Thursday, June 19, 2008

Gotta Get That Lead Change

This is the first time I've tried to be this specific with how I teach a maneuver. I had a request on how to get a lead change out of a pleasure horse without a lot of forward.
I can only tell you how I do things, and then let you try it. There are so many factors involved with a horse I've never seen, I can't make any assumptions.
Some of this might seem like "Well Duh!" kind of stuff, but that's what most training really is.
Lead Change
You have to realize I am fairly anal when it comes to detail. If my horse is prepared properly for a maneuver then it usually is no big thing for her.
If it is too hard for her, or she don't understand it, then I have failed in my step building
process somewhere along the way.
If a conformation flaw is stopping her, I should find it as I am teaching her the preparatory steps.
I always use two hands to teach any maneuver.
I use the terms inside and outside, because I have to think too hard to remember left and right.
Inside leg means the leg inside the maneuver. Yours or Fluffy's.
Before I ever contemplate a lead change, I know Fluffy can:
Lope continuously for ten to fifteen minutes.
Take both leads in a circle, or on a straight away.
Lope depart comfortably from a walk.
I also want to have complete control of Fluffy's body. She has to:
Ride evenly between my reins and legs.
Turn on the forehand both ways without flipping her head around. Bad Fluffy!
Leg yield ten to fifteen steps at a time, at the walk, both ways.
Side pass ten to fifteen steps each way.
Quick review: I know most of you already know this, but if somebody doesn't here it is, also, my interpretation of a maneuver may or may not be the same as yours...
Turn on the Forehand
Fluffy will set her inside front foot as a pivot as she rotates her hindquarters around
that foot. Her head is aligned with her shoulders and body.
Leg Yield
Fluffy's head and shoulders will maintain a straight line as I push her outside hind foot towards her inside front. I'll contain her front end with my hands, and push her outside leg towards her inside front with my outside seat bone, and my outside leg, just in front of my back cinch. If I use the arena rail her head and shoulders will be at about forty five degrees from the rail.
Her hindquarters will power the maneuver.
I'm going to be careful to keep control of Fluffy's neck and shoulder.

Now that I have all that stuff, I will get in my big arena. If you don't have one, a long stretch of straight, fairly level trail, or road, works just fine.

1.I start Fluffy at one side of the arena. I will look ahead, not at Fluffy!
I walk a straight line down the long side. About 20 steps in I leg yield four or five steps,towards the center of the arena.
When Fluffy gives it to me, I release, and continue on my straight line. I repeat this the length of the arena.
When I get to the end, I stop, and rest my horse for a minute or so. Then I gather her up, turn on the forehand, using the same seat bone and cue leg, and head up the arena again.
Any time Fluffy gets stuck, I'll turn on the forehand using the same cue leg, then start again.
When we get good that way, I'll go the other.
I will do this drill at a trot, and eventually a lope, but as a limbering exercise. The walk footfall pattern emulates the lope closer than the trot, so I save the trot for later.

2.I will set up figure eights at a walk. When I go through the middle of my circle I will leg yield over to the next circle.
Example: Walk a circle to the left. My weight will be balanced in my outside hip (right) pocket. I will lightly hold Fluffy's nose tipped to the inside of my circle. As I approach my middle I will straighten Fluffy between my reins. I will shift my weight to my inside hip (left) pocket. I will leg yield to the right four or five steps, tip Fluffy's nose to the right, then continue on in the right circle.
Do this lots.

3. I will lope many, many large circles. I will push Fluffy's hip to the inside of my circle often, until she does it easily.

4. I will lope squares and rectangles. On my long side I will push Fluffy's hip into the lead using my seat bones and my calf. This will help you gain control of her hip.

5. When I have all of that done, and Fluffy will comply happily and smoothly, I'll do it a while longer.

6. I will begin a large circle to the left, I will circle around a few times, every time I go through the middle I will pick up my reins, straighten Fluffy up, and NOT change. I will keep my seat bone and outside calf firmly positioned on the right. I will tip Fluffy's nose back to the inside.

7. When everything feels good, I will lope yet another circle. This time I will straighten Fluffy up through the middle, shift my seat bones, then my calf, to the left, or the outside of the new circle.
My lead almost always changes to the right, and off we go. I shift her nose to the inside of the new circle after the hind legs change. I quietly bring Fluffy down to a walk, tell her she's perfect, get down, and put her up.
The next day we change the other way.
I rarely change both ways the first day.


This can take a day, a week, or months, depending on where you and you're horse are. I never hurry. If Fluffy drags a lead I don't worry or fuss at her. I do go back and review the turn on the forehand and the hip to the inside of my circle drill.
Remember, a lead change begins with the hind legs, not the fore. If you change the hind the front will always follow.
Hold Fluffy straight between your reins in the front, and focus on her hind legs. Look straight ahead, don't look to the next circle until you feel the change.
If you don't have an arena, teach Fluffy to change on a trail, in a field, or on a deserted dirt road with good footing.
You don't have to be in a circle, it's about legs, not direction.
Good Luck! Have Fun! Be nice to Fluffy!


  1. Thank you for this post. I honestly have never learned to do a "show ring" lead change...I have ridden polo ponies that were mostly OTTB's, and here is how we taught the lead change:

    1. Run polo pony at wall

    2. Swerve at the last minute in the direction you want him/her to change to

    Works really well but not if you are trying to get a PRETTY lead change.

    I have also ridden lots of green hunters where we just threw a ground pole in the middle of the arena and did the following:

    1. Canter speedily at ground pole

    2. Pick up the rein on the side you want them to switch to

    3. Throw your body weight as hard as you can to that side as you "jump" the ground pole.

    This also works, but western riding quality, it ain't.

