We spend a lot of time obsessing over details in dressage. I think it’s probably due to our personality types. Or maybe it’s just me! I’ve read volumes on it and tried to follow lots of exercises to always know where the horse's legs are and where my legs are.
It wasn’t until I started teaching it that I began to break it down into smaller sections so I could explain to others the timing of the aid that I do with my body in a movement. It also helps that for my fitness training certificates, I have to study the motion of the muscles and the joints of the human so I can talk to it more specifically.
There are moments in each movement when you can influence the horse with the least amount of effort. I know you think I must be crazy to say that it takes little effort since when you focus on using the leg at the correct time, the pressure of the aid gets stronger and stronger and the horses side gets duller and duller. You don’t always realize it until you get off the horse and your leg feels like it’s going to fall off. So let’s break down some timing of the aids for the leg yield.
You can use a mirror, a person on the ground, or the shadow from the sun—although that might be a little harder. When I’m walking towards the mirror I notice the inside leg of the horse. If I have someone for eyes on the ground, I pick the inside hind leg and have them say ‘now’ when the hoof touches the ground. At that moment, I pulse my calf a little harder and then release. The horse should want to move away from the extra feeling of pressure from the calf.
Alternating with the calf aid, I squeeze my outside rein like a sponge, and then release. This is when the outside hind touches the ground and helps control the shoulder and straightness of this exercise. I then have a diagonal aid going on with the leg and rein/hand aid. There’s a moment of ‘allow’ in the movement, like when you’re in a canoe or kayak, and the horse "glides" a bit.
Start first at the walk. When you try this for the first time on an inexperienced horse and with an inexperienced rider, you will feel the telltale sign of overusing the leg. You’ll know you’re doing this when you are grunting with the effort of using the leg aid. Or, you’re trying to touch your shoulder to your hip—in other words, contracting your oblique muscles a lot.
It’s true – it’s hard to feel it on a horse that is learning at the same pace you are, but these telltale signs should encourage you to stop and go to a softer aid. A more effective aid is using the calf and keeping the leg and oblique long. It’s important to remind yourself—even if you have to say it out loud—it takes time to leg yield over. Let it take the time it takes.
You can even say aloud to get a rhythm, "press, release" for your leg aid and, "squeeze, release" for your rein/hand aid. Then after a few tries at the walk it’s time to try the trot. This will be a bit easier since the momentum will make it feel less slow.
However, going faster means you have to control the tempo so it doesn’t go so fast you end up in lengthening or the horse running away from the aids, which is common at first. It also helps if you say it the little ditty out loud to keep the horse trotting in rhythm with your voice, "press, release and squeeze, release."
You can add a little abdominal muscle squeeze when you sit in your posting to keep the horse at a slower tempo. Of course if the horse slows down too much, you skip the ab aid. Remember it’s a fun process and after a few tries on each side go do something else.
Stay tuned for next week’s Two-minute Training Tip! If you need help building a training plan you can always email me questions at email@example.com or check out revelationfarm.com for upcoming events. Like us on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/RevelationFm!