Roy Allen Yates: Step Aside…Teaching Your Horse Lateral Movement

Roy Allen Yates: Step Aside…Teaching Your Horse Lateral Movement

(NOTES FROM KM: Western master of lightness Roy Allen Yates (1930-2010) rode into my awareness on his QH stallion Tidys Chirp in San Juan Capistrano almost 20 years ago. He was giving a weekend clinic and it was an eye opener for certain. Trained by Roy, Tidys Chirp happened to be an AQHA Performance Champion with Superior Awards in Reining, Western Riding and Western Pleasure as well as a Register of Merit in Trail. At that time, Tidys Chirp held (and still may hold) the world record for the longest sliding stop of 66 feet. In a western saddle and western curb bridle, first Roy did a demonstration of reining and then he put Tidys Chirp to the sliding stop. They kept sliding and sliding until I thought they might go out the arena on the other end. Roy then excused himself for a 10-minute break, and to our amazement re-entered the arena on a proudly prancing Tidy’s Chirp tacked up in a dressage saddle, double bridle and dressage whip, and together they treated us to a demonstration of classical dressage, although I didn’t know what that was at the time. The horse was in perfect self-carriage, which I also didn’t know anything about at the time.)

(Roy introduced the clinic attendees to the work of his mentor, Charles Owen Williamson, and offered for sale Williamson’s book Breaking and Training the Stock Horse (and teaching basic principles of dressage). (See post about Charles Owen Williamson in these same Categories.) Roy in turn became a mentor for Tye MacDonald (see Tye’s article in the Training and Riding category). Williamson and Yates are passed on, but I would like to keep this remarkable lineage visible.)

STEP ASIDE: Roy Yates shows you how to teach your horse lateral movement

(© Christine Knight, author and photographer of interior article images. First published in Western Horseman, January 1998. Used with permission of author. Currently in search of feature photo credit.)

The ability to move laterally and arc his body from head to tail is critical to a horse in any performance event. Consider, for example, the compulsory movements in a trail class, or those used in opening and closing a gate without dismounting. Think of the fluid grace of a fine reining horse, effortlessly bent to the inside of a small, slow circle, or the slow and easy flying lead changes of a western riding horse.

Although most competent trainers teach a green horse the basics of these movements in relatively short order, teaching a horse to be collected and properly arced in his lateral movements is a much tougher proposition. It’s a challenge that Colorado horse trainer Roy Yates has spent a lifetime mastering.

“A horse should bend through the middle of his body like a trout in a stream, and not like a log in a pond.” That’s Roy’s typically colorful explanation of the difference between the way a green-broke horse moves–with his entire body in one stiff unit–and the graceful, fluid moves of the trained horse.


When Roy starts his training program, his equine pupils learn lateral work like other young horses, without any special emphasis on head position or collection. Roy refers to this as working in an “ordinary” way. But Roy is no ordinary horse trainer; to him, this is only kindergarten in the progression to what he calls high school training. He frequently uses the term in deference to such historical horse trainers as the great French riding master James Fillis, whom Roy has studied in depth. [Note: As did his mentor Charles O. Williamson. K.M.]

Roy begins teaching a young horse lateral movements from the ground, so the horse learns what is expected before he is confused with the added burden of a rider’s weight. The trainer first teaches a young horse to move his hind end and front end independently and in response to pressure. Although these movements are part of a critical foundation in and of themselves, the turn on the forehand and the turn on the haunches also are the beginning of lateral work.

Roy Yates uses Tidys King Glow to demonstrate how he teaches the turn on the forehand. In this maneuver the haunches revolve around the stationary front end. Roy taps his training whip along the horse’s barrel. Later, the trainer will squeeze his leg against the same area to cue the horse to move his hindquarters away from pressure. It helps to tie the stirrups up and out of the way when doing ground work with a horse [Note: Leaving the horse unsaddled is another option.  K.M.]

“If we can get the back end of the horse to move over, and we can get the front end to move over separately,” Roy reasons, “then we should be able to get the whole horse to move over sideways in a leg yield.” As the name of the maneuver suggests, the horse yields or moves sideways away from leg pressure. In this most elementary form of lateral work, the horse truly moves sideways, either with or without forward motion. Many people incorrectly refer to this movement as the side-pass, but, as discussed later in this article, the side-pass is actually a far more advanced form of lateral work than the leg yield.


Here, Tidys King Glow’s near hind leg crosses to the inside as he turns on the forehand; his next step will be to the outside with the far hind leg. Roy holds the reins near the bit, tipping the horse’s head to the inside of his rotation. This makes it easier for the horse to turn and also helps keep his forehand stationary.

Tidy’s King Glow turns on his haunches, his near front leg crossing over the other front leg. Although considered the beginning of the spin, this maneuver, according to Roy, also is a preliminary step to teaching a horse to move his entire body to the side.

Ground Work

Working first from the ground, Roy uses a 48-inch training whip to tap lightly on the horse’s barrel around the girth area. Later, when mounted, he uses leg pressure in the same area to cue the horse for the same movement. To help the horse get the idea of lateral movement, Roy may pull the horse’s head slightly toward him.

