Dressage: Lateral Work

As dressage tests become more advanced, the horse is asked to do ‘lateral work’, or ‘work on two tracks’ the hind-feet follow a different track from the forefeet. This happens when he moves sideways, or forward and sideways at the same time, and demonstrates his suppleness, balance and agility.

Turn on the forehand

You have probably asked your horse to go sideways already without noticing it. Think when someone is mucking out a stable with the horse tied up in it. Once they have done one half, they say ‘over’, and he moves across the stable, making it easier to muck out the other half.

The movement that the horse makes is a sort of ‘turn on the forehand’, which is one of the first mounted exercises you do when starting lateral work. The turn on the forehand is a useful exercise for three main reasons:

  • It teaches your pony to move away from your leg.
  • It teaches you to ‘blend’ the aids given with your legs and your hands.
  • It has many everyday uses, such as when opening gates or turning in confined spaces.

In this exercise the pony turns in a half-circle through 180°, so that he changes the direction in which he is facing. It starts from a good, square halt. The outside forefoot marks time (stepping up and down in the same place) and he pivots around it.

The inside forefoot makes a small half-circle around the pivoting outside forefoot, and the hindfeet make a large half-circle to complete the turn.

Giving the aids

The turn on the forehand is made almost entirely with leg aids. The hands do very little. To make a turn to the right (in which you start on the right rein and end up on the left rein), your pony should first be standing square and on the bit.

Ask him to look slightly to the left by giving little squeezes with the fingers of your left hand, until you can just see his left eye. Don’t pull back with this hand, or your pony may step backward, which is a serious fault.

Your right hand keeps a steady contact, ready to tell the pony that he is not to step forward. Keep your left leg just at the girth, in contact with his side to keep him up into your hands, and to discourage him from stepping backward. Your right leg, drawn back a little behind the girth, asks him to turn his hindquarters through the half-circle. Once the turn is complete, ride the pony energetically forward without hesitation. You must ride forward immediately so that the pony maintains his forward impulsion, with his hind legs underneath him.

Yielding to the leg

The next exercise that is usually taught in lateral work is ‘leg-yielding’. Here the pony is asked to walk or trot forward and sideways at the same time, While remaining parallel to the side of the arena.

An easy way to start this work is to use an exercise that is known as ‘yielding to the leg’. It sounds the same as leg-yielding but is not.

Starting on a 20m (66ft) circle (in walk to begin with, and later in trot), ask your pony to make the circle gradually smaller. You could make it a metre (3ft 3in) smaller on each circuit, down to about 12m (39ft).

Keeping the pony bent on the track of the circle but not with too much bend in his neck -use your inside leg just at the girth to ask him to step forward and sideways back out to the 20m (66ft) circle.

When doing this in trot, it is best to make sitting trot from about the 16m (52ft) circle downward, and when ‘yielding to the leg’. This is because it is difficult to rise to the trot on very small circles and still maintain a rhythmical, balanced trot.

When you reach the 20m (66ft) circle start rising again. The work should be done as evenly as possible on both reins. Your pony will almost certainly find it easier one way than the other.


When you can do ‘yielding to the leg’ fairly easily on both reins, try ‘leg-yielding’ on a straight line, first in walk and then in trot.

It is best if you can start this work in a 20 X 40m (66 x 132ft) arena, so that you can measure exactly what you are doing. On the left rein, start the exercise by making a half l0-metre (33-foot) circle from M or K to bring you on to the centre line (C to A).

Once your pony is moving straight on the centre line, ask him with your inside leg (the left leg on the left rein) to move sideways as well as forward toward the opposite quarter marker K or M. Try to keep the pony parallel to the side of the arena by keeping your outside leg against him to encourage him forward.

Be content with just two or three steps in ‘leg-yielding’ to start with, then ride the pony straight forward with both legs. As with any new exercise, praise your pony when he achieves what you are asking him to do.

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