April 21, 2009
By Bob Avila in The American Quarter Horse Journal
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.
A horse’s body and spine need to be straight to do a proper lead change, and Quarter Horse enthusiasts need to have a subscription to The American Quarter Horse Journal to get top-notch horse-training tips!
For me, when I do my lead changes in a reining pattern, I don’t do a figure eight. 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. 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. For this example, we will start on the right lead. In a lope, move into a right big circle. As you come to the middle, lope straight in the right lead and go to the left side of 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.
3. In 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. Continue, repeating step No. 2.
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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.