View & Print Coupons
  • |
  • |
Please insert a friend's information that you would like send an email to.
Friend's Email Address:  
Friend's Name:
Your Email Address:
Your Name:
Special Message:

Impulsion: The Key to Lead Changes


Regardless of what riding discipline you participate in, when it comes to training green horses, there is a common thread that binds all equestrians together - FLATWORK. Just as it is key for dressage horses, flatwork forms the foundation of any good jumping horse. Quality flatwork will encourage and enable the horse to develop his muscles, create suppleness, and improve self-carriage. One aspect of flatwork that often poses problems in the development of green horses, and can reoccur as a problem down the road, is lead changes.

In an attempt to unlock the techniques necessary to teach green horses their changes - or to work on an older horse whose lead changes aren't good, Don Sheehan, a hunter/jumper trainer from Southern Pines, NC provided his insights. Sheehan is known for his expertise in starting and providing green horses with a solid foundation so they can succeed throughout their careers.

Lead changes are one of the most mentally challenging aspects of training a green horse or retraining the "problem" horse. Sheehan said, "Many times the problems that occur surrounding lead changes are mental rather than physical. Horses, like people, try so hard not to do anything wrong that instead they can't do anything right." This frustrates both horse and rider.

Sheehan shared his tips for starting the green horse. Sheehan said, "In teaching the green horse lead changes, there is no right or wrong age to begin, it all comes down to their training level. Each horse is different; I've had horses that learn their changes in three days, others that have taken a bit longer. It all depends on when they are ready."

riding and training a horseUnder Sheehan's philosophy, he believes the key to introducing the lead change is maintaining impulsion. The horse must know that he needs to go forward. Without impulsion a clean lead change will be hard to obtain. When starting the green horse, Sheehan incorporates a lot of lateral (side to side) movement exercises prior to introducing the lead change. Specifically he focuses on two tracking and leg yielding to teach the horse how to move away from the leg and to move into the rider's hand. Two tracking is when your horse moves laterally and forward simultaneously at any gait. The key to these exercises is not to be too aggressive and force the horse into the movements, rather you must encourage them to learn how to place their legs underneath themselves. By learning these movements at the walk and trot, it will be easier for the horse to move into the change at the canter as training continues.

The next step for Sheehan is to introduce simple changes. That is when the horse comes down from the canter to a slower gait (walk or trot) and then picks up the new lead. Rather than transitioning from the trot to the canter, Sheehan prefers to transition through the walk. By approaching the change this way, it encourages the horse to lift its front end into the canter without pulling. Sheehan said, "By going from the walk to the canter, the horse learns about impulsion and how to move forward." Sheehan feels when the horse is moved from the trot to the canter, "it disrupts the flow that the green horse will eventually need to go forward and do its flying change."

Once the horse has mastered the simple change skill it's time to assess whether or not he is ready to progress to flying changes. Sheehan introduces the flying change concept once his horse is light, balanced and can carry himself. If they haven't yet achieved this level in their training he continues working with them until they have mastered these concepts.

training green horsesSheehan believes there is a difference in training the green horse how to do a flying change in order to show versus training them to do it properly. A common problem seen in horse show hunters is that in a rush to get to the show ring, green horses are taught to "swap" their leads rather than truly learning how to "change" their lead. Swapping of leads occurs when a horse is pulled into the change by its rider, thus the shoulder swaps before the hind end follows. Problems can result from this later on in the horse's career, because the horse may not have a strong hind end and may not know the proper lead change technique. This lack of strength and knowledge can result in late changes. A true lead change occurs when the horse changes from hind to front, while being properly engaged throughout the transition.

Exercises Sheehan uses to encourage true lead changes include completing tear drop rollback movements and serpentine patterns. These exercises move the haunches before the shoulder, therefore allowing the horse to lead with its hind end and not pull through the front end.

Although the lead change is needed to win while doing courses at horse shows, Sheehan doesn't believe you must wait to do courses until the green horse has its changes. He said, "I trot courses forever, so when I begin to canter them they know about changes." Sheehan doesn't like to teach the horse that simple changes are acceptable while doing courses, because then they can always fall back on that habit which is not desirable. Instead, if the horse gets its change in front but not behind, Sheehan lets them fall back to one lead and get the counter lead. This will allow the rider to set the horse back up to try for the change again. Sheehan prefers this technique because what most likely happened was the horse dropped its shoulder to the inside and that's why it missed the change. Bringing the horse back to the trot to get the change will not help the horse learn to not drop its shoulder.

