Lead Changes

I have worked on many things other than lead changes to make lead changes easier for Eli. A few years ago, he had a great deal of apprehensiveness and tension related lead changes (this is putting it mildly), so for many, many months I did nothing or next to nothing about him not changing leads while on course. I also never expected him ever to be able to change leads regularly. I don’t know the cause of the tension, but he came that way about a lot of things, not just lead changes. Even once I bought him, I didn’t try asking for lead changes for over a year, unless they were simple lead changes. I did other things instead that would hopefully set him up for lead changes. Here is a list:

Keeping forward momentum

Inside leg to outside rein as much as possible at the canter (Should be always, right? Well, sometimes I don’t do it. So there.)

Work on staying straight, balanced, and off the forehand

Practicing cantering across the diagonal, focusing on staying straight and relaxed, and then ask for a downward transition in the corner

Counter canter (this is probably the most important puzzle piece)

Canter poles

Transitions & sharpening aids related to those transitions, especially the upward transitions

Cantering a figure 8 with a simple change of lead

Address any physical issues that may contribute to difficulty changing leads. Or rather, get the veterinarian to address these issues.

I never school changes on the flat, unless I have a canter pole or two, and even then only very rarely do I do that as an exercise. This is true on any horse, not just Eli. Obviously this would not be possible were our discipline dressage, but it’s not. Up until Eli, I had been privileged enough to ride many, many horses, including my own other than Eli, who had natural, easy, or “auto” changes, and for them, schooling changes wasn’t necessary at all.

So now, after years (talk about going slow), I have a horse that can be asked for a lead change and does a lead change. It is still ugly and not 100%, but a big part of that is my absolutely appallingly bad timing when it comes to lead changes generally that I have always struggled with.

But wait, I have video evidence!

lead change from patentlybay on Vimeo.

Gotta love the tail flip even over a 2′ fence.

Does this mean I have to tackle the spray bottle issue now? I am running out of things to undo on this horse. It’s a pretty good feeling.

P.S. This is not a how-to, unless you are me and your horse is Eli. This is just what has worked for us.

30 thoughts on “Lead Changes

  1. That’s so awesome! I’m working on lead changes with Drifter this summer. It wasn’t really in the plan but in mid-May, one week before our first show, he spontaneously started offering them up occasionally. So I was like, “okay! Let’s figure out how to do this together, then!” It’s such a challenge.

    I definitely can relate to this post. I’ve actually never really had or ridden a horse with an auto change, so getting to that point with Drifter will be a HUGE milestone for me. Like you, we’re starting to get there but it’s not 100% and it can be really ugly. Like you said, it’s probably mostly due to my timing or poor cues. But we’ll get there eventually!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Honestly, I think auto changes are a myth–you still have to ask for a lead change most of the time, even on horses that do them really well. It sounds like you are getting very close to accomplishing them all the time, very exciting!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m with you, we never just school lead changes. We do a lot of those same exercises- simple changes on a figure 8, counter canter, downward transitions, etc. Building strength and responsiveness with those exercises, along with maintaining better straightness and balance over fences has made our changes like 28974239874% more consistent on course without once schooling our changes. Progress!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Like you and Olivia, I generally don’t school changes either, just because Roger gets very worked up about practicing them repetitively. In fact, if we have to change leads on course, I rarely have to think to ask for it because he usually just does it himself.

    What an awesome feeling to be running out of things to ‘undo’ on Eli! Congrats on crossing lead changes off the list πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I definitely don’t know how to correctly ask for lead changes, and that probably makes me more anxious about them than my horse. I think he has a natural lead change, as he offers them without my input on occasion. I would love for someone to teach him correctly, and then teach me!

    Lead changes fill me with nameless dread πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

    • Lead changes are hard, even if easy for the horse. Horse and rider have to agree about them, and that can take a whole. With Eli, balance while straight has been the biggest help. Mainly because he can get really wiggly really fast, as is apparent in the video, lol


  5. I think I’ve forgotten what little I knew about h/j lead changes after riding Val for so long. His are so automatic that I never have to ask and when I learned how to do changes forever ago I learned the racetrack kick & pull method, and then graduated to a much more collected dressage type of change. It looks like all of your work has paid off though and from what I can tell you really set him up for success!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. We didn’t school changes, because Cosmo has them. And as long as he is forward and I push him out, he will swap. …Until last week, when all of a sudden I could no longer ask for the change without pumping my hips and banging my fists and kicking and dancing and too many other things that are NOT part of asking for a change. So we have started schooling them, just 2 or 3 a ride, for MY sake.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. The last thing I needed to put on Ries when I got him was lead changes and then he would have been “finished”. Yeah its been 7 years and we don’t have them, but I don’t really try and school them anymore. Its mostly me, other people have no issues.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. So awesome your approach is working! I basically am terrible at lead changes personally so I don’t even bother even tho I know my mare has them. Every now and then she will just offer one – but generally my best bet is to try cuing for the new lead over the fence.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Lead changes are literally the bane of my existence. When I first bought Libby, she had natural changes. Literally one of the main reasons why I bought her (besides the fact that she’s adorable πŸ˜‰ ). And then when I got sick and brought her down to South Florida the place I was at for less then a month really ruined her changes. So I know what you’ve had to go through to reteach changes.

    So congrats to you!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I have been too afraid to even consider working on flying changes, so I’m glad to hear someone else was apprehensive! (and you are a way better rider than me). I love your list of exercise. I am going to try working on some of them. We’ve done figure-8 simple changes and are pretty good at those, but that’s it. I’ve always done outside rein outside leg for canter. Maybe I need to switch? My OTTB pushes out on the canter so maybe that’s why my trainer has me do it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’d stick with outside rein & leg if that’s what my trainer has me do. The exercises are mostly about balance & impulsion, so if you can get that going for you, I bet changes will work after that. Best of luck to you!


  11. Pingback: Looking Back on 2016 | Patently Bay

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