Horse Training Tips – Lead Tips

How To Refine Your Horse’s Leads And Lead Departures

Dear Friend and Horseman,

Welcome to another “Horse Training Tips Insider”.

In a previous issue, I detailed how to teach a green-broke colt to take either lead. Even his “bad” lead that he really doesn’t want to take.

Once you get the horse willing and comfortable loping on either lead, it’s time to start refining his lead departures. In this issue, I talk about how to begin that refinement.

Some of my members emailed me with very good questions about leads, lead departures and lead changes. I thought it may be beneficial to share them with you, below.

Okay, let’s get started.

First question:

Hi Larry,

Do you have a video that explains how to “feel” a horse’s leads?

My horse is very smooth and one side feels just like the other!

I have read a hundred books and watched other trainer’s videos about leads but they don’t tell me how to feel them!

Also, do you know how to teach a horse the leads by moving the shoulders over rather than moving the hind quarters over? I have heard it is a much better method and that you can do flying changes easily after they know this.

I would appreciate any help.


My reply:

Hi LaDora,

Here is how you can feel what lead your horse is on.

When a horse is loping on his left lead… his left legs are reaching farther forward than his right legs. As a result, you will notice if the horse is on his “left” lead, your left “thigh” will be farther forward than your right thigh.

And, vise-versa when the horse is loping on his right lead.

In other words, when the horse is on the left lead, the left side of the rider’s body will be slightly leading (farther forward) the other side of his body.

Let’s talk about getting a horse to take the correct lead.

When it comes to lead departures from the standstill or the walk, the most reliable way is to position the horse’s body by moving his HINDQUARTERS.

The horse’s shoulders should remain stationary or moved slightly in the opposite direction of the hindquarters.

In a nut shell, if you want the horse to pick up the left lead, keep the horse’s shoulders straight (or move them slightly to the right) and move his hindquarters to the left as you ask for the lope.

Always remember, its the hindquarters that dictate the lead. Not the shoulders.

If you get the horse to pick up the correct lead “behind”, the front end will automatically pick up the correct lead also.

However, getting the lead in front is no guarantee the horse will pick it up behind. It’s not uncommon for a horse to be in the left lead in front and the right lead behind. This is called “cross-firing”.

The “hindquarter first” lead departure is pretty much mandatory if you want consistency.

It’s also mandatory for laying the foundation for a good FLYING LEAD CHANGE.

You really want your horse to do a “hindquarter first” flying lead change as this is the smoothest, most reliable lead change there is.

Asking a horse to do a flying lead change “shoulder first”, will often cause a horse to “miss” his hind lead and cross-fire. Plus, it’s not as smooth and takes the horse an extra stride to complete the change.

Now, after saying that, keep in mind some horses are natural lead changers who will change beautifully, no matter what. And of course, there’s also the other kind that won’t change well, no matter what.

Larry Trocha
Larry Trocha Training Stable

Another email question:

Hi Larry,

I’m having problems with my leads and lead changes and was hoping you might give me some advice.

When I ask my horse to pick up the left lead, a lot of times he won’t. I move his hindquarters to the left and then kick him to lope but he’ll go into the wrong lead anyway.

Same thing when I ask him to do a flying lead change. I’ll try to move his hindquarters over to get the change but he’ll usually not get the hind lead. He ends up in the correct lead in front and the wrong lead behind.

Is it me or the horse? What can I do?

Thanks for your help.


My reply:

Hi Jack,

Okay, lets get to your problem with the leads.

Keep in mind, without actually seeing you ride the horse, I can only guess what’s happening. However, your problem is a common one that I’ve seen many times so I’m pretty sure I know what’s going wrong.

I believe there are actually two separate things which are causing your problem.

Reason #1:
When you are moving the horse’s hindquarters over to cue for the lead, you are unknowingly letting the horse’s shoulders drift that direction too… causing the horse to pick up the wrong lead behind.

