Most riders, especially those who do any kind of arena work, are familiar with the concept that a horse should “move off your leg.” This simply means that the horse easily moves laterally away from leg pressure instead of leaning into the pressure or darting forward. A horse that easily moves off leg is a pleasure to ride and is typically more balanced and goes straighter and lighter around turns. In my experience, a lot of people seem to just expect that horses understand this, or will just pick it up if you just keep pushing. I have found that by breaking down the leg pressure cues and teaching the horse what they actually mean, you will have a much lighter, quicker response to your leg cues.
A good example of this is a horse that is difficult in picking up a canter lead. Most riders use outside leg back as a canter cue, but if your horse does not actually understand that outside leg back means move haunches in, the cue does not actually accomplish much. Another example – we typically put on our inside leg to keep our horses from falling in on a turn, but if the horse does not really know to move away from that inside leg, then your cue will not mean too much, and the horse will likely become heavier and take more and more leg to move because he has learned to just accept your leg pressure being there.
So how do we go about training for a lighter horse? Start on the ground using your hand where your leg would be to ask the horse to step over with first his hips, then his shoulders. Do this from both sides. Next ask for the same movements from the saddle. When your horse can consistently move his hips and shoulders independently when you ask then you can begin asking for a small leg yield on a circle. Walk a 10 meter circle, half halt, then ask your horse to step under with his inside hind leg. Just be happy with one or two steps to begin and build on it. You can also practice the sidepass by halting, then asking for hips, shoulders, hips, shoulders until your horse takes a step over with both front and hind legs. Build a solid foundation for your lateral work by starting slow and building in speed, impulsion, and number of steps. Whether you are looking to do canter half passes or just want to keep your horse on the rail around the turns, making sure he understands what your leg pressure means is the beginning! If there is enough interest, I would be happy to make a short video tutorial to demonstrate these exercise, so leave a comment if you are interested, thanks!