Do Late Lead Changes Really Matter When Showing In the Hunter Ring

This question about late lead changes, has been asked of me on several occasions, so it must be something riders, competitors and coaches are concerned about while showing their horses.

When Should My Horse Change the Lead?

Pensacola Hunter Jumpers

Your Horse Should, Ideally Change Leads Two Strides Before the Corner (Photo credit: The Latest Slub:)

In a perfect world, your horse, ideally should perform a clean lead change 2 strides before the corner or end of the ring.
This is the optimum place as it allows the horse:

  1. time to balance after completing the line of fences.
  2. when performed correctly, gives the horse time  to balance and prepare for the upcoming turn.

Performing a late lead change to late, say half way through the turn, will not prepare your horse correctly for the upcoming turn. When the horse is unbalanced through the turn it has a domino effect.

Not only will it be unbalanced through the turn because it is on the wrong lead, but it will not be prepared to jump the jump correctly.

What Happens if My Horse Does a Wrong Lead?

Usually if the horse has a wrong lead around ‘part’ of the corner, it will have a bad jump. This may mean:

  • poor spot – Long spot and launch over the jump or chip in and get too close to the fence.
  • poor form – Hanging a leg or not bringing knees up evenly, leaving off one leg.
  • poor approach – Weaving on the approach to the fence.

A wrong, unbalanced lead will lead to a poor jump and a lower score. If you horse gets a bad spot, has poor form or lose balance on the approach it may cause you to lose the class or even put you down in the placings.

Getting the Lead Over the Fence

The best thing to do is to do your homework and teach your horse to land on the lead over the fence.  If you want your horse to have the left lead, he will land on the right front leg first.

By keeping this in your mind it will help get your lead As I understand it, you want them to land on the outside front leg. If you keep your weight into the outside stirrup this puts weight onto the outside shoulder which in makes it come to the ground first when landing from a fence.

You will often get the correct lead if you look in the direction you are going. The mere fact of looking in the direction you want to turn. Right now, as you are sitting on your chair. look up and to the left. – – –  Do you feel your right seat bone get heavier?

By looking in the direction you want to go, it subtly signals the horse you want to go in that direction and balances the horse correctly. When you turn your head you slightly turn your shoulders in the direction which helps to shift your weight.

It is unnecessary to swing your body and this serves to detract from a nice even round.

Does the Lead Really Matter?

In a word YES! A wrong lead leads to an unbalanced horse, a bad jump and poor form. Get your correct lead and get your correct distance to the jump so your horse can jump in good form.

The horse with the best jumping form should win the class but if the horse misses distances, breaks stride (to get the correct lead or otherwise) or jumps badly over 1 jump; you may have just lost the class!

What tips do you have to get your horse on the correct lead? Please put them in a comment or send them to me at I’d be happy to have more tips to share.

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About Laura

Laura Kelland-May is the founder of Thistle Ridge Skill Builders Development Program. She more than trains horses, she trains people to train their horses. In addition she is a Sr. Judge and can offer insight into What the Judge Is Looking For. Follow her here and get more tips.
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