Lead Change Accuracy

The free Nutrena Ride the Pattern clinics at AQHA's world shows offer many horse training tips for riders in various disciplines.

Editor’s Note: This lesson is pulled from a free Nutrena Ride the Pattern clinic that Charlie Cole gave at the 2012 Built Ford Tough AQHYA World Championship Show. The clinic covered western riding pattern No. 2, which was called for in the prelims the following day. Charlie shared how he rides it as an exhibitor, and what he looks for as a judge, and he stresses the importance of positioning your horse for the four line lead changes in pattern No. 2.

Obviously, western riding is a lead-change class, but when I go show it, I’m trying to get every single plus point I can out of every maneuver. Pattern No. 2 has 12 maneuvers, and I want to try to earn a point or, worst case scenario, zero my score on everything from the walk in to the stop and back at the end.

There are a lot of things that can go into getting a plussed lead change; and knowing your horse and getting him positioned and paced correctly is the most important part of ensuring that you get the most out of your horse’s ability.

Planned Positioning

PatternTo me, the hardest part of western riding pattern No. 2 is after your third crossover change, where you make the turn to come down the line, to get your first of four lead changes.

If you don't have a chance to attend Nutrena's Free Ride the Rail clinics at this year's world show, you can always download the Journal's Borrow A Trainer report! It's full of tips from the industry's top trainers.

As you come across the arena (on the third crossover change in pattern No. 2), you want to be centered between the two cones ahead of you. Then you want to make your turn and circle so that you come to that first cone right next to it and head straight down the line. The circle and that first change down the line is all one maneuver.

It’s tricky because you need to give your horse plenty of room to make that turn and also properly position yourself for the line. Doing that well is a combination of knowing your horse - getting his pace and knowing his strides - and understanding how a pattern rides in a particular arena, big or small.

When I come down any line of cones, I like to be really straight and right next to the cones. If you start that line weaving into it, you’re going to weave the whole way down the line of cones, that’s just how it works.

In the (Jim Norick Arena at Oklahoma State Fair Park), you need to ride almost all the way to the wall before starting your circle. Then you have to ride up the wall a bit so you can turn and give yourself plenty of room to get to that first cone straight, right next to it.

Know your horse and what you have to do to get there on the line. Do you need four strides off that turn to get to the cone, or do you need 10?

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For me, I make my turn, and I ride about five or six strides up the wall as I pass the cone. And when I turn to come down the line, I like to have four or five strides before I’m even with the first cone. That way, it doesn’t come up quick, and I know where it’s at. The pattern as drawn is not necessarily the exact track you should follow. It is up to you to take the track that fits your horse and your plan to ride it, but that is still within the bounds of what the pattern calls for.

How you handle that maneuver is the most important part of this pattern. If you can position yourself on that first cone and come in really nice and straight and not loop into it, it’ll work out a lot better on down the line.

Want to learn more secrets to lead changes from AQHA Professional Horseman Charlie Cole? Read more of this article in the November 2012 issue of The American Quarter Horse Journal! Subscribe or renew today!

You can also see more free Ride the Rail and Ride the Pattern clinics, sponsored by Nutrena, at the 2012 AQHA World Championship Show November 2-17.