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  1. #1
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    Sep. 26, 2005
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    Default Lead change debacle

    So I need some advice about how to handle my horse's lead change complex (which has now also become my complex).

    To summarize, I've had this horse 7 years (on and off leasing, breaks, etc) and he is absolutely wonderful. He was my junior hunter, and after taking two years off to play in eventing, we're returning to the hunter world to show in the A/O's. He's a great mover, athletic, beautiful jumper, and (usually) has a decent mind.

    Our problem is lead changes. It's a 50/50 shot to get them. Truly, back in my junior days, if we got all our changes, we had a good chance of being top 3, even in tough company. But something happens quite frequently, where he rushes, gets hollow, and cross-canters-- especially if he did it the time before.

    This horse ALWAYS lands left. I could have his nose to my right boot and he will find a way to land left. Hence, when I see a right turn, I cringe.

    I've had 3 excellent trainers on this horse-- no one seems to be able to get them consistently. He's not in pain. We've had everything looked at, injected, poked, prodded, etc. He just seems to get this complex where he tries to "beat me" to the change and always cross-canters.

    I guess what I'm asking, is does anyone have any creative solutions to work on lead changes? I've done a lot of trying to change over poles, but that seems to make him even worse. It seems like the more I practice the changes, the more worked up he gets about them, and the more I freak out and over-think it.

    Maybe someone knows of some strengthening exercises? Tips on how to keep him calm? It's a tough thing because if I get him too collected, he kind of bounces up and down and wont change. If I get too forward, he gets more weird about them, and then the worrying starts. UGH.

    Well, this turned into a novel. I just don't want something as silly as a lead change hold us back. Any ideas would be WONDERFUL! Thanks



  2. #2
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    Honestly I'm not sure, but it sort of sounds like a balance issue. If others agree that the balance is the case, then I would suggest LOTS AND LOTS AND LOTS AND LOTS of circles and working tracking right and lots of counter canter tracking left.


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  3. #3
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    well I will be watching this thread for my own pony lead change issues, which sound similar. One thing that has helped our pony is LOTS of counter cantering... lots and lots and lots, and lots of hill work. Our pony only lands right so I feel the same way you do when we have a course with lots of left lead lands. UGH. Our pony has an anticipation issue first and foremost, but the counter cantering has helped. Our pro can get her change fine (a bit forward but complete), my 10 yr old DD cannot unless the heavens above are shining down on her.


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  4. #4
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    Does he have a right to left change?
    I ask because I have a horse with one good change. Fortunately, it is his left to right, and he lands left 90% of the time. On the flat, he does neither change. Around a course, the left to right is automatic. As long as he doesn't have to think change, he does it. So, if I ever land right going left, I cringe in horror, but I do nothing. This usually gets me the change. What destroys any hope of the change is indicating to the horse in any way that he might need one. I never practice changes, for the reasons you mention, and the only places I do them are around a course, or out in fields where there is no "correct" direction. Then the horse is happy to do them, because he doesn't have the pressure of knowing he is on the wrong lead.


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  5. #5
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    Dec. 22, 2011
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    I would lay off the lead changes for a little while and focus on perfecting simple changes through the trot and walk to get him to relax, balance, and stop anticipating, and also work on the counter canter.


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  6. #6
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    Jun. 8, 2012
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    Quote Originally Posted by caughtintheact View Post
    I would lay off the lead changes for a little while and focus on perfecting simple changes through the trot and walk to get him to relax, balance, and stop anticipating, and also work on the counter canter.
    I definitely agree with stop practicing them at home with a tense horse. You'll just make it worse. I've had several horses that were hard to get changes on. Here is what I've found. Some horses don't change both ways with the same aids. They may change one way with normal aids but then the other way may be completely backwards aids but the horse responds. If you jump a jump on a circle to the right, are you telling me you can't get your horse to land right? It's not about where his nose is. It's about where his right hind is on the circle and how engaged his hindquarters are. Figuring out what he needs from you to learn to land right may give you the key to how he can eventually do changes more consistently. My mare always needed extra support with the outside rein on her right to left change. Try different aid combinations to see what makes sense to him to stay on the right lead. If he lands left just trot, pick up the right lead again and continue on the same circle. Possible things to try include pushing with inside leg, lifting inside or outside hand, holding his outside hind in with your outside leg. Some horses are just quirky. The only thing I would say for the rushing through the change in the show ring is to give yourself some leverage with a decent bit as long as you have gentle, tactful hands. I will ride in something with a little port or a jointed segunda but you have to know what you are doing. I see people riding in Pelhams for this issue but I personally never liked that feel. I think they just drag you forward in a Pelham. My two cents from my experiences. Very best of luck.
    You don't scare me. I ride a MARE!



