Lots of horses have one lead that’s harder to pick up than the other. Sometimes it’s just how they’re built, sometimes it’s a hole in their training, and sometimes it’s the rider, but it’s always a problem. No matter if your goal is the show ring or the trail, all horses should be able to canter on both leads when asked.
If your horse has trouble with one lead, first ask yourself why. Has it always been this way, or is it a recent development? Your horse might be in pain from poorly-fitting tack or a hidden injury if the problem is recent. Does your horse have some conformational flaw that could make one lead harder? Defects like a club foot can make it difficult but not impossible to get one lead.
Luckily, all these problems can be solved. Check your saddle fit first and make sure nothing is pinching or twisting where it shouldn’t be. Then, start moving on to the training exercises.
Make sure your horse is supple in his body. If he’s bracing and won’t move off of your leg, there’s no way you’re going to get the correct lead. Go back to the basics like turns on the forehand, leg yields, and hip swings. You want to loosen up that hip and make it easier for your horse to pick up the correct lead.
Once you have your horse supple, ask for the lead again. Make sure you’re pushing the hip to the inside and holding up the inside shoulder. Don’t allow your horse to tip his nose to the rail! Bending him to the rail will probably get the correct lead, but the canter will be unbalanced and uncollected.
An easy way to make sure your horse’s body is positioned correctly is by leg yielding to the rail and asking for the canter from there. Start about ten or fifteen feet off the rail and use your inside leg to push your horse over. Make sure he’s crossing his legs in front and back, and not cheating by walking in a diagonal line! His head and hip should be slightly to the inside. Once you get to the rail, ask for the canter with your outside leg behind the girth. Keep a light feel of your inside rein to maintain the bend.
Once you get the correct lead, let your horse know he did a good job. Put your hands down, take your legs off, and give him a pat! Only ask for a short period at the canter at first, so your horse can build strength and confidence. Over a few sessions, ask for more and more until you can get all the way around the arena with no breaks or lead changes.
Keep in mind that there will almost always be one lead that’s stronger than the other. However, that’s no excuse to let your horse go around on the wrong lead! Put in the time and effort to train your horse correctly with this method.
Photo credit: thisisamy @ Flickr
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