The art of going forward sideways! There’s more to leg yielding and shoulder-in than meets the eye, so Amanda Mac asked top dressage rider Alycia Targa for some expert how-to tips.
If you want good advice, the smart move is to go to someone who really knows their business. So, without further ado, meet Alycia Targa. Alycia is a world ranked high performance FEI dressage rider. Successful in the sport since she was young, she rode internationally at the Young Rider World Cup in Frankfurt, Germany, and the Tri Nations Cup at the New Zealand Horse of the Year Show.
Alycia has successfully trained her current Grand Prix horse, CP Dresden, from a novice right through the levels up to Grand Prix.
She was named the Reserve Big Tour Champion at the Horse First 2019 NSW Dressage Championships, held at Tamworth in August, where Alycia and CP Dresden finished second in both the Grand Prix and the Grand Prix Kur with new personal best scores. And at September’s Boneo CDI, the pair came fourth in the Grand Prix with a personal best CDI score of 67.2, and also scooped third place in the Freestyle to Music event with a score of 70.5.
With credentials such as those, who better to give some sound advice on two movements that are more complex then they look, and are often performed with less accuracy than they require. But first, some definitions:
The leg yield
This is a lateral movement in which your horse travels both forward and sideways at the same time. During the leg yield the horse is fairly straight through their body, with a slight bend opposite to the direction in which they’re travelling. One of the first lateral schooling exercises, it teaches your horse to move sideways away from the pressure of your inside leg.
The shoulder-in is another lateral movement. It increases your horse’s suppleness and balance, helps to loosen up their shoulders, and encourages them to activate their hindquarters. When correctly performed, the horse is bent around the rider’s inside leg and is moving on three tracks, with their inside hind leg and outside foreleg travelling along the same line.
The importance of flat work
Alycia’s a great believer in flat work. “It doesn’t matter what discipline you’re in to, basic flat work training is a critical to good performance,” she says. “The value of the leg yield is in teaching your horse to respect your inside leg, and to understand where you want them to move when the inside leg is applied.”
How to begin the leg yield
“Start with a small circle and gradually spiral outwards into a larger circle, using your inside leg to push your horse into the outside rein,” Alycia explains. “The most important thing to notice is where their inside leg is stepping, which should be underneath your centre of gravity.”
Alycia adds that the biggest mistake when performing a leg yield is letting your horse fall out through their outside shoulder. When this happens, they may be trying to avoid working from their hindquarters by over-bending the neck. This is quite a common problem that can be made worse if a rider has the habit of pulling on the inside rein while turning. The result is that the horse will turn their head too far to the inside, creating an easy way to avoid the correct movement by falling out through the outside shoulder.
“If this is what your horse is attempting, you need to remedy it the moment it starts to happen by using your outside rein to prevent the outside shoulder falling out,” Alycia advises. “Another option is to counter-flex them for a couple of strides to get their shoulder back in line. Once your horse has understood what’s required of them when you apply your inside leg, the next step is to progress to turning up the centre line, still pushing them with your inside leg. Remember, the object is to move the whole horse sideways while keeping their inside leg under your centre of gravity and not falling out through the outside shoulder. When correctly performed, your horse’s inside hind leg should be reacting to your inside leg,” she explains.
Once your horse has the basics of the leg yield, the next step is the shoulder-in.
“The shoulder-in is the same idea as the leg yield in that it’s the inside hind leg you’re trying to get to step underneath the horse so the outside shoulder can step up and out down the long side. Your aiming for your horse’s inside foreleg to cross in front of the outside foreleg, with the inside hind hoof arriving in the hoof print made by the outside foreleg,” says Alycia.
Alycia starts by using a ten metre circle to get the bend and positioning she wants for the movement. “A couple of strides away from the long side, I keep my inside leg on and once you reach the long side think of pushing your inside leg through to their outside shoulder to produce the shoulder-in,” she says. “I find the biggest mistake riders make is that they ride neck in and quarters out instead of shoulder in – and don’t forget that your horse’s head still needs to be in line with the middle of their chest throughout this movement.”
If you lose the correct positioning, Alycia’s advice is to ride another ten metre circle: “The objective is to persevere with this movement until your horse is strong enough to keep the shoulder-in position for the full distance that you want.”
And a final tip: “To check that your horse is not putting their quarters out, ride the shoulder-in down the centre line so the horse doesn’t have the wall to lean on. Another good idea is to either ride the shoulder-in towards a mirror, or have someone videoing from in front of you so that you can check for positioning – you should only be able to see three legs.”
Alycia Targa is a high performance dressage rider and coach, and founder of Millbank Equestrian. She is available for one-on-one training as well as coaching clinics