If you are going to ask your horse to pick up the left lead, you need to move his hindquarters to the left AND make sure his shoulders stay put. It may even be helpful to hold the shoulders a little to the right.

Remember, ONLY the hindquarters should move in the direction of the lead. If you let the shoulders move in that direction too, it cancels out the hindquarters.

This recommendation applies to “flying lead changes” as well “lead departures”.

Reason #2:
You are trying to use your legs for positioning the hindquarters as well as a cue to accelerate into the lope… and that won’t work (at least not on a green horse).

Whenever we use our legs to move a horse’s hindquarters over to pick up a certain lead, we are in fact “positioning” his body with our legs. We need to keep our leg on the horse so his hindquarters STAY in position as he picks up the lope.

Once he is in the lope on the correct lead, we release our leg.

Because our legs are used for positioning in this maneuver, its necessary that we have an additional cue to ask the horse to accelerate into the lope.

If we try to use our legs for both positioning AND accelerating, it can confuse the horse and make him unsure of what we want.

So, once I have moved the horse’s hindquarters over, I cluck or kiss to him as his cue to pick up the lope. That way I can keep his hindquarters where I want them as I ask him to lope… There are no conflicting signals to confuse the horse.

Here’s what I suggest you do:

Practice your lead departures while riding at a walk, next to a fence.

Let’s say the fence is on your right and you want to pick up the left lead.

First, pick up your reins and move them slightly to the right to block the horse’s shoulders from moving off the fence.

Second, move your right leg back a little, turn your toe out and apply enough pressure to move the horse’s hindquarters over to the left. Push the hindquarters away from the fence about a foot or two. Keep them there as you continue to walk forward. Your horse will be two-tracking down the fence.

Third, with the horse’s hindquarters pushed to the left, cluck to the horse to ask him to lope.

If the horse lopes off on the correct lead, release all leg and rein pressure and let him go. The release of pressure let’s him know he responded correctly.

If he picks up the wrong lead, correct him by stopping immediately, move his hindquarters to the left, hold his shoulders to the right and ask for the lope again. Repeat as many times as necessary for him to take the correct lead.

Important note:
Keep in mind, no “concentrated” training session should be longer than 15 minutes maximum. Any longer than that and you risk scaring your horse or make him dread being schooled. Then you end up with a “pin-eared”, “tail-wringer”.

Also, if you wear spurs… spur pressure should be applied with a “PRESSING” motion. Not a “JABBING” motion.

Here are some common mistakes when asking for “left” lead departures.

Mistake #1: Letting the horse’s shoulders drift to the left and not keeping them right next to the fence.

Mistake #2: Not keeping the horse’s hindquarters to the left as the horse breaks into the lope. Just as the horse starts to lope, the rider will mess up and release the hindquarters too soon. Thus, missing the lead.

Mistake #3: The horse doesn’t pick up the lope when the rider clucks to him. You need to have your horse conditioned to accelerate when he hears the cluck. During your normal rides, cluck to the horse, if he doesn’t speed up, pop him on the butt.

Mistake #4: The horse isn’t broke. To do lead departures or changes that are consistent and look good, the horse needs to have good initial training.

He needs to be supple. He needs to lightly move away from pressure and he needs to be good in the face and give to your hands. If any of these ingredients are missing, performance will be inconsistent and way below par.

It may be hard for you to grasp a mental picture of all this just from reading this article. However, once you actually see it in action, it’ll make perfect sense to you.

To see it in action, I suggest you watch my DVD on flying lead changes or my online video titled, “How To Lope Slow On A Loose Rein With Complete Control“.

Well, that wraps it up for this issue. I hope you liked it.

Until next time, have fun training your horse.

Larry Trocha

Back to the TOP


  1. pat says

    Thank you Larry. I appreciate the input i will work on that and went would be a good time to start her on the stops i am trying not to push her she is doing good . thank you again

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>