    It is really educational to read how to do it properly. This is going to be a new experience for me! A long way in the future though...the VLC's loping consists of:

    1. Lope down the straight side of the arena.

    2. Break to trot or walk (currently trying to regulate which one, upon command) and pet him and tell him how great he is.

    You know what I would like to hear about? Teaching things like the turns on the forehand and hindquarters without getting pissy reactions from the horse because you're holding them back from moving forward and, like, f'ing with them with your heels and they don't understand it. Is this reaction a sign of not having done enough ground work or what? I've encountered it several times and I know there must be a better way. I do not ride in spurs, so that's a non-issue.

  2. VLC have you driven him? I often taught tof toh in hand long before I'd ask for it in the saddle. Once you get on the "why are you doing that?!?" is much shorter to "oh yeah that thingie.."

  3. VLC- Everything I have read about what you're doing with your colt sounds spot on to me.
    I used to lead change using your second method. Or come through the middle, pull the head to the outside, and fishtail the hip into the change....those were the days.
    I'll think the turn on the forehand and haunches through and write about it in a few days.
    justaplainsam-I'm with you on the ground work....

  4. A very big thank you!
    As a forty something (read that almost 50) re-rider whose past life experiences where in the line of wild polo type arab endurance horses, your easy to follow tips are fantastic!

  5. I agree with VLC, how to get turns forehand, hind, sidepass etc without the pissy forward thing. My mare will do them but she aways wants to go forward. Darn forward horses. Shes so touchy, she reads your mind when you start thinking about trotting/cantering at a certain spot and does it instantly. Not always a good thing.

    However, she does wonderful halt/lope/halt and lead changes. I don't have an arena to ride in. Just the road or open fields, miles and miles of fields. Most of them planted :C

  6. Fantastic! I actually understood all of that.

    Please, please, please, pleeeeease write a book!!

  7. Patches-please, please, pleeese find me an agent!
    Just kidding. There are eight million umpteen how to horse books out there......

  8. >>There are eight million umpteen how to horse books out there......<<

    And most of them suck.

    I truly hardly ever see a really GOOD step by step guide to how to properly teach a maneuver like this.

  9. I will say that probably the most painless experience I ever had teaching the lead change was on a young, thankfully quiet OTTB mare in my back hay field. We were cantering down a very slight downhill grade and I decided to sit back and ask for a change of direction. She nailed it. Nailed it. We did it several more times. No problems. Never even hung a leg. I've decided in retrospect that it was because we were outside, she was forward but relaxed, and it was similar to just being loose in the field because I had her on a long rein and wasn't f'ing with her.

    Her owner was shocked and pleased. It's nice when the horse makes you look good.

  10. And Mug, you have the same problem I do. People go "you need to sell advertising on your blog!" Well, shit, I would love to do that but I know NOTHING. NOTHING. NOTHING about it and I work 7 days a week, ride at night and am just too busy to pursue it. I imagine that's your situation with book publishing. We are too busy working to "work smarter." How do people do that?

  11. fugs, I have spent my life not getting ahead....I work until I'm too tired to think, sounds like you do too.
    I would love to turn some of this into money, but it's not happening. I've started travelling to train and instruct. Something I haven't done in years....but the economy os dragging me down.So like fugs, my hours are longer, and my creative time is shorter.
    But I'm going to keep writing, and
    riding. We'll see what the future brings....

  12. Can't help with the agent part......yet, but I can proof read, edit and illustrate your book for you, for free.

    Does that help? Yes there are heaps of books out there, I own most of them and yep most of them suck.

  13. You might try writing magazine articles, mugwump. (You, too, fugly.) Today's blog seems really close to ready-to-print. No agent required, and a much better hourly wage than a book.

    On another note, I hope I live long enough to learn to ride well enough to try your methods.

  14. If you guys are interested in writing about horses you might think about taking this online course offered bu Guelph. They have done a very good job on their other equine courses.

    Office of open learning

  15. Thank you for posting this!!! There are a bajillion training books out, but I have yet to find one that does a step-by-step description, AND details what the horse should know to accomplish the task.
    I've saved this on my computer... I just wish you were closer so I could send a mare to you!

    Again, thank you! And I second/third/eighth the requests for instructions to the turn on the forehand etc.

  16. thanks for this post, it came just as I was wondering how to channel my ID's ability to change every stride to something that we maybe could use in a test.
    Two questions
    What do you mean about loping a square/rectangle? I am a mere dressage rider, after all ;)

    More generally, I started riding this Irish Draught for a friend about a month ago, with the agreement that he would be show-ready for the summer. From a technical p.o.v he can be placed in non-affiliated easy, but he is a terrible spooker. 13yrs old, scared of his own shadow, very hard to hack out, and quite good at sidepassing without being asked! My previous horses were ridden on narrow paths in a forest, and I'm at a loss as to what to do in so much open! advice from anyone would be appreciated

  17. OK. Read and visualized these directions. Horse in is shape to canter 10-15 minutes at a time. Have the forehand turn, sidepass and two track pretty much down, though two track at canter could use some work. Can, with effort push hip to inside at canter. SOOO, I think I will work on those canter laterals today and maybe try a change. It still feels clumsy to visualize though. ARRRGH

    To add to VLC's comment, my usually successful UNTIL THIS HORSE, method of teaching a show level change was many repetitions of drop changes in the very same place, creating anticipation, then finally instead of allowing the drop change, use seat and leg to push them into the change. Usualy happened calmly and with horse understanding what was required. BUT NOT THIS HORSE, HE IGNORES THE CHANGE CUE.