I was recently teaching a student how to help their horse perform a forehand yield. A point came up about the importance of correctness, which I think is worth repeating here for the sake of people’s clarity.
First, let me describe what a forehand yield is when done correctly.
Just as it sounds, it is a maneuver where the forehand of the horse yields to the inside rein. This is what should happen. The rider applies a feel to the inside rein to encourage the horse to think and flex to the inside. In the process of teaching, this usually entails a direct rein aid where the rein is applied away from the horse’s body. No outside rein is used. In turn, the horse shifts some weight to the hindquarters, lifts the shoulders and steps the inside fore to the side. In short, the forehand turns around the hindquarters. If you are unsure, check out the photos below.
Just to clarify the essential points:
1. A direct inside rein asks the horse to think and flex to the inside.
2. The outside rein and the rider’s legs play no role and are simply passive (see 2nd photo).
3. The horse shifts weight to the hindquarters.
4. The horse takes the weight off the inside fore and lifts it and steps it to the inside.
5. The hindquarters act as a pivot point.
Now I want to talk about the reasons for doing this exercise because they explain why I would do this movement the way I do rather than a classical turn on the haunches or walk pirouette, as many others teach.
I have previously discussed the difference between a hindquarter yield and a turn on the forehand (see August 18, 2016) and almost the same rules and reasons apply to the distinction between a forehand yield and a turn on the haunches.
For me, there is no greater or more fundamental function of the reins than to connect a horse’s thought to be able to direct the feet in any way I might desire. This underpins everything that comes later. It is much more important that a rider can influence the horse’s idea of where to put its feet using the reins, than that it can be done with a rider’s legs and/or seat. Many people fixate on teaching a horse to move directionally in response to the rider’s seat and legs before the horse has a clear and soft understanding of yielding to the reins. To my mind, this is backward because the reins offer a much more subtle and refined way of communicating with a horse than a rider’s legs, which are a crude form of communication in my view.
Therefore, the primary purpose of teaching a forehand yield in the early training stage is to embed in a horse’s mind that the inside rein connects a horse’s thought to direct the inside foreleg. There are some others reasons for teaching a forehand yield early on, but none are more important that this.
Why is it so important that the inside rein directs the inside fore?
It’s because it is one of the fundamental principles of teaching balance and correctness of movement in a turn. When a horse turns to the left, the left fore should step to the left and left hind should move diagonally to the right in order for the turn to be balanced. This should happen because the horse’s thought is focused to the left. That shift of focus should come from a feel offered by the left rein.
The part of the discussion at the clinics that prompted this post is that my student had her horse stepping the outside fore foot across the inside fore foot as the first foot movement of the forehand yield. This is wrong. This is a walk pirouette, which is a different movement and taught much later when a horse is already showing balanced turns and a moderate level of collection. It is a common mistake and my student was quite confused at first. But I had to explain that she was trying to build a house before the foundations are laid.
For a horse that is still learning to follow the feel of the inside rein, you want to avoid the outside leg crossing over the inside leg as the first step in the movement. This is because firstly it will cause uneducated horses to crash inwards on their shoulder during a turn, putting more strain on the inside leg and shoulder. And secondly, it can encourage horses to rush the turns because their lack of balance causes physical stiffness and mental hurry in order to recover their balance.
The inside leg should be leading the outside leg and not the other way around. Again, look at the photos below.
In essence, by teaching a horse to perform forehand yields and hindquarters yields we are setting a horse up to be balanced and straight in the turns and circles so it is working its body correctly and not straining one side more that the other. It is also laying the groundwork for much more advanced movements later on. Teaching forehand yields and hindquarter yields (August 18, 2016) not only makes the performance better but also ensures a longer life of soundness.
The photos were taken in Bondurant, Iowa at a clinic last September. Thanks to Betsy for letting me ride her sweet pony, Honey. And thanks too to Neal for taking the pictures.
A: The start of a forehand yield from a standstill. Notice the inside rein applies a feel to the side to encourage a horse to look to the inside.
B: Same as the previous photo, but from the front showing that my legs are not being used.
C: A forehand yield at a walk. Notice the inside fore getting ready to step to the inside.