How Do I Know What Lead My Horse Is On?

QUESTION: What is the proper lead for a horse to be in on a right or left circle? How to you change leads while in motion? Does a right lead mean the inside foreleg hits the ground first? What lead should a horse have when beginning the walk, run, etc.

ANSWER: I found this good definition of leads in Lucy Rees' THE FUNDAMENTALS OF RIDING, Roxby Paintbox Company, 1991.

"The canter is a three-beat pace, with a moment when all four feet are in the air. At other times, the horse has one, two, or three feet on the ground. ... The horse is said to be leading on his right foot ... you see the right one stretch forward the most. In fact, each stride begins with the opposite back let, as in the gallop. First, he [the horse] coils his back under him, bringing his back feet forward. He puts the left one down first. As he thrusts himself forward with that foot, he rolls on to the diagonal right back/left front, with his neck and body more stretched. Then he leans forward on to his leading leg, while his back is bunching to bring his back legs forward. In the end he is flying again. ...the difference between the canter and the gallop is that in the canter he puts the diagonal pair down together, whereas in the gallop he puts them down separately [gallop is a four beat gait]."

That's the clinical description. If a horse is moving in a clockwise circle, he is leading with the right foreleg. If it's a counterclockwise circle, he leads with the left foreleg. Changing leads is difficult to do in a circle unless you are doing a figure eight and changing leads in the middle of the eight. Cues to get a horse to change leads vary by trainers. For my horses, it was a combination of shift in body weight, and rein and leg pressure. And remember, the lead is only an issue if you are cantering or galloping.


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