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Why do Racehorses Change Leads? Tips on Horse Leads.

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To witness a horse change leads while racing at full speed is quite fascinating. Changing leads is the act of switching the leg that will reach farther forward in stride, but is this natural, and why do horses do this?

Racehorses change leads to maintain balance and negotiate a turn to the left or the right more adeptly and surge past their competitors. A horse tires quicker when they are continually staying on one lead. 

The correct lead for your horse is the most straightforward strategy you’ll use to travel the shortest distance between two points quickly. Switching leads and using the right lead contributes to the performance of racehorses.

Importance of Being in the Correct Lead

It is very critical for a racehorse to stay in the correct lead. The main reason riders worry about leads is to maintain balance on circles and turns.

If a racehorse is running on the wrong lead around a turn, he must put extra effort into its stride through each step. When they switch to the correct lead, it gives them a boost of energy. This boost in power is critical for riders and their horses’ chances of winning a race.

Many riders focus on changing leads in the stretch driving to the finish line. Instead, jockeys should focus on switching to the correct lead down the backside, which helps the horse.

Some horses tend to stay on their inner lefts in the lane. However, if you don’t change leads on the backside, your racehorse will get tired soon before it changes at the head of the lane.

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Failure to timely change leads results in adding more fatigue that will make your racehorse hang and stop. Changing leads is the most crucial exercise riders need to teach their racehorses.

The commands you give to your horse depend on how well-balanced and light your horse is on its feet. Proper training can sharpen your racehorse’s mind.

He’ll learn from the training and revert quickly to the benefit of a preferred left lane. When your racehorse is skilled enough to change leads, its confidence pulls off the maneuver at full speed.

Effectively changing leads improves their conformation. Their body will allow it at the top speed based on their physical strength.

Moreover, lead change is an essential characteristic of a racehorse when they participate in the Olympic dressage competition.

How to Command for Lead Change

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A very well-balanced racehorse will quickly understand the need for changing the lead. Riders can use simple commands like a flick of their wrists.

The left wrist is used to take the left lead, whereas the right wrist is used to make the right lead. Along with the flick, you can slightly drift the horse in or out when directing them for a lead change.

A whip is used with the flick and drift to help with the timing. All these cues are used when the racehorse is waiting for the signal on the bridle. The ideal time to give a command is something an experienced rider knows.

After a few weeks of deliberate training and leadership, your horse will naturally change leads at the appropriate time. Horses changing leads effortlessly and naturally is the ultimate goal when training a racehorse.

A rider needs to observe his horse closely. The rider should notice if he is changing leads normally, late, early, or too often. If there is a change in the horse’s behavior regarding lead changing, it’s a cause of concern.

Sometimes a racehorse might have an underlying problem or injury. Changing the lead can exert more pressure on the injured area or limb. A thorough examination of the horse is quite critical before you train the horse to change leads.

How to Tell if a Horse is in the Correct Lead?

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If you weren’t raised with horses, recognizing proper leads is tricky. Frequently it’s difficult to tell when your horse is not in the right lead. Hopefully, with these tips, you’ll notice when a horse is traveling in the correct lead.

Horses need to take an inside lead, the left lead on the turns and use the right lead when on the straightaways. If you make the horse run an entire race on the left lead, the horse will get tired more quickly if he doesn’t switch leads.

To check if your horse is in the correct lead, lean over your horse’s inside shoulder and notice when his feet hit the ground. However, do this in an open field and be careful around fences and always keep yourself in position if your horse stops suddenly.

A better option is to observe his shoulder points. Notice that when the horse extends his front legs at the canter, the shoulder points should be forward, though one is farther ahead than the other.

An even better approach to affirm a correct lead is if you’re cantering on the right lead, your outside hip will turn to the inside. However, if it turns to the outside, your horse is running on the wrong lead.

You’ll figure out these methods when you start to understand how your hips move and learn to feel the horse. Getting more skilled at the canter, trot, and walk will help you notice when a particular hindfoot hits the ground.

How to Change Leads?

Now that you can tell when your horse is traveling in the wrong lead, how do you correct the issue? Here are some effective methods we use to get our horses to change leads.

The critical factors that successfully change the lead are the rider’s weight and the bridle, not the whip.

To direct a horse for a lead change, take a firm hold of the horse’s head. Use the reins to navigate the horse a little to the right, back to the left, and then give a quick signal to come to the right. You’ll notice the head movement.

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However, make sure to keep the horse straight so your horse doesn’t cross over into somebody else’s path.

Such signals on the reins trigger tensions that will tell a horse to change to his right lead. If that doesn’t work, you can use your weight. Lean a little to the right, slightly to the left, and then quickly lean sharply to the right again.

Most horses change leads effortlessly when you adjust your weight, and they pick up on this method quickly.

The following is an excellent video that instructs you on how to get your horse to change leads and also explains leads. Sometimes it best to have a visual to go along with the written descriptions. I hope you find this video is helpful.


The more you observe, the more you’ll learn. Observe advanced and top riders on how they canter their racehorses. Carefully watch how they choose the correct lead along with the changes around the turn and out of the turn.

An effective way to see lead changes is to watch televised jumping events. In showjumping competitions, it is easier to notice when horses change leads.

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