  7. #7
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    May. 2, 2011
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    This is strange but- every time my (now semi-retired) horse gets 3+ months off, he gets better at changes. I've owned him 8 years, and he only used to get them in the ring, then he was iffy on schooling them, then decent and now almost 100%. Sometimes I think the mental breaks do wonders!!


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  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by roamingnome View Post
    This is strange but- every time my (now semi-retired) horse gets 3+ months off, he gets better at changes. I've owned him 8 years, and he only used to get them in the ring, then he was iffy on schooling them, then decent and now almost 100%. Sometimes I think the mental breaks do wonders!!
    I don't think it's strange at all. I think lots of horses get fried by lead changes. It's so critical not to pressure youngsters into changes too soon or making too big a deal out of them because the ramifications can last a long time. I have a 5yo now and we are taking our time so we get auto changes. I am very lucky that he has a naturally balanced canter so that makes it easier. The ones I've had in the past that were tougher didnt have natural balance as an earlier poster said its really about balance and I think engagement of the hindquarters.
    You don't scare me. I ride a MARE!



  9. #9
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    I would quit asking for changes, particularly on the diagonals, until you have completely overcome any tension at all about them. Practice counter canter. Practice jumping something on a diagonal and doing a downward transition, or halt and then do something else (particularly haunches in at a trot) until he stops anticipating the need for a change.

    I would then do lots and lots and lots of serpentines, perhaps with downward transitions at each change of direction, focusing on being able to change the bend any time you like while his body stays on the same path. (i.e., you want to be able to maintain a true bend and the counter bend at any gait, either on a straight line or a turn.) I would also do lots of leg yields, shoulder in, and haunches in until you can put his parts wherever you choose, without changing the quality of the gait you are in at all.

    Once you can displace that haunch and you are certain that the horse has the strength to easily maintain his balance, I would very gently reintroduce the changes, in very small quantities. Your job is to be very disciplined about sitting in balance, and asking clearly but without leaning/looking etc, and *expect* the change to happen. I wouldn't school them on the flat, and would make a very big fuss over him when he gets them during a course, ending the session early if necessary as a reward.
    **********
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    -PaulaEdwina


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  10. #10
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    Sep. 26, 2005
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    Quote Originally Posted by CBoylen View Post
    Does he have a right to left change?
    I ask because I have a horse with one good change. Fortunately, it is his left to right, and he lands left 90% of the time. On the flat, he does neither change. Around a course, the left to right is automatic. As long as he doesn't have to think change, he does it. So, if I ever land right going left, I cringe in horror, but I do nothing. This usually gets me the change. What destroys any hope of the change is indicating to the horse in any way that he might need one. I never practice changes, for the reasons you mention, and the only places I do them are around a course, or out in fields where there is no "correct" direction. Then the horse is happy to do them, because he doesn't have the pressure of knowing he is on the wrong lead.
    This sounds EXACTLY like mine. His right to left is fine, although I never have to ask for it. On the very bizarre occasion he lands right (I don't think this has ever actually happened at a show) he will swap fine. We cannot do any changes on the flat though. They get so weird.

    I think my horse gets so worried because he doesn't want to make a mistake. He is a perfectionist about everything, which can be great until he thinks he's doing something wrong. We have this in common!

    I'm going to try a lot harder to not do anything. I think that's probably part of the problem-- I start worrying about the change, and even if I think I'm not asking, I'm probably doing something slight that sets off my extremely sensitive horse. Any suggestions on how to do nothing? Not my strong suit

    Interestingly, I've noticed that when I ride without stirrup, I feel totally balanced to the left, but really off-center to the right. I don't notice this on other horses. Maybe some counter-canter will help with this?



  11. #11
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    Lots and lots of correct counter canter, and no more schooling those changes until dobbin relaxes about changes would be my advice.
    I've heard there's more to life than an FEI tent and hotel rooms, so I'm trying it.


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  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by equisusan View Post
    If you jump a jump on a circle to the right, are you telling me you can't get your horse to land right?
    Nope, he will not. I've never seen any of my trainers able to do it either. And I totally agree-- I try to avoid changes at all costs at home. It's just frustrating sometimes to keep the rythym of my course going when we have to do simple changes every right turn-- especially when we're doing tighter turns and tougher courses.

