Friday 13 September 2013

Things seem to be going a little bit sideways...

And what exactly was it that was so rosy on the riding side?

We were finally starting lateral work. My very favourite work of all. (Incidentally, all of my moves at work tend to be lateral as well - coincidence? Hmm... I just don't know)

The good news is that beautiful half passes, once you learn how to do them and when mounted on a horse that is up for the task, are easy. Really. Nothing is more therapeutic to me now after a long day of doing whatever it is that I might do in a day that I don't enjoy than riding a nice tight little 10 m circle (no Bullit-esque fishtails)- shoulder in - 10 m circle - half pass (which you may recognize as parts of the beginning of our current PSG tests).

No No NO!  Weight should be on your INSIDE seatbone

Sure, it doesn't have the flash of a line of tempis. But whereas tempis have always felt lumpy and awkward and confusing to me (you have to move your legs and count for Pete's sake - too much like work), if you set up your half pass correctly (establish correct bend during your circle, sitting in the direction of travel, forward as always is key), and your horse has been schooled to know what the hell this all means, you just get to sit back and enjoy the ride, with only minimal pilot input required.

In fact, I would say that if you ever find yourself straining during a half pass - if you are ever swinging your leg so far back that you poke yourself in the ass while trying to get that aid "behind the girth"...if your saddle pad is all folded up into an intricate series of pleats like one of those towel origami things they put on your bed at all inclusive resorts in Cuba ...if your horse is doing a big beautiful, booming trot around the arena, but then decelerates to a dust kicking shuffle when asked to move sideways... you are doing it really, really wrong.  Just like lots of other people.

Honey! Look! Someone has been riding shitty half passes on our bed.  Isn't it beautiful!

I don't know why there is such a monstrous abyss between "beautiful lateral work" and "horrific sideways stumble with horse's neck cranked in some direction, and a toe out, heel in spur gouge".  But, being a horse person on the internet, I will take a stab at explaining something on which I have no true knowledge with an air of authority. It's what we do, right?

We have already covered several of the terms that you will want to include on your "things coaches yell out to clueless beginners" bingo card - things like "half halt", and "bend through the jowl" and "did you feel that?".  You will definitely want to add "leg yield" to a corner or two of your card, as it is always on the list of pithy advice that is barked at the riders of board stiff, dum-de-dum school horses as they plod around doing the same shit they have done for the last 15 years, with little regard for anything the rider may or may not be attempting to execute up above.

In fact, a quick surf of our favourite bulletin boards shows that the leg yield is such an important item on this bingo card that it is the go-to solution used to cure a wide range of problems that the average horse might face - and not just in the dressage ring either.  Bolting, overbending, failure to pick up a desired lead, inability to change leads, pulling on the bit, rushing through courses, falling souflees, impotence, crab lice - yes, having this one little tool in your toolbox can help you to turn just about any arab cross into Hickstead, if you just know when to apply it.

Which is great news.

The part that is a bit frightening is that when you actually look for information on "how to leg yield" - things get a little foggier. As with the half halt, there seems to be the perception that horses and riders are born with the innate ability to move smoothly sideways at just the right angle, shoulders leading slightly. Very little time seems to be dedicated to explaining to the rider - or the horse for that matter - exactly how the hell this is accomplished.  As a rider, you are just supposed to magically know where to sit, pull, poke - and when.

I do think most of us can blame this on our origins as hunter / jumper riders, because I don't think there is a h/j person out there who will believe you if you tell them "your horse cannot leg yield", just as 99% of h/j people bopping around with draw reins or a chambon clipped to their pelham think you are just being a catty DQ if you announce that their horse is not really "on the bit". (And come on, you kind of are. Polite dressage riders avert their eyes and shut their mouths, then slam their h/j friends on bulletin boards). 

But the truth is - most of them can't - well, not in the dressage sense of the word in any case.  And I don't think anyone notices or cares.  I once attended a BNT hunter clinic where a group of about five 12 year olds on sour faced ponies were instructed to "shoulder in down the long side".  Hey, call me a Curmudgeon but I think his request was a tad on the optimistic side - or conversely, on the "what the hell, it is a clinic and I will never see these people again, let me throw out some juicy instructions to wow them, who cares if these little wanks even know what it means" side. You can pick.

