It’s not uncommon for riders to struggle getting their horses to pick up one of their canter leads. The following are some simple exercises to help you pick up the right lead every time!
The first exercise is done completely in the walk. You
will practice positioning your horse alternately for
the left lead and then switch to the right lead after a
Let’s say you decided to pick up left lead:
–Put your weight on your left seat bone.
–Flex your horse to the left by turning your left
wrist as if you’re unlocking a door. That is, start
with your thumb as the highest point of the hand, Turn
your thumb to the left, and bring your baby finger very
close to the withers but don’t cross over the withers.
In this moment, your knuckles or fingernails will be
pointing up toward your face. Then put your hand back
in the original position with your thumb as the highest
point of the hand.
–Support with your right rein so your horse doesn’t
over bend his neck to the left. His face should be one
inch to the inside of a neutral position. (Neutral
means his head and neck are straight in front of his
body so that his chin is directly in front of his
–Your left leg is on the girth to say, “Go forward to
–Your right leg is a couple of inches behind the girth
because it will signal his right hind leg to strike off
into left lead canter. (He has to start cantering with
the outside hind leg in order to end up on the correct
Stay in this “left lead canter” position for a few
strides in the walk, and then switch your aids as if
asking for right lead canter (Remember, you’re doing
all of this in the walk). That is:
–Weight on the right seat bone.
–Right rein flexes the horse’s head one inch to the
–Left rein is like a siderein that prevents too much
bend in the neck.
–Right leg on the girth.
–Left leg behind the girth.
When you get ready to ask for the depart, do the
1. Keep the horse positioned to the inside as you did
2. When you ask for the canter depart, push your inside
seat bone forward toward your horse’s inside ear.
3. Give a little squeeze with your inside leg on the
girth to tell your horse to go “forward into the
4. Use your outside leg in a windshield wiper-like
action to signal the outside hind to strike-off into
Check that you’re on the correct lead by:
–Keeping your head erect, but peak down at his front
legs. If you’re on the correct lead, the inside front
leg should reach further forward than the outside front
–Make a circle. If you’re on the correct lead, the
canter will feel balanced. If you’re on the wrong lead,
the canter will feel unbalanced.
If you end up of the wrong lead, chances are you didn’t
keep your horse bent through his body and flexed to the
inside at his poll during the transition. Your horse
will pick up whatever lead he’s bent and flexed toward.
Here are 2 things you can do to help with the bend:
1. Walk on a small circle to bend your horse. Just
before you finish the small circle, keep the bend and
apply the aids for the canter. Once he canters, arc out
onto a larger circle.
2. Walk or trot on a small circle. Leg yield (That is,
push your horse sideways.) with a bend out to the
larger circle. Keep your inside leg on the girth as you
leg yield to help with the bend. If you’re circling to
the right, imagine you’re pushing his rib cage to the
left while his neck and hindquarters stay to the right.