Wrong Lead
Posted by Irina Yastrebova on Monday, June 18, 2018 08:45 PM
Recently, I came across couple green and crooked horses who are quite one sided when it comes to canter - preferring a certain lead regardless of the direction. I worked with horses like that before but these two have a very particular way of setting themselves up to strike on the favorite lead. All horses who make mistakes of such nature has straightness and symmetry issues. Obedience and understanding of rider's aids comes next. Even a very obedient horse will struggle picking up difficult lead compare to an easy one. So straightness is the issue that needs to be addressed first.
In the case of these two horses they both fall on inside shoulder and swing haunches out every time a rider tries to request canter depart. Hence, the wrong lead. Placing of the haunches has a great deal to do with comfort and easiness of canter departure. Only well trained and supple horse can pick up correct lead in a shoulder fore position. Most horses will try to place haunches slightly in knowing canter is coming. In the case I am describing horses tendencies do not correspond to body concave and convex sides. Both horses concave on the left but one prefers left lead while another right one. The first one is more logical. The second one has been ridden by a young rider who is quite crooked herself and pulls strongly on the left rein blocking the horse's left shoulder and inviting outside swing of the haunches.
This means it is not only horse's straightness that needs to be addressed but rider's too. Lets start with a rider. It is very important to control position and movement of rider's hips and seatbones to prevent a horse placing his rider to his liking. I see it all the time. Riders are so focused on the goal of canter depart they do not see how their horses twist them in order to pick up the wrong lead. Even more - trying very hard to get the correct lead riders do not realize how tense and twisted they get making horse's job of evasion easier. To top it off riders let go of their contact, push with their seats, lean forward, push into stirrups, etc the list can go on and on.
A good place to start developing better awareness and control of the seat position and movement is in a walk. Walk and canter has a lot in common, The canter is basically onesided walk with a jump :). If your hips swing asymmetrically in walk it predisposes you to canter problems. Swinging equally forward on each side in walk minimizing lateral swing, being aware of that movement and encouraging your horse to swing forward equally matching your seat is a great set up to improve the feel for canter. Avoid pushing with the seat, twisting hips, letting your shoulders follow horse's walk, kicking every stride, etc.
When it comes to the horse an important goal before even attempting a canter depart is to teach him to displace his shoulders and haunches at the rider's request. Shoulder-in and haunches in are the movements that help a crooked horse develop straighter body. Turns on the forehand and turns on the haunches are also very good exercises to develop suppleness and obedience to the aids. However, do not stop your horse for these turns, continue a slow walk and begin the turn. Doing a square where corners are either quarter turns on the forehand or on the haunches is a very good exercise.
Meanwhile, on the lunge line teach your horse to pick up canter just from the voice command. If your horse is very consistent regarding his favorite lead do this work on a very short scale and only until the learning takes place.
Spend some time working on your own and your horse's straightness. Leave canter work out of your rides at all. After about a month you can try attempting the canter transition on a difficult lead. A few things to keep in mind:
  • Ask for canter entering a corner not leaving a corner
  • On a circle use slight spiral out idea to encourage your horse to displace shoulders outward and keep haunches slightly in
  • Do not bend the neck in, it encourages haunches to swing out. Keep the neck straight in front of you.
  • Ask for slight haunches in
  • Hold outside contact a bit firmer to encourage the correct lead. Because leading shoulder must advance in order to start canter firm outside rein and elastic inside helps the horse to make the right choice
  • Use voice to ask for canter and do your best to sit supple and quiet recognizing with your seat which lead your horse is taking
  • If you feel you are sitting straight and your horse is supple enough but still prefers the wrong lead keep the pressure on by working on it until you get the correct lead. Lots of praise and a break right after :)
Happy riding...
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My blog is about teaching, riding and training. I share what is important to me in my work with horses and riders. The writing helps me to think things over and have a better understanding of training ideas and priciples.
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