    I'll definitely try out your suggestions for learning to land right. Thanks so much! And FWIW, I ride in a mullen mouth Happy Mouth. It's the only bit we've found for him that he's able to trust a connection. And we've tried them all: Myler, Pessoa, custom bits, waterfords, gags, pelhams... you get the idea. He's only happy in the HM. In fact, he evented prelim in it and was an angel.

    You nailed it with quirky! He's 12 years young

    Lucassab, thanks for your suggestions. Those sound like awesome exercises on the flat. I'll start incorporating them tomorrow.



  13. #13
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    Aug. 21, 2006
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    HOLY. MOLY.

    You have PERFECTLY described my old Children's Hunter to a T. This was a horse that on a good lead change day (or landing all leads) would WIN in almost any company. Gorgeous, round bascule, knees up to his eyeballs and stubborn as the day is long. Injected everything, no trainer could get them on a bad day, not in pain, 12 years old. He just came that way at 3 and I believe flat out didnt like to do them.

    Knowing what I know now that I didn't know at age 16 here are things I believe would have helped:

    1. Do not practice changes at home for quite some time, then only rarely and never on the flat, only in a course of fences.
    2. Hillwork and counter canter to develop additional hind end strength.
    3. LOTS of haunches in/out, really get his hind end working off of your leg.
    4. Lots of halting on a straight line after any jump. Work on being straight to perfection.
    5. Be hyper sensitive about straightness in general. Do not trot/canter on the rail, work on the inside track so you are not using the rail as a crutch and work on getting a truly straight horse.

    Hopefully with all of these elements working together you will get a much more collected, responsive and straight horse so when you finally do not halt after a fence he will be collected, ready and responsive!

    Good luck! Win this one for me


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  14. #14
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    Trust me, he is NOT "trying to beat you". When we get frustrated, they can feel that and it's not something that makes them happy-but they have no idea why we are unhappy with them. You can set up a vicious circle of anticipation that makes the problem worse and more likely to escalate into misbehavior. You have to avoid that.

    Quit practicing courses. Period. You can do singles. You can do lines but only if you do NOT turn the usual way when landing...like you do a diagonal and turn INTO the corner and keep going, not around it.

    Old war horses get bored after 1000 same old, same old courses and they are usually athletic enough not to have to keep a lead to avoid falling in a heap. He is sour-it happens to all the course/pattern horses and it's a game to beat it and keep them interested.

    Flatwork, and lots of it, working on correct straightness and working to unlock the hind end would probably be a good winter project for both of you. Probably not going to totally solve it but it will probably improve it. Probably would also not jump much to avoid creating a crises and frustration all the time.

    Have to add, I know he has been poked and prodded but...if he used to have them but now does not??? That is an issue. Have known a few like this that did have undiagnosed issues in the hip and pelvis and it was reflected in inability to get a lead change when one used to exsist. The rushing, hollowing and dropping off behind to a cross canter hint it's more then a training problem.
    When opportunity knocks it's wearing overalls and looks like work.

    The horse world. Two people. Three opinions.


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  15. #15
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    I have one that I would consider a bit of a perfectionist. When he was learning changes, he knew what he was supposed to do, but sometimes either his body or his rider weren't always on the same page. This horse really wanted to land and change within 2-3 strides of the jump. If he he missed that window he got flustered. If he only got the front of a change, he would swap back to the wrong lead, then try to get the whole change, which got him flustered.

    The flat work mentioned above is great. Until the flat work started paying off for my horse, we took the changes out of the equation. If he was balanced and straight, we would ask for a nice simple change. If he was flustered and crooked, we would just continue cantering and work on getting a nice, balanced counter canter, until we could simple change. Basically, it got him thinking that after the jump, his job was to get straight and balanced, then wait for instruction. Once that happened, he was more willing to land from a jump, wait until he was straight and balanced, then do his change.

    Another exercise we would do -- if you land off a diagonal and you are supposed to turn right (needing a change since he always lands left), turn left and keep going. Don't let him get frazzled about the change. This will get your horse thinking about what you are going to ask him to do next, not the change. Plus, he will have to work a bit harder to balance, since it will be a tighter turn.



  16. #16
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    I totally agree with those who have recommended spending some time on counter canter work. I ride one that likes to swap out up front only left-to-right, and if we do maybe 5 minutes of counter canter, the changes after are perfect. In general we've been spending some time working the counter bend and making sure his balance is where it should be.