In addition to starting green horses, Sheehan also is sent horses that have experienced a setback in their training or show careers. Although green horses present their own challenges and issues, Sheehan believes that resolving lead change issues in "problem" horses is a more challenging endeavor. Green horses are often a clean slate, as they haven't been taught anything wrong. In contrast, many times you must take the time to wipe the slate clean once a horse starts experiencing a lead change setback.

According to Sheehan, a common lead change issue seen in the "problem" horse is anticipating the change. Generally these horses have been taught to run through the change, rather than keep themselves collected and properly engage their hind end to complete the change. In hunters, this can be seen when a horse jumps out of a line quick and flat, drops his back and lifts his head, because he is more concerned about the upcoming change at the end of the ring than the jumps. When Sheehan receives a horse with an anticipation problem, he takes away the jumps completely and focuses only on flatwork. Rather than running from the change and allowing their hind end to work properly the horse must relearn how to carry itself and go forward. As they become less anxious about the change, you can begin to incorporate small jumps in a straight line.

Another flatwork exercise that can help a horse that has experienced a lead change setback is to counter canter. Counter cantering is a collected gait, so it teaches the horse to be more balanced, and strengthens its hind end to do the lead change. Horses that have difficulty getting one change, but can easily do the other can also benefit from counter cantering as this will help strengthen the weaker side. Horses, like people, often are right sided or left sided. Therefore, exercises like counter cantering and working at the trot with lateral movements are crucial to improving the weaker side and making the horse more balanced.

Once your horse has mastered or remastered its lead changes, Sheehan suggests focusing on exercises that teach the horse to move forward and then come back to you, lengthening and shortening their strides. These exercises should be done on a serpentine pattern, using as much of the ring as possible. When possible do not practice changes on a diagonal, as this could later reappear when doing courses as a lead swap prior to the jump.

If you have experienced issues with lead changes, hopefully Don Sheehan's tips and techniques will help to resolve your problems. So, the next time you are training or retraining lead changes, remember it's all about impulsion.

Biography

Don Sheehan is a hunter/jumper trainer from Southern Pines, NC. Notable mentors/trainers throughout his career include Patty Heuckeroth and Joey Darby. Sheehan's favorite aspect of being a professional is starting young horses' careers and watching them go on to be successful with new owners and riders. Although Sheehan doesn't get much time away from the barn and out of the saddle, when he does he enjoys spending it at the beach.


Related Products

GridList

Little Giant Duratote Tote Box Blue
COMPARE
$11.99
Little Giant Duratote Tote Box Blue
Check Store Availability
Check Store Availability
Little Giant Duratote Tote Box Navy
COMPARE
$11.99
Little Giant Duratote Tote Box Navy
Check Store Availability
Check Store Availability
Fiebing Neatsfoot Oil Compound 8oz
COMPARE
$3.19
Fiebing Neatsfoot Oil Compound 8oz
Check Store Availability
Check Store Availability
Behlen Automatic Heated Stall Waterer
COMPARE
$219.99
Behlen Automatic Heated Stall Waterer
Check Store Availability
Check Store Availability
Miraco Lil Spring Single-Side Horse Waterer 4gal
COMPARE
$349.99
Miraco Lil Spring Single-Side Horse Waterer 4gal
Check Store Availability
Check Store Availability
Supermask II Horse Fly Mask XL w/o Ears Silver/Black
COMPARE
$17.99
Supermask II Horse Fly Mask XL w/o Ears Silver/Black
Check Store Availability
Check Store Availability
Farnam Vita-Hoof Conditioner & Dressing 32oz
COMPARE
$21.99
Farnam Vita-Hoof Conditioner & Dressing 32oz
Check Store Availability
Check Store Availability
Tarter Galvanized Manger Feeder 30
COMPARE
$39.99
Tarter Galvanized Manger Feeder 30"
Check Store Availability
Check Store Availability


Product availability and pricing may vary by location.
These products may be purchased at your local store.
Images are representative only. Color and size may vary.
Your Current Store:

You will see pricing and specials based on this store.