So - if like me, you have this foundation in place, and you come from a world where as long as your horse was drifting somewhere in some fashion, while you pulled on a rein or dug in a spur, you were deemed to be "leg yielding", and crab stepping up the long side was "shoulder in" - you may find lateral work to be a challenge at first. Just like connection. And sitting trot, and ...and...and...and...(insert various aspects of dressage here).

Now I am not saying that there are no tips at all on the internet to help explain the mysteries of the leg yield.  For example, I found a site that promised to teach you how to leg yield in 14 easy steps.  Here is an excerpt:

With your core muscles, lighten the seat bone which is on the hind leg that you want to cross over. For example, if you are leg yielding to the left, lighten your right seat bone by scrunching up the right side of your core, making sure that you keep your upper body straight.

A-ha. Makes perfect sense, no?  In my books, this advice does get points for using the key dressage words "core", "lighten" and "seat bone" all in one sentence, along with the no doubt classically inspired term "scrunching".  You don't see that every day. I must also point out that this was not the first step in successfully executing your leg yield - it was somewhere down near number 14.  There were other preparatory steps early on, such as #2 - mount your horse.  Huh. Good tip. 

Now after that -if things start going a little sideways - well, we will know it is working.

P.S - Happy Friday the 13th!


  1. Lol! Funny thing is I taught leg yielding to a student for their first time today, including the who's, what's, where's, when's, why's, and how's! It's great setting the lightbulb go off and the horse get "magically" lighter and more responsive (aka: the rider is finally asking something right :) )

  2. Does anybody else think leg yield is overrated? Anybody else just skip it altogether for shoulder-fore/in?

    1. I once heard the dressage trainer extrordinaire at my old barn tell one of her doting students "don't do too much leg yield it's really more for the rider than the horse". But lateral work and lateral suppleness didn't seem to be her thing. If the horse didn't enjoy foreward fast and submission (in a dominatrix kind of way) they were deemed vicious and untrainable. Buy another one. I saw no transitions within the gate and little of any other transitions in her repertoire.Sorry for the rant it still bothers me the survival of the numbest I saw going on there.....resume

  3. In a rare turn of events I was recently at a H/J clinic this weekend and the clinician did a significantly better job coaching the leg yield than scores of dressage trainers I've worked with. She wasn't in the slightest fooled by my (previously scrunched up and smacked forward auction) "dressage" horse's) ability to cross her legs over each other dramatically - but instead actually demanded the proper weight shift and smaller reach even though it looked significantly less "dramatic".

    It increased my faith a little bit :) just a tad.

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  5. I know this is an older post and I'm not sure if you're still active with the blog (though I hope you are as it would be a great loss to dressage enthusiasts and anyone who likes witty writing), but I had to put my two cents in about how rigt you are. You wrote, "dum-de-dum school horses as they plod around doing the same shit they have done for the last 15 years, with little regard for anything the rider may or may not be attempting to execute up above" and couldn't be more right. I have not been able to purchase a horse even though I've been riding, sometimes on and off, for over 20 years. While I hope to be in a position to buy very soon, meaning I'm hoping to move and prices should be more affordable almost anywhere else, as I live in a ridiculously expensive place to own and board a horse. But, I digress...When I "found" dressage 10 years ago, I instantly knew that I'd found my equine calling. But, I live in the land of hunters and jumpers and so they're are few places for decent training and even fewer school horses who are trained to do any dressage. So, I've spent the greater part of this time learning concepts and then 25 mins of my 30 minute private lessons working my butt off to achieve collection on horses that have been ridden around their entire lives with either a slack reign at breakneck speeds or someone hanging on their mouth at breakneck speeds sometimes aimed at a cross rail. Still, it has not all been a waste; I've learned very well what it means to begin working with a horse who has no dressage experience and I've done a lot of out-of-the-saddle work trying to understand the concepts so that when I have the opportunity to work with a horse than knows more than training or first level movements, hopefully I won't be as much of a bumbling mess. And last year I was given the opportunity to ride a wonderful, privately owned horse who has talent for dressage, for the year and through working with him he and I both came so far. Sadly, his owner relocated and I am on a break due to lack of horses. The point of all of this is that I recently realized I was draining my bank account and never really advancing because the school horses around here (and I've tried many places and the location that my trainer is at has the best I've seen yet) just don't have the training. I'm going to pocket the money I would have been spending and put that towards a wonderful horse with some training that can grow with me in our journey for the perfect leg yield ;).

    I've really enjoyed reading many of your blog posts and while I don't see anything posted recently, I hope all is well with you and that you'll return eventually.