Trail Pattern & Leg Yield

Yesterday was the last day of the session, so I wanted to do something extra fun. It was also very hot, so we couldn’t trot. Therefore I made a long trail course! I used it to teach them various obstacles they might encounter on a real outdoor trail ride, as well as work on the specific riding skills they are currently working on. (In retrospect the course is not that long…but it felt long because I had to drag out so many poles!)


Trail Course

  1. cross the diagonal pole
    1. discuss: crossing logs, steering toward the best crossing spot, encouraging horse to pick up legs, preparing horse to meet the obstacle well/straight, letting horse investigate an object, leg yield to keep horse in middle
    2. skills: steering, 2 point
    3. progress: no leader, 2 point without holding on, trot over pole, etc.
  2. steer through the zig zag poles
    1. discuss: narrow winding trails, switchbacks, bending around trees
    2. skills: steering, bending around legs
    3. progress: no leader, make path more narrow or sharper angles, trot through them
  3. steer between the narrow cones
    1. discuss: narrow trails, crossing narrow bridges, preparing horse to meet obstacle well/straight
    2. skills: steering, riding straight, whoa between cones if you want
    3. progress: no leader, whoa in middle, through through, trot in to whoa in middle
  4. T poles rings – whoa at the first pole, get a ring, take it to the second pole, whoa, drop off the ring
    1. discuss: on the trail you might have to carry something like a bucket/branch/sweatshirt from one place to another, or open a gate (which this can be a precursor to)
    2. skills: steering, whoa, leg yield to get horse near pole, use two hands to hold rein and other hand to grab ring
    3. progress: no leader, at the walk without halting, at the trot without halting, use leg yield to approach from the side

Those are just to name a few!

Trail courses also work on memory. I like to have my riders stop, face the course, quickly explain the steps one at a time, quickly review (“Patty, what is step #1?”), then ride through it with explanations and help, then continue to practice as I take away help. It can also be nice to have a whiteboard to draw the trail pattern on for visual learners.

Example lesson plan:

Objective: Demonstrate leg yield using correct aids 4 times during the lesson without a leader or sidewalker.

  1. Tack check.
  2. Mount via block, with leader.
  3. Center of arena, check tack, adjust stirrups – have him do his own stirrups.
  4. Warmups – with leader
    1. arm circles – to open up chest and warm up arms
    2. shoulder twists – to activate core and warm up steering arms
    3. feet out of stirrups
    4. ankle rolls – to loosen up ankles and encourage heels down so can use whole leg
    5. alternate thighs off saddle and circle leg back – promote independent seat, become aware of seat bones and evenly balancing on them
  5. Tack check
  6. Line up on quarter line
  7. Skill explanation
    1. what: leg yield
    2. why: to move horse off leg in order to move him diagonally, such as to keep him on the wall or move him toward a trail object
    3. how: the leg you want him to move away from pushes against his barrel at the girth “like a closed door”, the leg he moves toward should stay off his side “like an open door”, the reins are used to keep his head straight or slightly turned to bend around the pushing leg, his body should stay parallel to the line you started on or the wall you are yielding toward – give a demonstration walking in front of them then crossing your feet as you walk diagonally forward in a human version of the leg yield
    4. where: first between the quarter line and wall, then in the trail course
  8. Practice 1 & Progression – Leg Yield To and From the Wall
    1. leg yield from the quarter line to the wall, switch directions, repeat the other way
    2. leg yield from the wall to the quarter line
    3. leg yield from the wall to the quarter line and back – all on the same wall
  9. Practice 2 & Progression – Leg Yield during the Trail Course
    1. cross the diagonal pole – use legs to keep horse straight
    2. zig zag poles – use legs to encourage bending
    3. narrow cones – use legs to keep horse straight
    4. T pole rings – leg yield to each T pole, use legs to keep horse straight
  10. Cool down – ride 1 lap without stirrups to relax your legs, you’ve been using them a lot!
  11. Review – leg yield and its uses, apply trail skills to riding horses on trail rides on family vacations
  12. Dismount – over croup, no help

What would you add? Any tips for leg yields?


Note: This is not professional advice, this is a blog. I am not liable for what you do with or how you use this information. The activities explained in this blog may not be fit for every rider, riding instructor, or riding center depending on their current condition and resources. Use your best personal judgement!

3 thoughts on “Trail Pattern & Leg Yield

  1. How do you approach this lesson for studends that do not have full use or stregth on one side of their body or a double amputee as one of the students?

    • Hi! That’s a good question. I have not had amputees before, but one of the riders I used this lesson plan with has a weak side and she is still able to leg yield, we just have to work on using her seat and balance correctly. The horse she rides is very well trained and light on the leg so it does not take much from her leg or thigh to get her to leg yield. For riders with a very weak side or amputees, you could have them use a dressage whip on one side in place of their leg, if the horse is trained correctly to obey it. You can also have a sidewalker apply pressure on the leg or horse, to help the rider get the correct feel, as long as they are properly trained. In all cases they will have to make sure to apply all the other aids very precisely, especially their weight aids. Those are my thoughts, does anyone else have anything to add?

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