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Learning the Leads as a Novice Rider, by Ken McNabb



Ken-McNabb-horse-trainingThis month, we will cover how to teach your  kids or any novice rider to understand leads:   What a lead is, what the correct lead is in each  direction, and how to feel which lead your  horse is on.   We’ll also share a training tip to get  your horse on the correct lead if you are having  trouble.   The lead on a circle is your horse’s leading  front and hind leg.   They will appear to be in front  of the other hind and  front leg as your  horse travels.   It is  correct for the lead  to be the inside leg  on a circle.   A circle  to the right should  be on the right lead,  and a circle to the  left should be on the  left lead.   When your  horse is traveling in  a straight line, either  lead is correct.

Occasionally,  you may see someone  put their horse  on the incorrect lead  intentionally.   This is  called a counter  canter, and is used  as a training exercise  to improve softness  and balance.   A  counter canter is  only considered  correct if the rider specifically cued their horse for  the outside lead.

The other thing you may find is a horse  crossfiring in the canter.   This is when the horse  takes one lead in the front and the other lead  behind.   This is never correct, and creates a very  uncomfortable jerking sensation for the rider.

Many people will try to tell which lead your  horse is on by looking to see which shoulder is  forward, but that puts the rider forward and out  of position.   Instead, I like to teach a feel for  the lead so you can tell which lead you are on  without looking.   When your horse is on the left  lead, his left hip will be driving up under him  and that hip will be ahead of the other hip.   This  will in turn push your left hip forward slightly in  the saddle, and you can tell which lead your  horse is on by feeling which of your legs is  farther forward in the saddle.   It helps to have a  spotter on the ground as you are getting the  feel of this.   The spotter can tell you “correct” or  “incorrect” as the horse takes a lead, and you  can get the feel of what you are looking for.

When you are cuing your horse for the lead,  use your outside leg to help him get his hip under  him, and tip his nose slightly to the inside so he  is bent correctly on the circle.   It’s very important  that your body position stays correct as you ask  for the lead.   Don’t lean forward or look down,  keep your chin up and sit straight in your saddle.   Also, make sure you don’t lean in on the circle.   If your body is out of position it makes it very  hard for your horse to balance, and that makes it  hard for him to take the correct lead.   If you are  leaning forward and in on the circle as you ask  him to take the inside lead, it is almost impossible  for him to lift that front shoulder since all your  weight is now directly above it.

If you are really struggling to get your horse  on the correct lead and it just isn’t happening,  this is a great trick to set him up to take the  correct lead automatically.   Walk or trot your  horse towards the fence at a diagonal angle.   When you get 4-5′ away from the fence, stop  him and roll him back towards the fence, using  your outside leg to help him move.   As soon as  he has turned past the fence, use both legs to  get him into a lope.   This needs to happen relatively  quickly, so you don’t lose the position  you have set up for.   This rollback exercise sets  your horse’s hip under him, so when he goes to  push off for the lope, he is already in position to  take the correct lead.   Practice this in both directions.

Your horse  will probably have one lead that he prefers.   Make sure you spend more time on the weak  lead, so he develops strength evenly on both  sides.

Choose a safe, broke horse for your kids to  ride.  In all your training and instruction,  remember to keep things simple and fun for  everyone.

Enjoy the time you spend with your horses  and your family, and until next time may God  bless the trails you ride.
[This article was published in Performance Horse Digest, Volume 3, Issue 9.]


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