One exercise that really stands out for me in the prep work for lead changes is the Hip In exercise or yielding the hindquarters. Most western or reining trainers say that 2-tracking at the lope (Clinton calls it his Cigar exercise) and counter cantering are the most important and I agree too.
What made a big improvement for me was the Hip-In exercise. The Hip-In exercise is like 2-tracking only you stay in the body shape or position that you are currently in, with only the hip moving to the inside. It's yielding the hindquarters in whatever you are doing.
This allows the horse to take that lead properly when departing. It also helps with lead changes. It has been known to slow a horse down a bit when you put the hind end on a different track than the front.
Lead changes today
Lead changes in reining are so smooth and appear effortless. It's simply a matter of switching your leg cues from the current leg to the other, kissing and then the horse changes. As an NRHA/ORHA scribe (judge's assistant), we have to really look to see if the horse has changed- it's that smooth - the horse hardly has any telltale signs like head raising, or exaggerated hip movement.
1. Yield Hindquarters from a stand still.
2. Yield Hindquarters from a walk, trot, and then lope.
3. Hip-In at the lope in a circle.
Asking the horse to do a hip-in of the opposite side, while loping, is a lead change.
What made the difference for me is learning how to gauge how much pressure I needed to use to push the hip in the direction I needed it to go in order to do the hip-in exercise well. I learned just how much movement of the hip I needed to get in order to get a good lead change.
It was a lot more than I expected. I have short legs and being a short person, I don't have as much strength in my legs as the average sized person does. So the hip-in exercise was very good in teaching me that I needed to use a lot more spur pressure to cue the hip for the change.
I want better, quiet, calm, effortless, sweet lead changes and so I needed to be able to move that hip over more than I used too. I tended to clear the shoulders out of the way more than move the hip over. Time to change.
Putting my spin on yielding the hind quarters for lead changes.