The Importance of Posting on the Correct Diagonal

Hi Julie,
Try to settle this discussion - please! Is posting on the correct "diagonal" only important in English riding? I always thought it was about the horse's balance in a bend....some say it's just not a "western thing"...and will post in a western saddle, but not with any regard for the diagonal???


You are correct that posting on a specific diagonal pair at the trot has to do with the horse’s balance and also his work load; it doesn’t have much to do with English vs. western. Any rider that is interested in the balance and conditioning of their horse would want to know and use their diagonals correctly.

Since Western riders don’t usually post during competition, many might consider it unimportant. But when you are riding the long trot, whether English or western, it is easier for the rider to post and more comfortable for the horse too. If you are posting at the trot frequently, it is beneficial for your horse that you have awareness and understanding of which diagonal to post on.

The trot is a two-beat, diagonal gait; meaning that the feet hit the ground in diagonal pairs—the right hind and left fore hit the ground at the same time and the left hind and right fore hit together, thus creating diagonal pairs. Since the horse drives himself forward from behind, it is really the hind legs that are doing most of the work pushing into the stride and pushing the rider up and out of the saddle when she posts. Although riders commonly check which diagonal pair they are posting on by looking at the outside fore leg ("rise and fall with the leg on the wall"), it is really the hind legs that matter. There are two reasons for paying attention to which diagonal you are posting on; one has to do with turning, the other has to do with conditioning.

When you bring the horse onto a turn, the inside of the horse shortens and the outside lengthens as he bends or arcs his body in the turn. Try this little experiment yourself—walk in a tiny circle (just a few inches across) and notice that your inside leg is taking a very small step and your outside leg is reaching much farther to get around the outside of the circle. This is a magnified view of what happens when your horse trots on a turn. The inside hind leg bears more weight and the outside takes a bigger step. When you are posting on the correct diagonal for a turn, you are rising as his inside hind leg comes forward, to take a little weight off of the leg that is already bearing more weight.

The other time that your posting diagonals matter is if you are going a long distance at the trot. Even if you are going in a straight line, the beat you are sitting on is working harder than the one you are rising on (either he is lifting your weight or you are lifting it). So if you were trotting ten miles in a straight line, you would want to alternate which diagonal you posted on so that you worked both hind legs equally. For instance, you might trot for a mile on one diagonal and then switch for the next mile. This way, both the horse’s hind legs are getting an equal workout.

The rider is said to be on the correct diagonal when she rises with the outside fore leg. Although most people are accustomed to looking down at the horse’s shoulders to see which diagonal they are on, it is much better when the rider learns to feels the correct diagonal—and it's not that hard! If you can sit the trot well, you should be able to feel a lateral movement (right-left) in your hips, in additional to the vertical movement (up and down). As you feel your hips shift right and left at the trot, what you are feeling is his hind legs—when he pushes off with his right hind, his right hip lifts and so does yours (and visa versa).

To be technically correct, you should always begin posting on the correct diagonal—not just start posting then check if you are correct by looking down. Sit the trot for a few beats, however long it takes you to feel it, and then rise into the post when you feel your outside hip lift. It will take some concentration and coordination at first, but with a lot of practice it will become second nature. Learning to feel your diagonals instead of looking will raise your horsemanship to a higher level and develop your sense of feel of how the horse moves. Eventually you will know when you are on the wrong diagonal because it will feel out of balance.

There are many skills and manoeuvres that people tend to classify as either western or English. But the truth is horses are horses—their balance is the same, the way they move and the way in which the rider uses the aids for cueing are the same. The appearance of your clothes and your tack doesn’t really change that.

Good question! Thanks.

Julie Goodnight, Clinician and Trainer, Horse Master with Julie Goodnight TV Host

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Comment by Jackie Cochran on September 23, 2010 at 4:33pm
I use the diagonals in my canter departs. When I post on the outside "correct" diagonal, I give the outer leg aid when I sit down. Does it work all the time? Of course not. But it does work more often than any other canter depart aid I've used.
Do I have a half baked theory to "explain" this--I sure do, one I worked out by myself. This does not mean it is any better or any worse than anyone else's half-baked theories, its just what works for me.
Great discussion people.
Comment by Barbara F. on September 23, 2010 at 3:54pm
Hi Eva,
I'm not sure if you were replying entirely to me, but just to relate the trot diagonals to the canter depart, whether I use my leg, my seat, my voice or the slightest shift in my weight to go from trot to canter, I "know" when to ask. It came from first being able to feel the trot diagonal. Now it is instinctive. Even when I am lunging, there is a moment when I know to ask, and it does relate to the trot sequence.
Comment by EvaZ on September 17, 2010 at 3:44pm
Regardless canter depart, I have another thought. As a former vaulting instructor, I used to get a horse into a canter by either a click of my fingers, or lift of my whip. I never timed these signals with a particular phase of a hind leg, and yet ... the horse departed sooner than I was able to open my fist, or lower the tip of my whip. The theory, that timing of the aid is critical for a certain move, does not withstand testing in other situations, and therefore must be considered as a perception only.

