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My 3 year old gelding has had somewhere in the ball park of almost 20 rides. He’s soft in the face, great with changing gaits, but when we lope to the left (counterclockwise), he picks up the wrong lead every time. When I lunge him and he picks up the wrong lead, I’ll keep pushing him until he picks up the right one, because he can do a flying lead change, and when he picks the right lead up I’ll release pressure. But when I’m riding him he won’t do the lead change. Should I break him down into a trot every time he picks it up wrong and then make him lope again and do that until he picks up the right lead? We need to get this fixed before it’s too settled in his brain. I only have a round pen to work him in right now if that makes any difference. My pasture is too grown up to be safe and I don’t have an arena. TIA
 

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When I first bought my gelding, he had absolutely no left lead. He would counter-canter for hours if I let him, and the process of teaching him his correct lead took a long time...I'm talking years of trying. There are tips and tricks out there to try, and it felt like I tried them all.

When are you cue'ing him to canter? There is a specific footfall that you can cue on to help increase your changes of getting the correct lead.

Some people have success of getting the lead by bending the horse to the outside.

Some people have success of getting the lead by bending the horse around a circle.

Some people have success of getting the lead by going over a pole to whichever direction of the lead they want is.

I would break him down to the trot every time he gets this wrong lead, but at 20 rides, I would be sure to not get impatient or frustrated with him. He's a baby, and learning all of these things with a person on your back is still pretty new.

As for lunging, I also would not let him continue off on the wrong lead - you are strengthening his already strong side. You need to teach him the right way on the ground, otherwise you are going to have the issue undersaddle as well. I would try using a ground pole on the lunge as well.
 

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Something you can try is putting on some leg to move this hips slightly into the lead you want. For example on a left lead you would use just enough right leg to tip the hip left.
 

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He's still very new to the riding game with only 20 rides under his belt. It takes a while for them to understand their balance and then adding a rider to the mix they have to figure it out all over again. I normally let my young ones "noodle" for a bit while doing exercises to help them understand their balance because balance is not something you can force they just have to figure it out and some take longer than others. I had one "noodle" for about 2 days and another for 2 weeks it all depends on the horse.

There are a few exercises you can do to help him differentiate but I would 100% get him checked to make sure there is nothing physical going on first as well as check his tack. Since he is using "new" muscles, a saddle that might have fit before might be pinching him now due to his muscle development. I would make sure that that is not your issue before you put him through the steps to "push" for the lead.

Also, some horses are stronger on one side than the other, just like people who are righties or lefties. My Appy prefers his right lead over his left and always has since the beginning when I first saddle trained him. In that instance for every right circle I did, I did two lefts so he would build up strength on both sides until I felt I could even him out then everything became equal.

So once pain and pinching has been ruled out a good exercise I like is:

- Figure 8's with simple changes over and over. Start at a trot and just trot a figure 8 (like a proper 2 circles figure 8 where the horse needs to be bent not an elongated figure 8 that looks like two tear drops meeting) working on keeping your horse between your hands and legs as well as bending in the proper directions. Bending is SO helpful as a nice supple horse will move with much more ease than a stiff one. Plus, it can be a good indicator of issues if your once supple horse becomes stiff. After trotting the figure 8 for a while your horse will come to expect the directional change. Where it intersects ask for the lead for that direction if you get it hold it for a few strides and bring it down to a trot before the intersect point and at the intersect point set them up for the direction change and ask for the other lead. This is a good exercise to set yourself and your horse up for success as you should both be bent properly and if your boy knows his hind end is his motor you should have no problem getting your leads. Horses don't normally like to counter canter (especially on a circle) because it is uncomfortable but if there is a pain issue or balance issue going on counter cantering can be a good indicator. This exercise can be done with a trot pole at the intersection point as well to encourage them to lift a bit more in the front but for some horses the trot pole can make it confusing (just bear that in mind.) This exercise can also be used to help with flying changes but I won't go into that just yet.

A video would be helpful as it will show what exactly he is doing.
 

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A horse moving without a rider experiences movement differently than when carrying a rider. The better the rider sits and moves with the horse, the more similar the horse’s experiences become.

Trying to understand why a horse does what it does often helps in the search for answers. For example: Does the horse finally change to the left lead when being lunged simply because he becomes tired of cantering in the right lead or does something else cause this change? If the first reason seems to be the answer, you must consider whether you want your horse to take the left lead when ridden only because it is tired of cantering in the right lead.

It is generally easier for a horse to do simple lead changes rather than flying lead changes when ridden. Therefore, I would suggest bringing the horse back to a trot – or even a stop – before asking again if it takes the wrong lead. Then, consider how you should ask for the correct lead.

More methods have been developed for getting a horse to canter than to take any other gait. This includes asking for a particular lead. Methods range from throwing a horse off balance to meticulously preparing the horse to make taking the correct lead easy.

The straighter a horse is moving – “straight” on a circle means “aligned with the circumference of the circle” – the easier it is for the horse to change leads. The better the rider is aligned with a particular lead, the easier it is for the horse to move in that lead.

The timing of the cue may prove helpful, but this may become complicated. It takes time for a rider to feel when the horse is at a particular phase of movement, think what needs to be done, and then get his or her muscles to respond. Then, it takes time for the horse to feel and respond to the rider’s cue. The horse’s response time, however, it generally much shorter than that of the rider.
 
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