Getting your horse to move sideways off your leg (or move laterally) is key to getting total control of his body. Lateral control of the hind end and shoulders helps you in simple things, like opening and closing gates or backing in a straight line. It also makes possible more advanced maneuvers, like changing leads and spinning.
Teaching your horse to move laterally is best accomplished with a progression of exercises intended to gradually reprogram your horse to move away from pressure, instead of into pressure, as he's naturally hardwired to do. You should begin with teaching your horse to move his front or rear end over from the ground, as you stand next to him unsaddled at the hitching rack, and then as you hold his reins before mounting. Once your horse has mastered the concept from the ground, you'll take it a step further and work on lateral movement while you're mounted, maneuvering him next to a gate to open it and sideways along a fence line.
After your horse has proven that he understands the concept while moving with the gate and along the fence line, the final step in the progression of teaching lateral movement is moving diagonally across the arena.
From Corner to Corner
Starting in one corner of your arena, ask your horse to walk forward and sideways diagonally across to the opposite corner, moving first his front end, then his hind end, then the front again, and so on. Let's say you're in a right-hand corner and will move him diagonally to the far left-hand corner.
Squeeze with both legs just behind the cinch to send him forward, then to move his front end to the left, bring both reins toward the left and bump with your right leg at the cinch.
Then keep forward motion going with a squeeze from both legs just behind the cinch, and to move his hind end over, bump with your right leg farther behind the cinch.
Then repeat the sequence, working your way diagonally across the arena. As your horse comes to understand better what you're asking, work toward getting him to move both ends at the same time in a true leg-yield. You'll be carrying your hands to the left, and using your right leg just behind the cinch.
Reverse all cues and work in the opposite direction. Be sure to provide equal practice going each way. When your horse is responding consistently well at the walk, try it at the trot, and eventually the lope.
Photos and text reprinted from Sandy Collier's Reining Essentials: How to Excel in Western's Hottest Sport with permission from Trafalgar Square Books. You can purchase this book at www.EquineNetworkStore.com.
Find instructions for the first four progressions in lateral training in the article "Lateral 101" from the January 2010 issue of Horse & Rider magazine. To order a back issue, call 303-625-1600.