Horsemanship - Change Of Lead
( Originally Published 1962 )
The change of lead at canter is one of the most difficult movements of elementary equitation and its finished execution belongs under the haute ecole. In its simpler forms, however, the change of lead is one of the things that every horseman must know how to perform. One of several excellent reasons for this requirement is self-preservation.
The difficult part of the operation is not the technique itself but the rider's mastery of the fundamentals of horsemanship. His balance must, for instance, be steady enough to allow complete control of his weight and the free action of boots and hands. His feel must be sufficiently developed to adjust the coordination of the aids correctly.
What lead means and why the proper lead is necessary when making a turn have previously been explained. In order to clarify the lead's application for practical purposes, picture yourself cantering along the bridle path. Immediately ahead the path turns sharply to the right. You find that you have left lead and also that the footing is not any too secure. You realize that you have to do one of two things in order to avoid the danger of tripping your horse—pull in to a trot or change lead in a hurry.
To change lead easily and smoothly in the stride, without change of beat or gait, requires a well-schooled horse and a capable rider. A fumble or a delayed response may often mean an accident. The most dangerous kind of fumble occurs when the horse changes with his forehand but not with his hind legs—when he becomes disunited, so to speak. The only thing the rider can do then is to pull quickly into a trot.
To the polo player the pony's sure, unerring, effortless swing from one lead to the other is of supreme importance, and is one of the fundamentals of his training.
Generally speaking it is a source of very real danger in any kind of riding for the horse get his gaits or leads mixed.
The schooling of horse and rider in the execution of the change of lead must not start on the straight line. A not too narrow figure eight is the most practical arena. The horse is put into a canter on the great volte and as soon as he relaxes completely and settles down to a slow, steady gait, well collected, he is turned in on the figure eight in an easy turn, heading toward the center of the circle. Before that point is reached the rider pulls his horse into a trot, disturbing him as little as possible. He transfers his weight to the opposite side of the saddle, shifts the position of the boots, straightens the bend in the horse's jaw, and flexes him to the opposite side when passing the center, just before he changes his direction on the second half of the figure eight. As soon as the center is passed the aids for the other lead are applied.
In other words, the change of lead is executed with an interval of trot, giving the rider time to readjust his aids and prepare his horse for the new lead. Gradually the interval of trot is reduced to one or two beats and finally entirely eliminated, and the horse changes lead in the stride, a tempo. To begin with, however, plenty of time must be allowed for the intermediate trot in order to avoid a sloppy readjustment of the aids.
During the schooling the correct transfer of weight at the moment of change must be very carefully observed. The quick transfer of the rider's weight and the corresponding flexing of the horse's jaw are the most important factors in changing lead. When it comes to changing in the stride, there is hardly time for an effective shifting and application of the boots.
As soon as the horse performs well on the figure eight he is taken out on the square and put into canter with the wrong lead on one of the straightaways. Approaching the corner, the rider then attempts to change into the correct lead for the turn, with or without intermediate trot, in the manner described.
The use of the small volte with reverse is also recommended for practicing change of lead. As long as a few beats of trot are necessary the half parade takes place as soon as the first half of the circle is passed, trot and readjustment on the tangent, and the new canter the moment the horse turns onto the track in the opposite direction. If change in the stride is possible it should be executed upon reaching the track.