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?’!
What is the Diagonal in the Trot?
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.
Your horses way of travelling, in 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. It 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.
So, Why Worry About Which Diagonal You’re On?
Remembering which diagonal is the correct one is important. However, understanding the reason you ride on one diagonal or the other will help you move forward in your riding training.
It actually has little to do with the outside front leg, or shoulder. It has 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 your horses inside hind leg comes onto the ground, this is 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.
Using Diagonals to Help with Equal Development
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, there is no ‘outside’ or ‘inside’. When posting to the trot along a long straight road, it can be easy to forget about diagonals. This can potentially be an issue for your horse. This is because your outside and inside may not change for long periods, if ever.
Therefore it is important that you are consistently changing your diagonal periodically throughout the ride.
Learning to Feel which Diagonal You Are On
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 at any given stride. I will explain more about that later in this post.
However, initially I recommend using your eyes to make sure you are indeed riding on the correct diagonal. Seeing is much easier than feeling initially. And you can use your sight to ‘train’ your feel over time.
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/ This is 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. This will, in turn, unbalance our horse.
So, while you are walking, glance down at the outside shoulder and notice it going back and forward. Many instructors will recommend noticing the forward and coupling this with your ‘rise’ or ‘post’.
In my experience it is far easier for you as a rider to notice the ‘back’ part of your horse’s stride. Once you have that pinpointed, you simply couple this with the ‘down’ or ‘sit’ part of your rising trot.
While in the walk practice your posting or rising to correlate or synchronise 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.
Putting This into Practice in the Trot Itself
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.
Changing Your Diagonal
However, if you see that you are rising on the incorrect diagonal, you can simply sit for two. This means 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.
Developing Your ‘Feel’ For Your 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, I am going to suggest beginning in the walk.
First notice how your seat bones move backwards and forwards. It can initially feel like they are moving together, but try to isolate this a little more; they are actually moving individually.
Then begin to take notice of how they move up and down as well. For example, as your left seat bone moves forward, it will have ‘dipped’ lower than your right seat bone. As this is happening, your right seat bone will also be on the move. It will be moving backwards, and will be higher than your other seat bone.
This backwards, forward, up and down feeling you are noticing is happening because your horse is moving. His hips are moving your hips and seat bones. What is important is to recognise that his hips are moving, because his hind legs are moving.
Therefore, if you start to become mindful of how your seat bones are moving and where they are moving to, you will know exactly what is happening with your horses legs.
Feeling the Movement in the Sitting Trot
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, this will change 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’ (beat one) of the trot stride, one of your hips will be higher than the other one. The next bounce (beat two) will produce the same result, but on the opposite side.
This is caused by the diagonal pairs of your horse’s legs in the trot moving underneath you. From here, you can begin to isolate what your outside hip is doing. 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 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.
The Correct Diagonal Impacts Your Horses Development
As mentioned, when you are riding on the correct diagonal, your horse more balanced on turns and circles. However, the correct diagonal will also affect your horses way of ‘going’.
When on the correct diagonal, as his inside hind leg moves up and forward, you are rising along with it out of the saddle. This literally frees up more ‘space’ for your horses inside hind leg to move into.
The more developed both you and your horse become, the greater the importance of this ‘space’. As riders, we want to give our horse instructions, aids, 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. Therefore knowing where your horse’s hind legs are at any given time, regardless of the gait you are in, will help you to begin timing the application of your aids more effectively.
Developing Your Ability to Ride the Correct Diagonal in Trot
Effective application of aids and timing of aids leads to clearer communication between horse and rider. It has a direct impact on the overall quality of the conversation in the saddle.
Therefore it makes sense to take the time to begin learning what is moving when underneath you; and then implementing that in your day-to-day riding.
Links to related content & freebies:-
- Free Live Training THE 6 BASICS TO FOCUS ON AS A NOVICE RIDER
- Conscious Transitions Between Walk & Trot
- Rising or Posting in Trot
- 3 Mistakes Riders Makes when Riding the Sitting Trot
- Avoiding the Trampoline Effect in the Sitting Trot
- The Daily Strides Podcast on iTunes
- The Daily Strides Podcast on Stitcher Radio
- Register for free upcoming live ‘Groundwork’ training
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