Flying Lead Change: Exercise for a Straight Change

Flying Lead Change: Exercise for a Straight Change

AQHA Professional Horseman Bob Avila breaks down the sequence of training a proper lead change.

Bob Avila shows roan mare One Smart Pepto in junior working cow horse at the 2020 AQHA World Championship Show

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The American Quarter Horse Journal logo

By AQHA Professional Horseman Bob Avila 

For many years, I was no good at lead changes. I can’t tell you how much money I have lost by missing a lead by half a stride or dragging a lead by two strides.

One day, Jim Paul, a legendary horse trainer out in Arizona, told me something I’ll never forget:

“Lead changes have nothing to do with changing direction.”

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 straight.

Flying Lead Change Exercise

One Smart Pepto is shown by Bob Avila

For me, when I do my lead changes in a reining pattern, I don’t do a figure 8. What I actually do is two D's. When circling, I round the corners but I go straight through the middle. I change leads in the center, take a few strides straight to keep my horse straight before moving into the opposite direction.

So it’s all about keeping everything going straight. AQHA Professional Horseman Al Dunning, another great horse trainer, showed me this simple method for learning how to properly change leads. It’s kind of like creating training wheels for the rider. Here are the steps to do this training technique:

1. First, place a pole in the center of the arena with both ends pointing to the middle markers.

What this pole will do is keep you honest because you have something to focus on that is in a straight line.

2. At a lope, move into a big circle. 

For this example, we will start on the right lead, loping a right big circle.

3. Lope straight through the center.

As you come to the middle, lope straight in the right lead and go to the left side of the pole.

4. Change at the pole.

At the pole, change to the left lead and continue to lope straight for a few strides before moving your horse to the left circle.

5. Try it on the other lead. 

On the left lead, do the same thing but in the middle, go to the right side of the pole, change to the right lead and continue to lope straight before moving into the right circle.

6. Continue and repeat. 

Why This Flying Lead Change Exercise Works

You can do this technique no matter where you are: at home or in the warm-up arena. This exercise will make you focus on the middle of the arena, and it will become a habit for both you and your horse.

You see so many people have problems with proper lead changes, and it’s really so simple. It took me forever to figure it out, but once I did, I kind of went, “Wow, why didn’t I know that all my life?” And once you do this exercise, you’ll think the same thing. 

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