Landing on the correct diagonal can be hit and miss for many riders. Let’s face it, there’s a chance you’ll get it right 50% of the time! And while most riders are pretty well versed on their diagonals in the trot… It’s ‘feeling’ the diagonal that causes confusion.
Trotting has a two-time beat. The 1,2,1,2,1,2,1,2,1,2 that you experience and feel when you’re in the saddle. If you do sitting trot, it will result in a sit,sit,sit,sit,sit,sit,sit,sit rhythm. However, most riders can ‘tire’ a little when it comes to riding a constant sitting trot! And so, we learn to post or rise in the trot.
The 1,2,1,2,1,2 is matched with an up,down,up,down,up,down of the riders backside. The rhythm of up-downs and the rhythm of the trot are a perfect match.
The Correct Diagonal
The reason your horse creates the 1,2, rhythm in the trot is because of how he moves his legs while he is trotting. The right-back foot moves with the front left foot. This is the ‘1’ part of the rhythm. Then the left-back foot moves with the right front foot. This is the ‘2’ part of the rhythm.
The trot is very ‘even’ with regards to what is moving where… This is also the reason it can be hard to ‘feel’ what diagonal you are on at any given point!
The correct diagonal is when you are moving with the inside hind leg – and, by association, outside front leg – of your horse. There is a little rhyme, ‘rise and fall with the shoulder by the wall’. That about sums it up. As your horse’s outside shoulder is forward, you want to be ‘up’. As this shoulder moves back, you want to be down.
I have a post and an episode HERE about how to identify the correct diagonal through sight and voice…
Up/Down versus Forward/Back
So, part of the confusion is the ‘up – downs’ we all learn when we start rising or posting to the trot. Because we learn up and down, we tend to think of the trot as being ‘up and down’. It’s not. It’s actually ‘forward and back, with a little up and down thrown in for good measure!
Your horse’s legs move forward when he trots. They appear to move ‘back again’ in the second part of the stride, but this is actually just his body moving over the previously just moved forward limbs. This is important to learn how to feel your diagonal.
As you ride sitting trot, notice how the movement is less ‘up and down’ and more ‘forward and back’. From here, notice how your seat bones are actually moving independently of each other.
Your left seat bone will move forward and dip slightly down as your horse’s left back leg moves forward. This will coincide with your horse’s right shoulder moving forward. As this happens, your right seat bone will move ‘back’ while also coming up a little. This is as you and your horse’s body moves over his right hind foot on the ground.
It’s a little like imagining the pedals of a bicycle peddling backward. As one goes down and forward, the other comes up and back.
It is a quick movement and one that is easily missed – especially if we are only allowing ourselves to think in terms of ‘up and down’ when we think of trotting.
Start in Sitting Trot
I am going to suggest starting in sitting trot and using what you can see to guide you initially. You can glance at your horse’s shoulder. Pay attention to the outside one. Let’s for the sake of this example, say that you are riding anticlockwise around the arena. On the ‘left rein’. Your horse’s outside shoulder is his right shoulder in this example.
Practice glancing down and being able to identify when the shoulder is moving and where it is moving to.
From here, begin to build a relationship in your head between what that shoulder is doing, and what it means the diagonal back leg is doing in the trot. In this case, it is the left back leg. When your horse’s outside (right) shoulder is forward, it means that his inside (left) hind leg is also moving forward. The same for when it is back.
From here, begin noticing how this feels in your body. Can you feel the slight ‘dip’ of your inside (left) seat bone? How about the slight forward swing of your inside (left) seat bone? And what about your upper body? Can you feel any difference there as your horse moves this diagonal pair you are focusing on in the trot? Play with this for a while. Change diagonal often and look for the differences.
Learning how to feel what is happening underneath you in the trot takes time. It won’t happen if you won’t commit the time to learn!
Test Yourself Often
Once you feel that you can, indeed, tell what is moving where test this theory. Feel into it. Identify the correct diagonal pair that you want to move with. Once you think you have identified the pair, begin ‘moving with’ it.
Moving with the correct diagonal pair simply means rising and falling in time to the movement of those legs.
As the two legs on your chosen diagonal pair move forward, you move forward. You rise or post. And, as they begin moving back, you do too in that you ’sit’ or ride the ‘down’ part of your rising trot. Remember, your horse’s legs don’t actually move backward, it is simply you and your horse moving over the legs as you travel forward.
The final part is glancing down to the outside shoulder and seeing if you chose correctly.
Mastering Your Diagonal
Choosing the correct diagonal every single time can seem daunting at first. However, the good news is that it’s one of those things in horse riding that is hard until it’s not!
Meaning, once this ‘clicks’ for you, you will wonder how you could not feel this before.
If you want step-by-step audio training to listen to as you learn to master this skill, join Connection; the online membership for equestrians. In there you can get the Diagonal audio horse riding lessons. And a whole lot more training, coaching, and riding plans to use with your horse.
- The Correct Diagonal in Trot
- 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
- FREE Download:- 1 Exercise Multiple Ways
- The Daily Strides Podcast on iTunes
- The Daily Strides Podcast on Stitcher Radio
- Join Connection Today
- Online Community for Equestrian focusing on Planning and Mindset
- Lunging for Riding