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DEAR DANA: How do I keep my mare from anticipating lead changes? She starts collecting up and raising her head and neck. I want her to be a GOOD lead-changer, but only when I ask it of her. Is there something I should be doing? Others tell me to NEVER do lead changes!
–Lori of Kissimmee, FL

DEAR LORI: I’m not sure if your horse is green at lead changes, but it sounds like she is either green or unhappy about it! One thing that might really help her is to change up her routine. This will help with her trying to anticipate her lead changes.

It sounds like the lead changes stimulate or fluster her. I have had many horses that will get “hot” or “high” when they change leads, especially when I begin teaching them. Also, some horses aren’t as good at lead changes as others. Your mare may be feeling pressured or worried about it, so remember that you want to make this lesson a positive experience that will teach her to accept the pressure. Also if she is getting high in the lead change, part of the problem may be that she is not accepting your leg cue. Pay attention to this and see if she gets hot off of your leg in other situations. Most horses, especially mares, need their acceptance level to your leg maintained. By that I mean for you to apply your leg, ask her to move over by side-passing or by isolating her hindquarters and pivoting her hindquarters around her front end. I will do this until my horse will let me drive her around without getting rushy, hot, or ear piney. Once I feel I have a new level of acceptance to my leg, then go back and try a lead change.

There are a couple of ways that you can handle her if she wants to stay hot. One way is to keep changing leads, even if she gets hot, and do it until she gives it up and accepts it. If you do that, be careful to not punish her when she makes a mistake, as you are trying to build a positive experience. Also, if she gets out of air, make sure and walk her and let her catch her air as horses that are ridden and trained too long, out of air, can grow to dislike their job.

The other approach you can take is to ask for one or two lead changes, then walk a moment to relax her, and change up her routine by putting her into position for a change, then bring her down to the walk and just side-pass her over, then walk off. Also, pay attention to the details if you feel her getting rattled, then slow everything down and diagnose what was rattling her. Work on that without punishing her, then go back and ask for a lead change. Do your work slowly and quietly, taking the excess energy out of the maneuvers. You can also do a combination of both of these approaches, but the best advice I can give you is to really learn to “read” or “diagnose” your horse as best that you can. If you do that, then you know what to work on.

Also, here’s a lead change exercise that I do with horses that tend to get rattled: Lope a circle, say on the right lead, and, as you come to the middle, stop and side-pass your horse to the right off of your left leg. Then, lope back off on a left lead. Lope a few circles to the left, then stop, side-pass your horse to the left off of your right leg, and lope back off to the right. Good luck to you, and I hope this helps you!


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