Training

Master the Flying Lead Change

Utilize these 10 horse-training tips to perfect your lead changes.

From The American Quarter Horse Journal

Executing a flying lead change can take hard work and lots of practice. Follow these 10 horse-training tips that will put you and your horse on the road to success.

1. A proper lead change has nothing to do with direction. To be able to change leads properly in the front and hind legs simultaneously, a horse has to have his body and spine loping in the same direction.

2. Aim for a correct arc. All horses, when they lope or canter naturally, perform that gait with their body positioned in an arc. If a horse is out of position in his

arc at the lope, he can’t naturally drive through and flow in the lope, and he definitely cannot perform a flawless lead change.

3. Counter-canter to prepare and strengthen your horse. The purpose of a counter-canter is to strengthen the horse on the outside aids. The horse has to honor your outside aids to do it correctly. Naturally, changing leads is the next step.

The ability to spot a horse with good conformation involves understanding a horse’s skeletal structure and determining the difference between ideal and undesirable. Learn how in AQHA’s Form to Function report.

4. Timing is everything. One of the most common problems associated with lead changes has to do with timing. Your cues to change leads must work in unison with the horse’s three-beat rhythm. It can’t be some arbitrary or random moment that you kick him to change leads.

5. Change behind before you change up front. If a horse changes leads behind first, he has to change in front. If he changes up front first, he’ll likely be late a few strides or never change leads behind.

6. Avoid lead-change anticipation. Teach your horse to stay straight after changing leads by continuing straight for a couple of strides after the lead change. If a horse is allowed to lean, he will start to anticipate the lead change, which can cause many more difficulties with lead-change training.

7. Try loping over an obstacle, then cueing for a lead change. Put a log in the arena and cue for the lead change as the horse hops over the log. If you’re riding in the great outdoors, try the same approach over a low bush or sagebrush. This is a handy exercise if you are teaching your horse how to change leads or if you would like to improve your own timing for the lead-change cue.

AQHA’s Form to Function report is a great resource for judging students, aspiring AQHA judges, 4-H groups, horse buyers and any horse enthusiast interested in learning more about good horse conformation.

8. Add the “cloverleaf” exercise to your training repertoire. This exercise uses all four corners of the arena with counter-canter circles. In between each circle, the horse lopes a straight line to the next corner.

9. Everyone is helped by having a ground person. Things feel differently than they look. Regardless your level of experience, if you don’t have a trainer, have a knowledgeable friend watch you and tell you what you’re doing with your body or if your horse is changing first in front or behind.

10. Move in harmony with your horse. There are two parts to a rider really moving in harmony with the horse. First, the rider’s hips must move to follow the horse’s movement. The second thing is relaxation. To nail the lead change, you must move and work as one.