A supple horse can move freely through his body and flow from one schooling movement to the next – it makes him a pleasure to ride. Suppleness is also important because without it he won’t be able to achieve self-carriage, impulsion or a true connection to your rein contact, meaning your schooling progress will be seriously limited. This is why making suppleness exercises an everyday part of your horse’s training is important. A great way to do this is to introduce lateral work, which is like a gym workout for your horse.
While lateral work may sound daunting if you haven’t tried it before, don’t be put off – no matter what level you’re at, anyone can have a go. The key is to break your training down into bite-sized chunks and introduce it gradually, so you both have time to get used to the different way of moving that lateral work asks for.
Top tip – You don’t need to be in an arena to practise lateral work, so try it out hacking. Where it’s safe to do so, ask your horse to step across from one side of a path to the other, then back again. Leg-yield is a useful tool out hacking because it can help refocus your horse’s attention if he becomes distracted or spooks.
Exercise 1 – Leg-yield
Leg-yield is the ideal introduction to lateral work. It teaches your horse to move away from your leg and take one sideways step for each forward one. The aim is for your horse to bring his inside hindleg underneath his body, crossing it in front of his outside hindleg and pushing himself sideways. Start in walk to give you a chance to perfect your aids and give your horse time to understand what’s being asked of him…
- Ensure he’s marching forward in walk, then turn off the track onto the three-quarter line.
- Ride straight for a few steps, focusing on maintaining the same rhythm.
- Flex his head slightly to the inside, but keep his body straight by supporting his quarters with your outside leg on the girth.
- Use your outside rein to support his shoulder and keep his body straight.
- Nudge with your inside leg just behind the girth to ask him to step across.
- Take your leg off to allow him to go forwards, then apply it again to ask for another sideways step.
- Repeat, focusing on maintaining impulsion using your outside leg.
- After a few crossing steps, ride forward out of the leg-yield and give him a pat.
When you’re introducing lateral work, remember to ask for just a few steps at a time and don’t spend too long practising in each session. Break things up by riding other school movements to keep him thinking forwards.
For more of Lucy Cartwright’s exercises to make your horse more flexible, get your copy of Spring Horse&Rider on sale now!