Roy teaches the leg yield from the ground by tapping the horse near the girth area. This encourages him to step sideways and away from the trainer–at first with the front end and then the hind end.

For example, when asking a horse to move sideways to the right, Roy taps on the left side and pulls the horse’s head slightly to the left–away from the horse’s direction of travel. After one sideways step, Roy stops and rewards the horse. He repeats the procedure as many as 35 times each side, until the horse completely understands the movement. [Note: I am guessing the 35 times each side are not in the same session but done over time. K.M.]

“We should teach a maneuver enough,” Roy says, “to impress the horse’s great memory, because that’s all we really have when we train a horse–his great memory bank. The only way we can really teach a horse is to do it over and over, and reward each time a lot.”

Mounted Work

Roy then transfers the same cues the horse has learned on the ground to mounted work. Additionally, however, the horse must learn to perform these maneuvers with the added burden of the rider’s body weight, an important factor in the teaching of the lateral movements.

Roy mounts up to demonstrate a leg yield. Tidy’s King Glow is looking away from his direction of travel–representing the lateral effect or most elementary way of moving sideways–while Roy looks toward the direction he wishes the horse to move.

“When we first teach a horse, for example, a leg yield to the right, the first thing we need to do is think right, then look right, then shift our body weight slightly…to that direction,” explains Roy. The shifting of body weight is important in all facets of Roy’s training system. The shift gives the horse a preliminary cue as to what direction the rider wishes to go, and also makes it easier for the horse to move in that direction. It’s somewhat like a motorcyclist leaning into a turn. When Roy refers to moving the body weight, he means a slight shifting or weighting of the stirrup in the direction the rider wishes to move–not a leaning of the whole body.

After cueing the horse with his body movements, Roy then applies leg pressure on the opposite side (in this case, the left) in the girth area. Using his left rein, he tips the horse’s head slightly toward the left, just as he did when teaching the horse the movement on the ground. This moves the horse’s body sideways to the right, away from the left-leg pressure. At first, it’s easier for the horse if he is also going forward as he moves sideways. Later, the rider restrains forward movement with the reins, and the horse soon learns to move directly sideways. When the horse is moving easily away from leg pressure, he is now performing lateral work in an ordinary way.

Side Effects

“What I mean by an ordinary way,” explains Roy, “is that the horse is moving sideways with what are called lateral effects. For example, when I apply my left leg and left rein, the horse is bent slightly to the left, looking toward the direction of my reins and leg cues, and away from his direction of travel. This is the most elementary form of lateral work, but I want to advance the horse beyond this stage as soon as possible.

“Eventually, when I apply left leg pressure back, I want the horse to bend and look to the right. This is an example of diagonal effects; that is, the horse is bent away from the side I am cueing him on, and toward his direction of travel.”

To accomplish this more advanced work, the horse progresses through what Roy refers to as the lateral, straight, and diagonal effects. The different effects involve how the horse is bent away from the direction he is traveling (elementary); in straight effects, the horse’s body is not bent much at all (intermediate); and in diagonal effects, the horse is bent into his direction of travel and away from the rider’s leg and rein cues (advanced).


To teach the more advanced forms of lateral work, the trainer again starts from the ground. First, using a curb bit, Roy teaches a horse to flex at the poll in response to bit pressure. This is referred to as a direct flexion. He repeats the direct flexion work a little each day, until the horse automatically responds to pressure on the reins with soft flexion, and never with resistance, such as raising or ducking his head or pulling back on the reins.

With direct flexion, the horse flexes at the poll and responds to pressure from the bit.

At that point, Roy begins teaching lateral flexion. Grasping the reins, he gently and gradually begins turning the horse’s head to each side. Roy’s objective: Teach the horse to bend sideways at the poll, or no more than 8 or 10 inches back of the poll, but not at the base of the neck.

“The purposes of the lateral flexion,” says Roy, “is to preserve the direct flexion (bending at the poll) in the change of direction and to bind the head and neck to the shoulders.”

Roy explains that teaching these flexions is a conditional program that cannot be accomplished overnight, but must be done softly and gradually, “like working a rusty hinge.” For this reason, Roy does not advocate tying a horse’s head around to his tail. He believes such a practice disconnects a horse’s head and neck from his shoulders, making him rubber-necked. Instead, the horse should move his head, neck, and shoulders together as one unit.

Roy “works the rusty hinge” when he asks a horse to move his head side to side without losing his nice direct flexion at the poll. Although flexed at the poll, the horse does not bend throughout the length of his neck. This work helps the horse stay flexed and collected when he changes direction in his work. [NOTE: the horse’s ears must be level, with no forcing, when this flexion is correctly performed. K.M.]

“This is why,” Roy explains, “when a lot of people pull a horse’s head abruptly to one direction, he’ll bend at the base of his neck, and leave the rest of his body, from his withers to his tail, stiff. This will also cause a horse to drop his shoulder out to the opposite side in a turn; the shoulders are not going around with the head and neck, and consequently we have to stop and pick up the shoulder–a problem we avoid at the outset using my system.”

