the turn like a turn on the haunches, it becomes easier to remember to use your outside rein. This is the critical piece!




In your turns, you want to think about bringing your horse’s shoulders into the turn, not just his nose. Once his shoulders are coming into the turn, your inside leg can act on his haunches,  specifically by asking him to step more under himself with his inside hind leg and bend his body around your inside leg.  Your outside rein prevents him from instead pushing through his outside shoulder, and your outside leg positioned slightly behind the girth prevents him from swinging his hind legs out of the turn. So basically, it’s just your really good bending position put to use!

leg yield
In the leg yield, sit straight, not off to one side, and have your horse gently flexed away from the direction of movement, being careful not to over do it and cause him to “hinge” at the withers. This will keep his shoulders light and help him to cross his legs with the most freedom.

So if you’re like lots of riders, you find that as you leg yield, getting your horse to cross his hind legs can be hard, and that even a leg yield that begins well can turn into a crooked, falling on the outside shoulder movement by the time it’s done. You know this has happened if instead of remaining parallel to the rail, his shoulders reach the rail before his haunches when you leg yield from the center line or quarter line out. Once that shoulder slips out of alignment, connection and good contact is lost and can be very hard to re-establish while finishing the leg yield.

Here’s an exercise that will help you improve the quality of your leg yields and help you train your horse to do the movement correctly instead of letting the movement make your horse crooked, disconnected, and off-balance. The double bonus is that this exercise will give you really good control of your horse’s outside shoulder, making the transition from riding leg yields to riding shoulder-in’s a breeze!




So to start, you’ll want some room… let’s start by going to the right, walking up the quarter line and near the center of the arena.

To Ride The Leg Yield Hexagon:

  1. As you near E, you will begin your first leg yield, from the quarter line towards the rail, moving the horse to the left off of your right (inside) leg
  2. Leg yield only about 3 steps, being sure to stay parallel to the rail
  3. Stop leg yielding and make a slight right turn. You can stop and do a turn on the haunches if you want, but you don’t need to, just keep the “feeling” in mind as you make the turn, you want to be bringing the shoulders into the turn. This will bring the shoulders back into alignment if the horse started to fall on his outside shoulder when you did your leg yield steps.
  4. Begin your next leg yield, again moving your horse over only about 3 steps.
  5. Make another small turn, noting the direction you are facing and the line you are starting on.
  6. Leg yield another 3 steps, staying parallel to the line you started on.
  7. Make another small turn, and find yourself near the quarter line, and leg yield toward the rail.
  8. Continue alternating between a few leg yield steps and a slight turn.
the leg yield hexagon diagram
The Leg Yield Hexagon

As you continue through your hexagon, your horse will begin to anticipate that the turn is coming after a few leg yield steps, and he should start to feel like he stays a bit straighter and lighter in his shoulders once he figures out that you will be asking him to move his shoulders into the turn.  As this happens, start to blend your leg yields and turns together more so you’re asking him to start the next leg yield almost before he’s finished turning. This will be when you feel the inside hind REALLY step across the outside hind. When this happens, you should also feel your horse get softer and rounder into the outside rein and lift his back.




When you feel this happening, you have found the fabled “Inside Leg to Outside Rein”! Take a moment to celebrate and then repeat a few more times to really let that feeling sink into your memory, and be sure to praise your horse each time he does it!

After a few times around to the right, take a break and then repeat the exercise to the left.

Things to Remember:

  • Keep your aids light! If your horse doesn’t step off a soft aid, reinforce the aid with a stronger one then try again with the lighter aid.
  • Sit in a good position. When you collapse to one side you will start to give your horse unintended mixed signals.
  • Praise good responses so your horse knows when he has done what you wanted, there’s no other way for him to know!

Variations:

  • Try the same pattern trotting
  • Try making a square or octagon (8 sided) instead of the hexagon
  • Try the same pattern cantering!
  • Try leg yielding more steps on each of the straight sides of your shape
  • Try riding Turn on the Haunches instead of turns for all the corners
  • Try alternating between leg yield OUT towards the rail and leg yielding your horse IN towards the middle of the ring

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