Just like a dog, gazelle or lion, a horse runs with a chosen lead… which means one front leg will extend out further than the other front leg. For example while the horse is running if the left leg extends out further than the right than they are on the left lead. As we know, this is of great importance in every single event you could do in the horse world, which means it is something we should all know a little more about!
The lead actually starts in the back, but we, as riders tend not to notice this because we are on their backs. As you gain more experience riding you should be able to feel this before you can see it. Footfall for a right lead lope would go as follows: 1. Left hind leg 2. Right hind leg and left front leg simultaneously 3. And lastly the right front leg. Next time you lunge your horse watch for this footfall pattern and listen to the three consistent beats. This can be helpful during training sessions because no matter what speed you are going, western pleasure lope or a full english canter it is all about cadence and a rhythm.
After you have seen what it looks like on the ground, when you go out riding try to feel for the lead every time before looking. If you are a beginner rider try to have someone on the ground helping you figure out if you are on the right or left lead. This is something you need to be able to feel, because whether you are on the rail in a western pleasure class or running around a barrel, you don’t have time to look down and change it; by that time either the judge has noticed or you are now 2 seconds slower than your competitors.
The more we know about how a horse moves and why, the more we can “stay out of their way”. Horse training isn’t about changing how a horse moves, it is about highlighting how well then can move and helping them get there.