Like I have mentioned in past articles there are fundamentals that we must have first before starting to teach the more difficult maneuvers. For the lead change I want for the horse to have a good understanding of leg pressure. Not limited to the side pass, but having control of the hips and shoulders independently. Along with leg pressure I want the horse to be moving off of rein pressure and guiding on a loose rein, or with minimal bit contact.
First, lets talk about the mechanics of the lead change. In order for the horse to pick up a desired lead, the body has to be in the correct position. By this I mean that if we desire to pick up the left lead, the hind quarters have to be shifted to the left and the left shoulder has to be up and open. Having the shoulder up and open allows the horse to freely reach and stride out with the lead leg. If we attempt this with his head facing too far to the left, and with the rider looking down at his left shoulder, we are impeding free movement of the left or lead shoulder. Let me explain in more simple terms. Get on all fours, (hands and knees) put your child or some else’s child on your back like you are going to give a pony ride. Have the child whisper in your left ear and tell me which of your arms is easier to pick up. Now have the child sit up straight and look slightly to the left. Now you know what your horse feels. That is a lead departure which is the same as a lead change. Now have the child pull on your ears and say Whoa! Just kidding.
When first teaching the lead change there is something that you have to keep in mind, and that is that a proper lead change starts in the hind quarters. In order for this to happen a young horse will sometimes increase speed in order to attempt a lead change. The last thing that you want to do is rush them into a lead change. The reason that they will sometimes increase in speed is to gain impulsion with their hind end, causing an increase in speed. If the lead change occurs and the speed is still there then quietly bring them down to the speed that you desire. If you continue to show them that slow comes after the lead change, they will begin to relax all the way through the lead change.
Now for the hard stuff, the dreaded approach. Do I tip the head and hold the outside leg then switch legs and kick my hips and do it all at the count of three? No, the most important thing to remember is to RELAX, don’t tense up your hands and impede forward movement. Second, thing to remember is that change in lead does not require a change in direction. In fact, if you constantly change lead and direction you will eventually get your horse to dive his shoulder into a lead change which will lead to dragging his hind lead. Instead, approach the lead change (from left to right) by continuing to guide the horse to the left with the neck rein all the way through the lead change. You should be asking the horse to change from the hip with the left leg. If you are going to practice in an arena, then I suggest that it be done going down the long side of the arena. This will allow you time to change and not rush you into changing directions. Remember, you can stop at the other end instead of turning, especially if you have a tendency to wait to the last minute to turn the other direction. If your arena is not real long you can also practice doing this going from corner to corner.
I am starting a series of clinics that will focus on the elements of the reining pattern, designed to aid the non-pro or rookie in their training and showing. The format will consist of a three “class” series, with a class being held and a week or two in between until the next class. The reason for the design of this series is to leave the rider with not only information, but implementation as well. In other words, a one day clinic will leave you with a tremendous amount of information. However, when you go home to work on it are you doing it correctly, or did you just not get it? The idea is to not only insure that you received the information and are doing it correctly, but that it is in small enough pieces that you can implement it. For more information feel free to call me at (210) 825-1114 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.