When I ride my horse, I can never feel it when he takes off on the correct lead. I always have to have somebody down there with me to check and make sure he does it correctly. Looking down isn't exactly a great idea, and sometimes he takes off on the wrong lead even if I give him the signal. I have heard horses tripping when they take off on the wrong lead, and I don't want him to get hurt! What can I do?
It takes practice and experience to be able to feel what lead your horse is on. Often, until you can do that for sure, you don't really have a choice except to lean over a bit and see which front leg is leading. Just try not to lean too much to see, because that does throw your horse off-balance.
Let's say we want a left lead. Start by circling your horse in a large circle to the left at the trot. When you are ready, ask him for the lead by cueing him with your right leg, bumping him with your heel slightly back. You should also have his nose very slightly tipped to the inside (left) so that you can see his left eye. You do not want to over-tip his nose because that will throw him off-balance.
Then to tell if he is correctly on the left lead, just ride
for some strides in that large circle. Don't look yet. Really let your hips move with the rhythm of his body. And you will notice, ever so slightly, that your hips are moving from back/right to front/left. This makes sense because think about how his feet are hitting the ground on his left lead. His back right foot is hitting first, then his back left and front right are hitting at the same time, followed by his front left, before all legs are off the ground again. This makes a very subtle "rocking" effect toward the front left, toward the leading leg. Again, just ride and feel it.
If you want to make sure, then you can peek down.
If he cross-fired (where he picked up the left lead on just his front or back legs, and picked up the right lead on the opposite set of legs) you will notice a really rough jerk in one direction or the other, depending on which way he cross-fired.
And if he picked up a counter-canter (aka the WRONG lead, if you didn't tell him to specifically do it) then you'll notice your hips subtley swaying in the wrong direction.
going to trip if he picks up the wrong lead. Do you think when he's romping around in the pasture, he's thinking about what lead his is on? Of course not. He can switch from one lead to the other with a moment's notice on his part. It's only when we, as the rider, want to ask them to do a specific lead at a specific time, does the horse even care what lead he is on.
Is it bad to look down and check your lead? I've been doing that for a while. :/ Usually I only check though if I feel that the horse off to check my suspicion that they are on the wrong lead.
It's not "bad" to do so. How else are you going to know what lead his is on, if you haven't learned to feel it all the time correctly? Just try not to lean too far, as it just throws your horse off-balance. Just peek over his shoulder.