Lead Departure Exercises

  • Added:
    Oct 07, 2013
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Lead Departure Exercises Photo by Ian Kirkham

Here are some great ways to ask your horse for a lope or canter, and to pick up the correct lead.


Hips-In. This is a good preparatory exercise for teaching flying lead changes. Begin by trotting a figure 8. Push the horse’s hips into the circle. Switch leads on the straight, center portion of the figure 8. Advance to the lope, using hips-in to pick up the correct lead.


Reverse Arc. Trot a circle and alternate between the reverse-arc circle and a nose-in (normal) circle. Do the reverse arc in a figure 8. Each time you reach the straightaway, release the reverse arc. As you release, your horse will be ready to pick up the opposite lead.


Backing Up. Back your horse on an angle. If your are backing with the left rein, ask for a lope on the left lead.


Diagonal. Trot a straight line and do a diagonal to the right. If you push the left shoulder to the right, pick up the left lead. Lope a few strides and break down into a diagonal to the left at a trot by moving the right shoulder before picking up the right lead.


On the Rail. In this exercise, use the rail as a guide. When you apply counter pressure (toward the rail), ask for the lead away from the rail. It’s important to maintain your leg pressure until the horse picks up the lead on both the hindquarter and front end.


Lead Departures. Whatever method you choose to pick up the correct lead, your horse must have a soft nose and be moving in a collected frame. Here are four examples of lead departures:
1. From a diagonal to the right, pick up the left lead as the horse slows down and you elevate his shoulders. Break down to an extended trot then repeat by doing the other diagonal and opposite lead departure.

2. Ask for hips-in to the left, then pick up the left lead and lope a circle. Stop, ask for hips-in to the right and pick up the right lead. Lope a circle, stop and repeat.


3. The rollback is perhaps the easiest way to get your horse to pick up the correct lead. Lope a straight line and lift the front end as you stop. Back up a few steps, then rollback and lope off. When doing a rollback to the right, pick up the right lead; conversely when doing a rollback to the left, pick up the left lead. If your horse doesn’t pick up the correct lead, stop and back up, then try again. It’s important to lift the horse’s shoulders throughout the stop and rollback to lighten his front end.

4. Sidepass away from the desired lead, ask the for the lead and lope. After a few strides, stop and sidepass to the other side and ask for the opposite lead. If the horse picks up the incorrect lead, stop immediately, sidepass and ask again.

Company – LL Inc and the Lyons Legacy School of Horsemanship offer a wide variety of equine educational materials, including a series of horse training and riding courses, manuals, and videos for online and on-the-ground learning.


Contact – Ian Kirkham, LL Inc., ian.kirkham@gmail.com. A biologist with a PhD in animal behaviour, and a writer for much of his career, Ian now focuses on one of his lifelong passions – horses. He’s owned and trained horses in Canada, US, Zimbabwe and Costa Rica. Ian divides his time between training horses and creating educational products for horse lovers.

Author's Profile

A biologist with a PhD in animal behavior, and a writer for much of his career, Ian now focuses on one of his lifelong passions – horses & Horsemanship. He’s owned and trained horses in Canada, US, Zimbabwe and Costa Rica. Ian divides his time between horse training, School of Horsemanship and creating educational products


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