When the horse is easily performing lateral flexions on the ground, he is ready for the same work with the trainer mounted. Roy bends the horse’s head just enough to see his eye. This work makes the horse supple, and he begins to bend softly through the middle of his body, in a slight arc just behind his withers.

Flexion and Effects

At this point a horse is flexible enough to begin working with diagonal effects, and to perform a side-pass in the correct sense of the term. Roy explains that the terms “side-pass, “full-pass,” and “side-steps” are all synonymous. He defines them as a horse moving straight side-ways while looking slightly into the direction of his travel. A half-pass is the same movement performed while the horse is gaining forward ground. “A true half-pass or side-pass is the most advanced form of the lateral work,” asserts Roy. “That’s what I call high school training.”

Roy and Tidys King Glow perform a half-pass. Both Roy and the horse are looking toward the direction of travel.

The advantages of lateral work are numerous. When a horse is soft and supple in his jaw, poll, and the middle of his body, the rider can readily position him for virtually any maneuver. For example, Roy explains, a correct lead departure is only guaranteed if the rider can bend both the horse’s shoulders toward the direction of the desired lead. Ideally, the horse creates an arc through the middle of his body; however, a horse positioned with only his hindquarters towards the desired lead can still take the wrong lead.

Once a horse can readily arc his body and change his “look” to either side, flying lead changes are a piece of cake. “Change his bend, change his lead,” is the matter-of-fact way Yates describes what many riders consider to be one of the toughest maneuvers to master.

This deceptively simple result is neither easy nor immediate. Roy’s system is consistent, progressive, and persistent, building a solid foundation will endure throughout a horse’s working life.

The most advanced movements have humble beginnings on the ground and at the walk, long before they are ever performed at the lope. Although Roy will lope a young horse a little bit every day in the ordinary way, in the meantime, he methodically lays the foundation for asking the horse for a half-pass or a flying lead change for the first time. And the horse will perform the maneuver readily because he has been taught the building blocks that make that maneuver easy for him.

More about Roy Yates:

As a youth growing up in Missouri,  Roy rode horses to school every day and he rode three and five-gaited horses. As a young man in the 1950s, Roy went west with the romantic dream of becoming a true cowboy. On his way to becoming a horse trainer, he worked on several cow outfits in Montana and Oregon. But it wasn’t until he met and worked with Charles O. Williamson, author of Breaking and Training the Stock Horse, whom Roy credits as his most influential mentor, that he began to understand the advanced aspects of horse training. With Williamson’s influence, Roy developed a systematic method of training horses, teaching them to be supple and collected, and ultimately to work with as little use of the reins as possible.

Roy based much of his philosophy on that of French and Portuguese trainers who rode their horses on a slack rein. Roy believed in using true horsemanship to train a horse and not gimmicks or quick fixes. He believed the art of horse training is an ongoing learning process. Roy was an American Quarter Horse Association judge, a National Reining Horse Association judge, a National Cutting Horse Association judge, an American Paint Horse Association judge and an approved Appaloosa Horse Club judge. During Roy’s long career he started thousands of young horses as well as riding and finishing hundreds more. Roy trained many Register of Merit and Superior horses in many different events including Reining, Western Riding, Western and English Pleasure, Hunter over Fences, Working Cow Horses, Cutting, Barrel Racing and Pole Bending.

Roy had students from every state in the United States and five provinces in Canada. He also had students from Australia, Austria, Mexico, Germany and France. One of Roy’s students is a three-time World Champion Free Style Reining Horse Rider. Another student won most of the Rookie Reining competitions in Colorado as well as many surrounding states in his first year of competition. Roy had students in British Columbia, Canada that have taken the shows by storm in that area. Another student won in many events in AQHA and NRHA and is a successful trainer, teacher breeder and judge in South Dakota. Another student is an approved judge with five different breed associations with a very successful training business in Franktown, Colorado. A student from Ontario, Canada was a youth champion in AQHA. Another student has won numerous awards in AQHA–including Register of Merit and Superior award–as well as winning sizable amounts of money in NRHA competition, riding a horse that was sired by one of Roy’s stallions and they were almost unbeatable in reining competition. An Arabian gelding that Roy trained was a two-time Arabian Youth National Hunter Pleasure horses in 1996.

For more than 35 years, Roy conducted hundreds of horse training clinics in most of the western half of the U.S., as well as traveling all over Canada. His students varied from the very beginners to the very advanced professional trainers.  Roy has also had articles featured in widely recognized national horse publications such as “Western Horseman”, “The Quarter Horse Journal”, “The Reiner” as well as numerous others. Roy was a firm believer in the use of video and audio as training aids and developed his own series of videos and audios that show in great detail his system of horse training.

Roy’s work lives on at Roy Yates Horse Training: Dressage for the Western Horse and Rider, in Fruita, Colorado with his partner, Jen Hibpshman. His videos are available on DVD through their website,


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