Kristina Harrison-Antell and Arlo execute a leg yield during the March clinic with Olympic and World Cup champion Charlotte Dujardin in Los Angeles. Arlo's head is turned slightly away from his direction of travel, but his body otherwise stays straight while moving toward the rail. It's a great exercise for becoming able to position your horse for the best approach to the next jump on course.
Reader: Can you recommend a simple dressage exercise that will help me improve my work over fences?
Tina Donatoni-Frost: Many hunter/ jumper riders hear the term "dressage" and would never imagine how much they could draw from this discipline to improve their horses and riding in the jumping arena.
Dressage, most basically, means a system of training. The training principles are based in the training pyramid. At the bottom of this pyramid is rhythm, relaxation and connection through acceptance of the aids. Farther up the pyramid we have impulsion, straightness and, finally, collection.
These characteristics all can help lead to a flawless round of fences. Many of the basic training exercises from the dressage arena can help to create a horse that is more responsive to the aids and ultimately allows the rider to place their horse where they want while maintaining wonderful balance and rhythm.
The beginning lateral exercise we introduce to dressage horses is the leg yield. This is a suppling exercise that helps to improve the horse's longitudinal and lateral flexibility. This teaches the horse a subtle blend of balance, rhythm and forward energy. It improves the horse's lateral agility and response to the lateral aids.
As I come into the corner on a course of fences, this will assist me in laterally moving my horse into the corner from my inside leg and then to be able to come out of the corner and create straightness to my next fence. I will gain the ability to maneuver around a course in a comfortable and willing way. The knowledge that you can put your horse out toward the rail or bring them in is so important for creating distances.
The leg yield exercise will also assist the rider in coordinating their aids.
The basics of the leg yield begin with a straight horse from head to tail, with a slight flexion away from the direction of travel. If the horse is correctly positioned, the horse's forehand is just ahead of the hindquarter. The rider is focusing on sitting evenly on both seat bones. The outside rein is supportive and helps to prevent the falling out of the outside shoulder. The rider's inside leg is at the girth creating the forward motion and the outside leg is slightly back controlling the sideways motion. As you progress in your leg yielding you help to develop the ability of sideways and forward in equal measure.
As a hunter or jumper rider, you will never be asked to step into the ring and demonstrate a leg yield. But, as you are cantering your course, the knowledge that your horse will respond quickly to your leg to step out through a corner, to be able to balance your horse off the outside rein to create true straightness to the center of the next jump, is such a wonderful feeling.
The more responsive and "on the aids" our jumping horses become, the more we can place them and find that true balance which helps to create that truly balanced and invisible ride. I encourage you to begin with the leg yield, and as you progress, look toward the other lateral movements found in the dressage world. They can help you create a truly amazing equine athlete.
Hunter/jumper trainer Tina Donatoni-Frost operates Donatoni-Frost Stable at the Stradivarius Equestrian Center in Ventura County's Santa Paula. She can be reached at 805-340-9633 or visit
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