Stacy’s Video Diary: How do you get a horse to relax in the lead departure?

“Hi Stacy, I was just curious how you get Jac easing into a lope so easily. I have a three year old quarter horse who I do a lot of ground work with and when I do ride him he tends to buck a lot when asking for anything faster than a lope. He’s my first horse to train and I know it’s something I’m doing wrong just can’t figure out what yet. He’s still young so I don’t ride him a lot but if I do I get bucked off almost everytime. Thanks for any help. 🙂 “ -Bree H

“How do you teach a horse to relax and make their lope departure quiet and easy? Whenever I start to cue for a lope, my mare tenses up and then explodes into a fast canter.” -Amber W

In this video Al, a former Thoroughbred racehorse, is joining the video to help illustrate some of the points I made in the Jac video diary series. I borrowed Al from New Vocations, a Thoroughbred racehorse adoption program. I hope that by using multiple horses it will make it easy to see how these exercises can help the horses have a great foundation.

Teaching horses to have solid lead departures is a process that begins far before you actually ask the horse to lope. Much like driving a car faster will reveal a wobbly tire, adding speed when riding will also show you pieces that are not as solid.

If you go back and watch the early episodes of Jac (Episode 18) you can see how smooth Jac had become because of the groundwork, ground driving and consistency of the training program. This video shows how fluid Jac is during his trot circles…this is going to make a difference in his lope.

If you look at Al trotting the same circle while I am using the same methods you will see that Al isn’t as fluid. Al is actually raising his head higher and higher ‘looking’ for my hands. From his time on the track Al learned that the rider usually holds steady contact. Al feels a bit lost without that constant contact so he is ‘looking’ for my hands by using animated head movements. This will go away as he learns to carry himself more.

Jac doesn’t exhibit the same ‘looking’ for the bit head movements because he doesn’t have any prior riding experience which can lead to old habits or ways of thinking. When I start training a young horse, like Jac, my training is also a lot of prevention which is why Jac looked so smooth.

I will use the same exercises with Al that I did with Jac but Al will respond differently because of his prior experience. As Al sees the consistence he will begin to find the same rewards that Jac did and with consistency Al can learn the same lessons Jac did.

One key to having a horse be relaxed in the lead departure is to allow them to make mistakes during the transition. You will notice in the video that I am allowing the horses to go from the trot to the lope and then back to the trot. I am not making a big deal out of the transition and if they make a mistake, such as picking up the wrong lead, I am not immediately correcting them. This will help build the horses confidence and then later I can work on body position. As the rider, I am here to help guide him, not to only correct him for making mistakes.

To improve a horse like Al in the  lead departures I would focus on improving the steering and smoothness in the trot circles. Several common things people would be tempted to do with a horse like Al would be; sudden turns in an attempt to get the lead, a sudden kick or whip to ‘jump’ Al up into the correct lead, or a mechanical device to hold Al’s head down. In my opinion those options are more focused on getting Al’s body to perform a body function rather than dealing with the mental part of the training, the change of careers and training techniques, that is going on.

I would rather see Al given the chance to build his confidence in the trot and to participate in finding the ‘right’ answers instead of being rushed into a physical frame. Taking extra time now will pay off in the future much like the 20 + hours of work with Jac lead to his smooth confident look and eventually his beautiful lead departures.

As a side note, Al will be available for adoption through the New Vocations Website in the near future!


  1. Luke Gingerich on October 22, 2014 at 8:39 pm

    Ahh I’ve been wondering if we would get to see Al’s training, thanks so much for this video!! I would love to see a video sometime on teaching the lead change to a horse that is new to it! Thanks again!

  2. Janette on October 22, 2014 at 5:41 pm

    Wow, so much work in putting this video together for us. Thank you so much.

  3. Sarah Bernier on October 22, 2014 at 3:24 pm

    Stacy, I love, LOVE LOVE this statement: “Teaching horses to have solid lead departures is a process that begins far before you actually ask the horse to lope.” It really goes back to before you even get ON the horse, but so few people realize that.

    I’d venture a guess that MOST people with a horse like Al would a) assume he’s dead-broke because he’s been ridden so much already, b) use tools to MAKE him lope off in the correct lead (front & back 🙂 ) because he’s already broke and/or c) insist he hates having a bit in his mouth because of all the “head banging” motions.

    I’ve heard of so many people sending a horse off to a trainer to work on “leads” or “(insert game of choice here) patterns” or “collection” when in fact what the horse and rider really need are hours of ground work.

    Wonderful post answering a great question!

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