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Lead Changes “Preparation is the Key”

two track

two track

Lead changes seems to be a place a lot of people struggle. I know, I struggled with it for a while. Then when you get it, you wonder what the big deal was.

The first thing I would remind people is, training your horse is a process. It takes the time it takes.

When I’m riding a two year old, almost everything I do is preparing him for something I’ll do later. When you start thinking about lead changes, you need to make sure your horse has had the proper preparation. If any of the pieces are missing, things aren’t going to work very well.

The first thing is to be able to pick up either lead.whenever you ask for it. You should have your lead departures going pretty good before you attempt to change leads. The key to this is to practice the transitions from a walk to a lope. It’s best not to spur your horse too much to achieve this, as that tends to make him cranky. If your horse doesn’t move off your leg good enough, you need to reinforce it with your reins either on his rump, or right behind your leg. Usually only a couple times of this is all it takes.

You need to be able to move your horse away from your legs without much effort. Work on side passing, both directions. Another thing I do a lot of is two tracking. This is where you move your horse’s hip over while moving forward, and keeping his head and neck straight. His front feet, and his hind feet should make two sets of tracks.

This also helps with lead departures. You just set his hip to the inside, then ask him to lope off.

It’s essential that your horse is soft in the bridle. If your struggling with this refer to my previous post on this “Soft In the Bridle”.

I don’t like doing simple lead changes, or drop to a trot to change leads. I’ve tried that in the past, and all it did was teach my horse not to change leads. It sometimes makes them lazy about lead changes, where they always want to drop to a trot when you ask them to change.

The counter-canter is an excellent exercise for preparing your horse to change leads. I like my horses to be able to counter-canter comfortably, both directions. Some horses you can get them to change fairly easy by just counter-cantering and then changing legs, or pushing them over just a little.

A lead change shouldn’t always mean a change of direction. This is where the counter-canter is real helpful. If you always change directions when you change leads, your horse will start anticipating, and dropping his shoulder.  Lead changes should be on a straight line, although it won’t seem like if at first.

The first time you ask your horse to change leads, you should be loping a little faster, it’s easier for them to change. Don’t be too critical if you don’t get good changes right off the bat. Remember it’s a process.

Your circles should look more like a D, when you’re teaching your horse to change, so you can change him on a straight line. When loping a circle your horse’s body should be in an arc. I like to straighten my horse out, and change the arc of his body to fit the new circle before I ask him to change.

A real good exercise is to lope a circle to the right, when you get to the center stop. Then side pass your horse to the right. Then ask him to lope of to the left. Lope your left circle, when you get to the center, stop, side pass to the left. Then ask him to lope off to the right. I’d practice this for a couple of days before I ask him to change.

Almost all horses are going to start anticipating lead changes. The best thing to do is mix things up a little. Set your horse up for a change, then don’t change. Maybe change directions, but don’t change leads. Counter-canter a circle, then change directions again. The key is to keep your horse looking to you for direction, not trying to out guess you.

Their are many other exercises that will help with lead changes. A whole book could be written on this subject. I hope I’ve given you enough information to be of some help.trouble

Be sure to check out my videos.  “Practical Horsemanship”




  1. Brianna viklund says:

    I can get my horse to do a lead change but only on the front feet, so how do you get your horse to change the back feet too.

    • Brianna, The best thing you can do is a lot two tracking. Just get your horse to move his hip over while walking in a straight line. Do this both directions. When your horse gets good at it at a walk, try doing it at a trot. This requires your horse to be soft in the bridle. By doing this you get your horse use to moving his hip over. Remember this is a process. It won’t happen over night.
      Good luck, Don

  2. Lilian Allred says:

    If you are circling to the right ” stop side pass to right, then loap off to the left. Am I reading this wrong, but when you S.P to the RT. won’t that put the hips out, when you ask for a left lead. I always thought you want the hips to go to the inside of the circle you are about to ask for???? Help??? Lil

    • Lillian, what I’m looking for is for the ribs to go to the right. Then when I ask for the left lead I push the hip to the left and the rib is already out of the way. Does that make sense?
      I appreciate your comments. Thanks Don

  3. Lililan Allred says:

    All around horse training tips?? How much is it? for what?