There you are, happily trotting around the arena, delighted at the fact that you can ‘post’ correctly; until someone goes and bursts your bubble by pointing out that you are on the wrong diagonal… “Sit for two” they shout your way… And you’re thinking ‘Come again?’!
Being on the correct diagonal is to do with rising or posting to the trot. We know that when our horse trots, his legs move in diagonal pairs, the front inside with the back outside and the front outside with the back inside. This way of travelling, in the diagonal pairs, is what creates the two-time beat that we experience in trot. The 1,2,1,2,1,2… or, when we rise or post to the trot, the up, down, up, down, up, down.
Posting or rising on the correct diagonal in trot is when you are sitting or down when your horse’s outside shoulder (and inside hind leg) are on the ground. This means that you are rising or posting when the same outside shoulder and inside hind leg and moving forward.
There is a well-known ‘rhyme’ to help riders remember which diagonal pair is the correct one to post that goes ‘Rise and fall to the leg by the wall’. This pertains to the front leg closest to the wall, or the outside shoulder, which when we are first being introduced to a diagonal, is the easiest way to establish if you are correct or incorrect.
However, the reason we ride on one diagonal or the other has actually little to do with the outside front leg, or shoulder, and more to do with the inside hind leg, the other half of the diagonal pair to the outside front leg, which is creating the energy and impulsion in the trot.
As the inside hind leg comes onto the ground, your horse is at the point where he is most balanced. Your being ‘down’ at this point will help to maintain this balance, particularly around turns, bends and circles. The other consideration or factor with riding the correct diagonal is that you are equally conditioning or working your horse’s back and hind end.
As your horse trots, his hind legs are constantly pushing him forward. If you were to always ‘sit’ or be in the ‘down’ part of your rising trot on the same hind leg, that constant one sidedness would begin to show itself over time in a lack of suppleness through your horse’s back.
Therefore, while you are in an arena or an enclosed space and assuming you are working your horse equally on both sides, you can use the wall or fence as your ‘outside’ reference. However, as soon as you leave the arena and perhaps are on the trail or the road, your outside and inside may not change for long periods, if ever, so it is important that you are consistently changing your diagonal periodically throughout the ride.
Learning to feel which diagonal you are on at any given time takes consistent effort and focus on your part. You should aim to eventually be able to literally feel which diagonal you are riding on and I will explain more about that later in the post, but initially I recommend using your eyes to make sure you are indeed riding on the correct diagonal.
I suggest beginning in walk where you can learn to distinguish, using a glance of your eyes, where your horse’s outside shoulder is at any given time. The term glance is an important one here, because if we begin to lean or even tilt our head down to see what is going on with the shoulder, it changes our weight in the saddle, which will in turn, unbalance our horse.
So, while you are walking, glance down at the outside shoulder and notice it going back and forward. Now, while most people recommend noticing the forward and coupling this with your ‘rise’ or ‘post’, I have found it far easier to rather notice the ‘back’ part of your horse’s stride and couple this with the ‘down’ or ‘sit’ part of your rising trot.
While in the walk practice your posting or rising to correlate or synchronize with your horse’s outside shoulder position in every stride. It also helps to say it out loud; “back, back, back, back” and again, match this with your ‘down’ action.
From here you can begin to pick up working trot. However, this time, before you give any notice to your horse’s shoulder, I recommend you say “back” each time you are down or sitting as you are going through the motions of your posting or rising to the trot. Saying it out loud, will help as well. Once you have been repeating this for a few strides, where it becomes almost like a rhythmical mantra of sorts, you can then begin to glance down and see where your horse’s shoulder is.
The reason I suggest repeating your new ‘back, back, back” mantra out loud is that you may find it difficult to keep paying attention to what you are doing, while also figuring out where your horse’s shoulder is! It all happens quite fast when actually working through this.
So, while you are repeating “Back” each time you sit, you can begin to see if this does indeed align with your horse’s shoulder being back at the same time. If it does, fantastic, you are on the correct diagonal.
However, if you see that you are rising on the incorrect diagonal, you can simply sit for two, meaning that as you are going up, down, up, down, up, down with the trot, you will put two downs in there. Your sequence will be up, down, up, down, down, up down, up, down. By sitting for two beats, or indeed any even number (four, six, eight etc) you will swap your diagonal and when you go ‘up’ again, it will be on the opposite diagonal.
Once you are able to tell which diagonal you are on with just a quick glance, you can begin to develop your ability to feel the correct diagonal. Again, you can begin in walk and notice your hips moving backwards and forwards firstly, but then also notice the up and down motion that is happening as well. This up and down motion is happening as your horse is moving his hips, which in turn are moving your hips. Of course, his hips are moving because his hind legs are moving.
Once you can feel this movement in the walk, you can begin working in sitting trot. Many riders think of sitting trot as being a purely up and down movement, however, when you begin to focus your attention on your hips and what they are doing as you ride the sitting trot, you will feel that at each ‘bounce’ one of your hips will be higher than the other one. The next bounce will produce the same result, but on the opposite side.
This is the diagonal pairs of your horse’s legs in the trot moving underneath you. You need to begin to isolate what your outside hip is doing, and when it is up, you can begin to rise at that point in the trot. This will be the posting part of your trot; you will rise as your horse’s inside hind leg is moving forward underneath you and as his outside shoulder is moving forward. You will then ‘sit’ as your horse’s inside hind leg and outside shoulder are on the ground and your horse’s body is moving over them.
When we are rising or posting on the correct diagonal, not only is our horse more balanced on turns and circles, but as that inside hind leg moves up and forward, you are rising along with it out of the saddle, and so freeing up some ‘space’ for your horse to move into if necessary.
As riders, we want to give our horse instructions, or aids as we call them, when they will be most effective for our horse to take action on. How our horse engages or uses his inside hind leg is one of the biggest factors in the quality of the gaits our horse produces, the balance, rhythm, tempo and just overall performance, so knowing where your horse’s hind legs are at any given time, regardless of the gait you are in, is always a bonus.
Instantly improve your half half