Cues for Horse Lead Change

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How to Change Leads

    2006 Cherry Hill

Dear Cherry,  

I have a question on lead changes.  What are the best cues to use in a circle.    I ride the nature trails not show but would like to learn a cue and stick to it.  Thanks for your time.   Vicky

Hi Vicky,  

   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 or perform lead changes. 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 I list the aids for a lead change, I'd like to make a distinction between aids and cues.

    A cue is a signal to a horse to perform something like a trick.  If you train your horse to kneel when you wiggle your finger, you are using a cue to tell him what you want him to do.

    In contrast, when you use your aids (seat, legs, upper body, hands, and mind) to communicate with a horse when you ride, you are using a series of coordinated body movement to get your horse to move in a particular way.

  The aids for a lead change are the same on a straight line as when on a circle. Even if you are on a circle, when you ask for a lead change, your horse's body must be straight before, during, and after the change.

  Before you attempt lead changes, your horse must lope on the correct lead consistently and be able to strike off on the correct lead from a walk or halt.  The following is adapted from 101 Horsemanship and Equitation Patterns available from



A flying change consists of a 3-point check, pre-positioning aids, and the lead change itself.

3-Point Check: As you are preparing for a flying change from left to right, you need to check three things.

  1. Be sure your horse is loping a true 3 beat lope. If he is "four beating" he won't have enough impulsion and his legs won't be in the right place at the right time for a change.
  2. Be sure your horse's body is straight. It is much more difficult to get a clean, prompt lead change if your horse's spine is curved.
  3. Be sure your feel contact with your horse through the reins. You should be able to further collect your horse by just moving your hand back an inch. And if you move your hand forward an inch, he should stretch forward.

Pre-Positioning: Now, with your horse loping on the left lead, move your reining hand over to the left which applies a right neck rein on the horse. You are shifting the horse's weight to his left side much like you do for a lope depart.

At the same time, put your right leg on the horse to move him over to the left. When you are loping on the left lead, your left seat bone is more forward than your right seat bone. You can hold this pre-change positioning for 2-3 strides of lope when practicing but eventually you want to hone it down to one stride.

The Change: For the change itself, keep the horse straight and up on his left shoulder so his right shoulder if "free" to change. You do this by maintaining contact with the rein and a slight right neck rein.


- relax the pressure of your right leg that is holding the horse to the left (this "invites" the horse to the right) and move your right seat bone forward

- apply your left leg behind the cinch to ask for the change just as you would for a lope depart.

After the horse makes the change, you can initiate the new bend.


       Cherry Hill

  2004 Cherry Hill



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