Leads are ever controversial. Some trainers live and breath by them and some don’t worry about them at all. Teaching my filly how to catch her right lead was plaguing me. No matter what I tried – and I tried all the tricks in the book – nothing was consistent. One day she’d catch it perfectly and the next minute it was like starting from scratch trying to get her to catch it. I started to wonder if leads were really all that important anyway!

I was frustrated to say the least. I was about to throw in the towel and give up training a horse all together. After much consideration and checking all the buttons first I went for help… well, I went running and crying for help. Ha! (just kidding, the crying was internal). A few of my friends needed a little help with different things as well and we decided to make a fun girls trip and have a group lesson with reining horse trainer Trey Pool of Pool Performance Horses in Weatherford, Texas. I’m not sure he knew what he agreed to when four girls showed up frantic for help.

The first thing Trey said was that with leads it’s usually one of two problems: No 1, a shoulder issue, or No. 2, a hip issue. He asked me to go, set her up, ask for the lead and lope a right handed circle. I did – and of course she caught the left lead instead. He immediately said ‘OK, I see what’s going on. It’s a shoulder issue with her.” And so began the lesson.

Trey said with my particular horse she was dumping all of her weight on her right shoulder so when she picked up a lope she had no where to go but to catch the left lead, because all of her weight was on the inside, right leg.

The Solution:

Trey had me begin by trotting her in a right handed circle, set her up for the lead by pushing her outside hip underneath her, opening up my inside leg and ask for the lope. If she took the left lead – which she did – then immediately he had me pick up her shoulder and drag it over to the left in a 360, which would force her to pick up her shoulders and get her weight off of her right front. Then, I was to set up and ask again for the lead. If she picked up the wrong lead again we kept doing the same thing over and over again until she picked it up on the first try.

Once she finally – after probably 5 minutes of this process – picked up the correct lead he had me just let her run, no matter how fast she wanted to go or in what direction just so long as she was in the right lead. This was her reward. I was rewarding her for catching the right lead by getting out of her way leaving her alone for a little bit. Then, he had me slow her down, stop, rest and try all over again until she would pick up the lead on the first try. We did this about three or four times, which all together were about 5 minute sections, three or four times. Then when she took the right lead the last time we let her rest and soak it all in and be done for the day. Trey reminded me that the next day when I tried to get the correct lead it might not happen on the first time, but to do that process again until she does. He said it could take three or four days for her to really learn what I’m asking, but not to give up on the process.

The next day he was right she didn’t pick it up automatically, but we didn’t give up on the process and now we are several months down the road and we don’t have any problems with catching either lead. Sometimes, you need a little help from a professional who can see what’s going on from an objective viewpoint.


Kailey Sullins is editor of Barrel Horse News, and an avid barrel racer and breakaway roper. Email comments or questions to [email protected]

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