The Stables

Don’t Lose It, Move It!

by Lorraine Jennings

Fed up with hearing “He’s falling out” or “You’ve lost the shoulder”? Don’t worry. Most riders hear phrases like these when they start riding lateral movements. But don’t give up. Often it’s not what you’re doing but where you’re doing it.

Leg yield is usually the first thing riders are taught. You’ve probably been taught to ride from the ¾ line to the track. It’s meant to make your life easier. Actually it makes it harder. Your horse is naturally drawn to the track. If he thinks he knows where he’s going he’s not going to concentrate on your aids.

Try using the centre line. It’s far enough away from the track to avoid your horse anticipating. There are hundreds of things you could ask him to do from there so he’ll have to pay attention.

Before any movement your horse must be straight. Ride a few centre lines to make sure. This is the most important part of any movement. If he’s not straight at the start how can he move sideways correctly?  

Your hands are a crucial part of any lateral work. Keep them together and level. This keeps your horse’s shoulders together as one unit. Fail to do this and you’ll allow him to fall in or out as he pleases.  

As you ask your horse to step sideways your contact should be restrictive. Tighten your fingers around both reins but don’t pull back. It’s enough to stop him rushing from your leg but it isn’t so harsh that he resists and tenses his back. If he’s tense in his back he can’t walk forward correctly, stepping sideways will be impossible.

Make sure you’re sitting straight. Ride without stirrups if you feel safe. This will highlight the position of your seat in the saddle. Riders often draw their inside leg up as they try to move their horse across. This slides their weight to the outside. The horse is put in an impossible situation. The rider’s seat is pushing them one way but their leg is sending them the other. Is it any wonder they get confused?

When you first ask your horse to leg yield ask for one step not several. This teaches him to wait to be told. It also helps you to get a feel for riding him from one leg to the other. Think of his body as a ball. ‘Throw’ it from your inside leg to your outside leg. Your inside leg pushes him over and your outside leg catches him. In this way you are in control of every step he takes.

When your outside leg makes contact you’ll feel your horse hesitate. Be quick to push him forward with both legs together and relax your fingers on the reins. Walk three steps straight before you ask him to step away from your inside leg again.

Alter the number of strides you take between your steps across. The more you practice the more control you’ll have. One step at a time may feel unimpressive but one step done well is better than ten strides of nothing.

All lateral movements require accurate positioning of your horse’s shoulders or hindquarters. Learning to move each part separately will give you the confidence you need to progress with your lateral work.

A great place to start is the long diagonal. (Take KXM as an example) You can turn your horse around his hindquarters at K to leave the track and around his shoulders at M to get back on it.

Your hands control your horse’s shoulders. Your legs control his body. When you turn his shoulders around his quarters you’ll need to take his body too. If you don’t he’ll get only get so far before he gets stuck. His only way out will be to swing his quarters round and straighten up.

When you reach K sit back, tighten your fingers around the reins and take your hands across your horse’s neck until your outside hand is above his crest. This will take his shoulders to the inside. At the same time use your outside heel in its usual place to push his body round. When he steps over catch him with your inside leg. Relax your fingers on the reins and ride forward towards M.

For a normal turn you turn your body in the direction you want your horse to go before the turn. Lateral work is different. You don’t want his quarters to follow his shoulders. You want them to move separately. Only turn your body when he turns his.

Halt when your horse touches the track at M with his front feet. His body will be at an angle to the track. This time his shoulders must stay still so keep your hands still. Tighten your fingers around your reins and use your inside heel to push his body towards the track.

When you use your heel put it on and take it off immediately. Keep it on and your horse will just push back. If he doesn’t listen back it up with your whip. This should be enough to make him take his hindquarters over one step onto the track. Catch him with your outside leg. Relax your fingers, put both legs on together and walk on.

Young or novice horses can find this exercise confusing if you do both ends together. Break it down. Practice turning at K and riding the end of the diagonal as you normally would or start as normal and make a turn onto the track at M.

As your coordination improves increase the steps you take by using the short diagonal K-B or turning 90’ from K-F. The steeper the angle the more steps you’ll take. Take your time. Work out what you want to do with each part of your horse and where you want to put it. When you can do that you’ll be able to move him wherever you want.

Good luck and enjoy your schooling.

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