    For now, I would take a total break from flying changes. If you're jumping, get a quick simple change - this should help with the anxiety issue.

    I know you said you took a few years off to event - did he get the change out in the open? If so, that might be a good place to start them up again once you have a great simple change and he doesn't seem anxious heading into corners/across the diagonal.



  17. #17
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    Adding to the simple change discussion... also a good idea however be sure that whatever you are doing you are getting it precisely and clean. Do not rush through it to only get a step or two, your goal is to get your horse listening for instruction better so try to get crisp transitions then go from there gradually working backwards.

    PS--my horse turned out to be a real winner in the jumper ring. Apparently we were trying to make him into something he was not. In the jumpers he got his changes 90% of the time... he was more challenged and felt the actual need to do the change if we were doing a tight rollback.
    Last edited by tua37516; Nov. 1, 2012 at 12:09 PM. Reason: typo



  18. #18
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    It took me a long, long, LONG time to realize that the key is being able to put the hanches in (where and when I want to). And even longer to realize that has to come from the leg and not me shifting my body. How is he on the flat? Can you really control those haunches both directions and move them as little or as much as you want? is he flexing and able to actually STEP under himself when you ask? I'd work on this on the flat and completely forget changes for a while. And if he can't really step under, maybe he's due for a hock injection or similar?!

    Could someone explain WHY counter canter helps with the change? I would like to know the biomechanics of this.
    ~Veronica
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  19. #19
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    Sep. 19, 2006
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    Smile

    I went to a Joe Fargis clinic over the weekend and picked up an easy exercise that (though it has only been a few days) has really helped my horse that has a tendency to land only on his left lead and has recenlty started to miss a L to R change behind.

    Joe placed two rails on the ground - think trot cavaletti - and had the group trot through them. He then proceeded to roll the rails out, increasing the space between them, and asked you to get one, two or even three steps between the rails.

    Sounds simple - but it was reallllly hard....

    You had to get a very free and loose horse to accruately get the one/two/three with equal steps. To have any hope of covering the one step between the 9' to 10' spaced rails, you really had to get them swinging, without running them off their feet (that shortens the stride).

    My horse is a bit of a worrier and tense in that he doesn't over react and run away with me/get quick, but starts almost shrivelling under neath me and falling behind my leg, losing all impulsion.

    This focus on relaxation and loosening up his hind end to cover the one step carried over into the canter. He was looser behind, his shoulders were up without any real effort on my part and he was so much straighter. I work a lot on maintaining his straightness tracking right but this simple exercise straightened him 5x more than any fancy flatwork that I have ever done and put him wonderfully in front of my leg.

    I hopped over a few jumps and was surprised to find him landing on the right lead willingly without any aid and the one time I needed a change - it was clean and automatic.

    This is simple and for me, very exciting as I do not have access to hills/fields and going into winter and laps around a tiny indoor, I fear him falling too far behind my leg.

    Joe's main comment to my horse and I was to loosen up and get swinging! And boy it is helping so far....

    But definitely incorporate hills if you can, counter canter, straightness and many of the aforementioned exercises....


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  20. #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by vxf111 View Post

    Could someone explain WHY counter canter helps with the change? I would like to know the biomechanics of this.
    1. 90% of the ones with lead change issues lean way in, drop the shoulder and kick the hip out which puts them on their forehand where they can't change. Complicated by riders leaning into the well and throwing their shoulders down and inside. Working on correct flatwork-isolating the forehand and haunch and teaching them to be independent of each other via excercises like the counter canter, leg yields, shoulder/haunch/in/out creates a straight horse which is required to get a good change.

    2. Many are not riding leg to hand but getting drug along by a forehand heavy horse. The counter canter forces correct use of the aids to get the horse balanced and coming "through" and a strong rider...both of which create a good change.

    3. In the wonderful, contradictory world of the horse brain, ceasing something hard=reward. If we get a missed lead or cross canter and halt or drop to a trot so the horse does not have to work to stay balanced and on the aids? Did we inadvertantly teach them a blown lead generates a break? Continuing on the counter canter (or even a cross canter) makes them keep working and makes it harder then if they would have done it right in the first place. Avoid inadvertantly rewarding the horse instead of actually correcting it.
    When opportunity knocks it's wearing overalls and looks like work.

    The horse world. Two people. Three opinions.


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