When you change directions at the canter, you also change leads. The lead indicates which direction your horse is bending. For example, when your horse is on the right lead, his right front leg extends more than the left, and his body bends slightly to the right. When you change directions you change leads, so your horse is bent in the direction he's traveling.
Begin asking for lead changes with the simple change, asking your horse to come back down to a walk or trot before taking the new lead. Once he's comfortable with the simple change, you're ready to ask for a flying change -- switching directly from one lead to the other without changing gaits. Your horse must rearrange the pattern of his footfalls during the split-second when all four feet are off the ground.
Canter in a large clockwise circle until you are comfortable that your horse is moving in a relaxed and forward manner. Circling clockwise, your horse will be on the right lead. Work in an arena or field large enough that you can make two circles of equal size in opposite directions, to form a figure eight.
Keep your right hand passive, and squeeze the left rein gently. Don't pull back with your left hand. You just want to apply enough pressure so your horse knows he is changing directions. Apply these aids at the point where you are switching from traveling clockwise to counterclockwise.
Apply the right leg behind the girth. You want to signal to him that he needs to shift his hindquarters. A very sensitive horse might only require a gentle nudge, but a less sensitive horse might need a bit of a kick.
Continue the circle counterclockwise. If your horse doesn't make the change, bring him down to a trot and ask him to pick up the left lead canter. Don't continue along on the incorrect lead.
Reverse the aids, using your right hand and left leg, to ask for the right lead.
- Learn to Ride, Hunt, and Show: Gordon Wright
- Meredith Manor: Understanding Flying Lead Changes
- Equisearch.com: Flying Lead Changes Tips and Troubleshooting
- The lead change within the canter is a great time to take advantage of your horse's natural inclination to recognize patterns and try to guess what you are going to do next. Start working on the lead change on a large figure eight, asking for the change in the center, where the two circles join. Soon he will anticipate the change, making it easier for him to organize his legs and make a clean change. Once you're both comfortable performing the lead change on a figure eight, move to asking for a change on a serpentine or other schooling figure, before finally mastering it on a straight line.