I have another theory, why the posting on the correct leg became a mainstream requirement. How about a colonel, who once wanted to come up with a way, how to help students to get into a correct rhytm faster? And so, he started to make pupils to watch the front legs? Could it be a better explanation?
Comment by EvaZ on September 17, 2010 at 3:00pm
Lets stop to think about that. In a regular rhytm of a trot, it take about half a second for a hind leg to complete its cycle. Am I supposed to believe, that we actually time our aid with the beginning of that cycle, which may last something in the proximity of 1/4 - 1/8 of a second, and posting is supposed to train me for it? Would'n it surprise the horse? Aren't we supposed to NOT surprise the horse with anything, really? Given the fact, that an untrained horse needs more than just one signal to depart to canter, I have a serious doubt, that you actually correctly time your aid with that 1/4 of a second in the particular phase.

Of course, later on, all is needed for a canter depart is sometimes like a move of a feather, regardless if we post, sit, stand, or even lay flat on top of the horse. It is because the horse's brain dictates the canter, not the leg. The leg is not magically connected with a string to our particular leg, the brain is. We just don't realize it, a we think we have strings on our heels magically connected to a particular part of the body. It is an illusion, artificially propagated through unproven riding theories.
Comment by Barbara F. on September 17, 2010 at 9:56am
Feeling the correct diagonal is essential for also feeling when to give the canter aid. I don't know the mechanics behind it, but it just works.
Comment by EvaZ on September 16, 2010 at 11:41am
That may as well be a working explanation. However, I might argue, that the lower leg should be independent of the body all the time, and one does not become an effective rider, if s/he cannot give single leg aid no matter where the rest of the body is. I came from the show jumping ring, and I have no problem to lead a horse on the course with my legs, even doing sidesteps, while standing in the stirrups. A have no problem posting and give lateral leg aid no matter where I am in the posting sequence. That's because the posting is done from the knee up, not from the foot up.

Since I am NOT even schooled by the need for continuous leg aid, as it is so common today, and only give leg aid when needed, I have even great deal of the doubt about timing leg with a super fast moves of the legs. I give leg aids based on what the front of the horse is telling me. And if I get nice-fast response, it is not because I have this super-natural ability of timing my leg with a hindleg, but because of all together, I have done during the training, including a proper mental preparation of that animal for upcoming change. As time goes by, the preparation phase gets shorter and shorter and shorter, the signals become quieter and quieter, until there is almost no preparation at all and the signals are invisible, who cares where the hindleg is :-)

A just make it very simple for me, because over time I have found out, that if I plug my head with unproven theories and myths (and boy, the equestrian world is very rich in this aspect), I will never be anything more, but a confused dude, who will just never see a tree through the forest. And how on Earth the horse should ever understand me, if I am full of quazi-scientific believes :-)?
Comment by 4XChestnut on September 15, 2010 at 11:19pm
Interestingly enough in the dressage rulebook there is no mention of "correct" posting diagonal. In dressage work we want to influence the inside hind leg much of the time and therefore must either apply our inside leg as we rise, or post on the "wrong" diagonal as the only time we can influence a specific leg is when that leg is non-weight bearing. Higher level work is done at sitting trot and so there's no concern about ability to apply leg aids at the correct moment.

I suspect that the tradition of "correct" diagonal comes from a need to teach riders the difference and keep the school horses who teach them from becoming too one-sided. Students always want to know "why" something is done, and no doubt someone came up with the idea of getting the weight off the inside hind leg to allow it to swing up more easily and things just carried on from there.
Comment by EvaZ on September 15, 2010 at 2:17pm
By the same logic, we should actually stand in the stirrups during counter-canter. Yet we don't. It is no-issue for english riders to sit fully in both types of canter. Why? Why do we suddenly overlook the hindlegs, and the difficult turns in the counter-canter and posting is only justified in trot? Could it be, that the whole thing is just a tradition with no solid scientific base? We simply made up theories to explain something, that has no logical explanation. The horse world is full of these, repeated long enough, until all became truth. Revisiting it is what I suggest.
Comment by EvaZ on September 15, 2010 at 2:09pm
From the physics perspective, it is not correct to say, that we are taking any weight of the horse anywhere on his body. By posting, we are not lifting any weight, the God does not take it away to the sky. The weight is weight, does not matter if standing in the stirrup, or sitting in the saddle. The horse feels no difference at all in the amount of weight he carries, and certainly not in the hindlegs.

What the horse might feel is a slight change in the position of our center of gravity. The difference is small, it has little to no effect on the locomotion. The shift of the CG might be in the proximity of 4 cm, which is miniscule compared to the kinectics of the CG of the horse.

In the absence of scientific evidence, one must look in other directions, why posting on a correct leg became so important for english riders. One of them is tradition, another might be a synchronization of many riders in the parade, another might be relieve of horse shoulder muscles during long trots if the rider has a habit to land in the saddle heavily during posting. The later also presumes, that one saddles horse incorrectly.
Comment by Janet B on September 12, 2010 at 9:20pm
Good clarification. Thanks for the review.

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