Correct Leads When Riding A Horse

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Training a Horse for Correct Leads

    2006 Cherry Hill

Dear Cherry,  

   My gelding is around 17 years old.  He won't get his leads well, I have been trying to teach him his leads and sometimes he gets them but sometimes not - is there a good way to train my horse to get his leads?   Melody

Dear Melody,  

   A horse's training should be a thorough and progressive set of lessons.  Each lesson is only as successful as the lessons that came before it.  There are a good number of goals you need to accomplish before attempting to train your horse to lope on the correct lead. If you are ready for these lessons with your horse, the following information will help you.  If the instructions below are confusing, it probably means you would benefit from lessons with a qualified riding instructor.  Best of luck and remember, it is better to do simple things well than to ride advanced maneuvers in poor form.

   Before your gelding can learn his leads solidly, you must be able to do the following with him:

  • Ride in an absolutely straight line at a walk, trot and canter.

  • Leg yield at the walk, trot, and canter.

  • Move forward promptly from halt to walk, walk to trot, and halt to trot.

  • Strike off promptly from the trot or walk to the lope (canter) (it doesn't matter what lead at this point).

  • Half halt or check.  (See instructions for half halt or check in previous column, Speed Up, Slow Down).  

   If you are able to perform all of these exercises with your horse, he should have not problem taking the correct lead every time.  If you cannot perform these exercises, you need to work with an instructor that can help you develop the basics with your horse. (See reference to ARIA in previous column, Overcoming Fear).

  I'm assuming that you and your horse know these introductory exercises, so will explain the aids that are used for cantering (or loping) on the correct lead. First perfect the trot to canter transition, then the walk to canter transition.  For more information, see 101 Arena Exercises available at

  To lope or canter, first use the Positioning Aids, then the Depart Aids, then once the horse is loping/cantering, use the Following Aids:


- Half halt.
- Right leg at the girth which causes a mini leg yield - horse's right hind reaches further forward and horse's body bends right.
- Add slightly more contact on right rein to produce right flexion at poll but maintain left rein contact to control the degree of right flexion and limit the reach of the left foreleg (because you want the right foreleg to reach farther forward, not the left one).
- Left leg behind the girth to control the hindquarters and prevent the left hind from stepping to the left.
- Position your right seat bone forward with weight in your right stirrup (lower your knee and heel on the right to keep from collapsing your right side while weighting your right seat bone).  


- Apply pressure with both legs, right leg at the girth and left leg behind the girth.
- Use forward pressure with both seat bones, rolling forward from the left to the right.    

FOLLOWING AIDS: (Dos and Don'ts)

- Follow the canter movement with a vertical upper body and inside (right) hip forward.
- Don't lean your upper body forward or you'll lose contact between your left seat bone and the saddle.
- Don't pump your upper body as this tends to hollow the horse's back.
- Don't let your left shoulder fall behind and don't let outside leg come off the horse.
- Continue with half halts to keep canter from flattening.  

       Cherry Hill

  2004 Cherry Hill



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