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THE IMPORTANCE OF LEAD CHANGES
with Andrea Cline
I think the lead change on a barrel horse is really important. The day my horses are ready to start loping to a barrel I establish the importance of leads. They always need to be on the correct lead to whatever barrel they are headed to. As I'm doing this they don't even really know how important it is. I don't make this a big deal to the horse. This is one area in barrel training that, if it's done correctly, has already been introduced by whomever started the horse in the first place.
Whenever I head to my first barrel, which is usually the right turn, I automatically set the horse up to travel to that barrel in the correct lead. We make our turn and it is even more important for the colts in my program to start learning to switch the lead approximately 1-2 strides after leaving the first turn. I really don't want my horses switching the lead coming up into their second turn and definitely not in the turn.
So from the first day I start loping I keep that lead change a vital part of my program. I will turn that lead change into something that is just normal for them to do. Once we are well into our pattern work and I know for certain that the lead change has become a habit for them to look for me to ask for that switch, I will start testing them to see if they will start making that initiative themselves. Most of the horses that I start will do it on their own. Every now and then I get one that wants me to cue them for it. Those are the ones I will let fumble their legs together going into that second turn on the wrong lead. Pretty quickly the feel of turning that barrel in the wrong lead will feel pretty wrong to them and they'll correct it. I will go back and forth on that for a while… some days I will cue them and other days I will let them go on without me cueing them.
I feel like the horses that travel correctly going into the turns have their bodies set up correctly to be fast and efficient in whatever turn they are going to take. When on the correct lead that hind leg can get up underneath like it should just be-fore a turn.
In my opinion, the horse that's already switched leads prior to the barrel are able to make their turn quicker and more fluidly as their body position is already set up to do so; opposed to the horse trying to make the lead switch coming into the turn which I believe costs you valuable time.