This month’s blog is an exercise that introduces the horse to the idea of stepping laterally away from the rider’s leg. It is a variant of the commonly used leg yield. Both exercises are very beneficial, but the leg yield often becomes a twisted horse falling to the fence rather than a balanced horse stepping across.
The side step variant helps the rider to keep control over the horse’s shoulders and encourages the horse to step their inside legs across his outside leg. It has the added benefit of setting horses up for half pass which will come later in their training.
To ride side steps, begin by turning onto an inner track on the long side of the school, about 2 m in, and have your horse straight.
Gently half halt and use your inside leg slightly back to move your horse to the track on a shallow angle. Don’t press your inside leg, but touch and release. Continue with the half halts to encourage your horse to step across rather than forward.
As you do this, support as necessary with your outside aids so that your horse doesn’t fall to their outside shoulder. Don’t use these aids at the same time as the inside aids or you will block your horse’s movement.
Close your body slightly towards your elbow in the direction you want to go, but don’t shift your seat around.
Do the exercise slowly so your horse doesn’t rush and fall to the shoulder. They should remain in balance throughout.
Your inside leg has a lot to do, it creates bend, impulsion and directs the quarters. Stepping sideways needs a touch and release with one leg to create the side step, the other leg releases to allow your horse to step over and then gathers to maintain the bend and impulsion.
Ask for one step the first time and then gradually build the number of steps as your horse becomes more confident with the exercise.
Diane Followell Classical Dressage Trainer