Posted on

Correct Canter Leads

Having your horse consistently pick up the lead you want and maintain it when you ask improves your performance in flat classes, helps get you to the right spot over fences and ground poles, and makes your horse more balanced overall.


Before you ever start practicing leads under saddle observe your horse loose in the pasture. See which lead he prefers when he is out with his buddies. You can also notice this when riding him at the walk and trot. Which way does your horse turn when given the choice? Does your horse bend one way easier than the other? Horses, like people, can be right or left handed and are naturally dominant on one side of their body. Observe your horse and answer these questions before you start cantering.

  • Start practicing leads with your horse on the lunge line first. Lunge your horse in both directions at the canter and make many changes of directions. He should pick up the correct lead while lunging. If he doesn’t. stop him and start him again until he strikes off on the correct lead, then allow him to continue on the circle.
  • Round penning your horse is also a great exercise to teach leads. Eventually, your horse can make flying changes in the round pen as well.

Perfect the Basics First

  • Work at the walk and trot on large circles and figures. This will get him bending equally throughout his body.
  • Move your horse’s shoulders, hindquarters, and move laterally at a walk and trot. Moving each body part of the horse will give you control when asking for a lead.
  • It is a good idea to ride or take lessons on a horse that knows his leads. This way you can learn to feel which lead you are on without looking down. If your horse starts to take the wrong lead, you can feel it right away and correct him. When you feel comfortable telling what lead you are on you can begin schooling your own horse.

Start with Circles

  • Begin the lesson by riding many circles, figure eights, and serpentines at the walk and trot to supple him before you start cantering.
  • Next, get control of the horse’s hindquarters by moving his hips to the inside and outside of a circle. Ask for the canter on the horse’s easier side, most of the time this is to the left. Cue him to move his hindquarters to the inside of the circle to the left by gently tipping his nose to the inside of the circle with your left rein, and keeping slight contact on the right rein. Keep your left leg at the girth to keep his shoulders from falling in and use pressure with your right leg behind the girth to move the hindquarters in. Reverse your aids and do this in both directions at a walk and then the trot.
  • When you can easily move your horse’s hips to both sides you are ready to start cantering. Start at a posting trot on a large circle to the left.
  • When you feel your horse is bending through his body, sit the trot for a few strides to help your horse use his hindquarters.
  • When he is moving forward at the trot ask him to canter on the left lead by sitting deep in the saddle, maintaining a slight bend to the left with your left rein, applying pressure with your outside right leg behind the girth and slight pressure with your inside left leg at the girth. Use your seat pushing forward and a kiss cue to ask him to canter. Your position to ask for the canter is the same as if you were skipping. Outside leg back, inside leg forward, seat pushing forward. Reverse your cues for a right lead canter.

Problem Solving

  • The horse should get the correct lead and continue on a circle, but if he doesn’t and continues to trot kiss to him or give him a tap with your stick behind your leg to get him in gear.
  • If the horse still takes the wrong lead, gently bring him back to a trot and try again until he gets the correct one. Let the horse canter for a few strides before asking him to stop and let him rest as a reward. Keep working on the other exercises as well to improve his bend and responsiveness. Stick to the lessons, and with time and patience your horse will take the correct lead every time.