How To Teach Flying Lead Changes

If you’re serious about advancing in any one of the major horseback riding disciplines such as working cattle, barrel racing, reining, jumping, hunting and dressage, you and your horse must be fully comfortable and masterful at flying lead changes.

What is the flying lead change, and how can you and your horse go about learning it? In this article, we explore these questions and provide simple instructions on mastering the flying lead change. Read on to learn more on how to teach flying lead changes.

What Is A Flying Lead Change?

What Is A Flying Lead Change

A horse who is able to make a flying lead change is basically able to change direction smoothly, cleanly and in a balanced manner without breaking stride or losing rhythm or forward motion. This is naturally easier at the walk and the trot which are, respectively, four beat and two beat gaits.

Making a lead change at a canter or lope is much more challenging because the lope is a three beat gait that includes a period of suspension when all four feet are off the ground just after the third beat.

It is at this point that the flying lead change is executed. For example, your horse may be leading with the left front foot at a time when you wish to change direction and move to the right.

This means that your horse will need to shift, bend and maintain his gait and balance during that split-second while all four feet are in the air. It involves quickly swapping foot positions during the suspended part of the gait.

How Can Your Horse Learn The Flying Lead Change?

How Can Your Horse Learn The Flying Lead Change

Your horse already knows how to do a flying lead change. When he is out playing in the field, he makes lead changes at every gait with the greatest of ease. The exercises you’ll perform with your horse are not intended to teach your horse how to make a flying lead change.

Instead they are intended to teach your horse that this is something that you want and to inform him as to how you will ask. Once your horse understands what you’re asking for and how you will ask, his natural abilities will also kick in and making a flying lead change will become extremely easy.

You can signal your horse that this is what you want and help him make this shift simultaneously. Naturally, this is a gymnastic feat you will need to work toward in increments.

Begin by working on simple changes at the walk or trot. When your horse is familiar with the aids you will use to communicate, try signaling at the canter or the lope and simultaneously slowing to a trot. This will give your horse a little bit more time to sort it out.

How Important Is Riding Skill In Teaching The Flying Lead Change?

Your own skill level and degree of riding ability will greatly influence how well you and your horse are able to make this transition. Unless you and your horse are already fairly in sync and at least moderately skilled, you should not try to teach this move.

If you are not familiar with the steps necessary to make flying lead changes, it’s a good idea to find a horse who can teach you. Look for a calm, quiet, well trained horse who will be forgiving of your trial and error.

Once you become skilled, you will be far better able to work successfully with your horse!

When Should Horses Begin Learning Flying Lead Change?

There’s no specific age for teaching flying lead change, but it’s better to work with a horse who is fairly mature, capable of collecting himself, balanced and confirmed in the counter canter.

Simple Changes Of Lead & The Counter Canter

Follow these steps to work with your horse on flying lead changes:

  1. Just before you make a lead change, be sure that your horse is moving absolutely straight. When your horse begins a new stride, cue him by flexing in the direction of his current lead. In other words if he is on the left lead, use slightly exaggerated left flexion using your inside leg.
  2. Simultaneously, keep your opposing outside leg correctly positioned, and shift your weight slightly to your inside hip to further aid your horse.
  3. The use of your outside leg should be somewhat stronger than that of your inside leg. If you find that your horse’s hindquarters swing during the change, it means that your outside leg aid is too strong and is forcing your horse to change flexion too rapidly.

Flying Lead Change Is A Finishing Touch

It’s very important that you keep in mind that flying lead changes are icing on the cake of complete training. Take your time and make sure that your horse is balanced at every gait, has a good three beat lope or canter and is obedient to all of your aids before you ever begin working on flying lead changes.

Both your skills and your horse’s skills should be established, in sync and polished. You must be confident in setting the canter rhythm, moving forward with confidence and then dialing it down smoothly.

Focus on perfecting simple lead changes for a long time before ever attempting flying lead changes.

How To Prepare Your Horse For A Flying Lead Change

Nicky Ellis
Nicky has been an editor at Horses & Foals since 2017. Horses have been in her life from her earliest memories, and she learned to ride a horse when she was 5. She is a mom of three who spends all her free time with her family and friends, her mare Joy, or just sipping her favorite cup of tea.


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