How to Post the Correct Diagonal in Trot
“Change your diagonal! Check your posting!”
Hang around a riding school long enough, and it will become clear pretty quickly that trot posting diagonals are really important. Yet it can be tricky to post on the correct diagonal consistently if you don’t know what you’re looking for…
So, what exactly is a posting diagonal? And why does knowing how to post on the correct diagonal even matter?
We’ll demystify the diagonal and break down what you need to know about the trot, why we bother to post the trot in the first place, what exactly a diagonal means, and how to post on the correct one.
But first, a quick trot refresher.
The trot is a two-beat diagonal gait in which its legs move in pairs, with one diagonal pair of legs extended forward at the same time. This gait is seen in all breeds and sizes of horses and disciplines, from ponies to draft horses, dressage to carriage horses.
Being a two-beat gait, the trot can be bouncy to ride. Posting makes for a more comfortable riding experience (until you’ve mastered the sitting trot), but you don’t need to post the trot. If you want some helpful tips for how to post the trot, read our article here!
The trot comes with two basic variations: collected or extended. In dressage you’ll also encounter the medium trot and working trot, which involve varying degrees of collection or extension.
The collected trot is a shortened stride, with the horse's head tucked in and its back becoming more rounded as the stride gets shorter. The tempo is quickened, and posts during the collected trot may feel like they’re shorter apart as the tempo changes.
The collected trot requires the rider to keep steady contact with the horse’s mouth through their hands, as well as pushing their pelvis back and down to stay secure in their seat while using the legs as needed to keep the horse move forward.
Collecting the trot helps increase suppleness in the horse’s back muscles as well as providing more engagement from its hind end - which will improve all your gait transitions.
The extended trot is when the horse lengthens its stride, stretching out through its neck and body while still maintaining an even rhythm. The extended trot offers more power and covers more ground than the collected trot.
To move into the extended trot, shift your weight slightly forward while simultaneously asking him to extend his stride by bringing his nose out slightly in front of the vertical while applying gentle leg pressure.
The extended trot is good for loosening the horse’s leg muscles and getting some cardio, too.
Why Does Posting Matter?
Posting helps create a more comfortable ride for both you and the horse by reducing tension in his back due to added weight from excess bouncing in your seat bones. Posting also helps riders strengthen leg muscles and learn how to properly use their seat to coordinate with the horse’s movement.
How to Post
Posting works “with” the natural bounce of the horse’s 2-beat trot by allowing the energy of the gait to “push” the rider out of the saddle with the first stride, then allowing the rider to (gently!) return to the saddle on the second stride.
When posting, the rider's legs and ankle joints act as shock absorbers, while keeping the upper body still and quiet so that they don't interfere with the horse’s natural movement.
A common fault is for the rider to “force” herself straight up and out of the saddle, which often results in a bit of a ‘crash landing’ on the way back. Instead, allow the natural propulsion of the horse’s stride to push you just up and forward of the saddle (instead of straight up and down).
Then, use your knees and thigh muscles to control your descent back into the saddle, landing as gently as possible on the horse’s back.
What’s a Posting Diagonal?
A diagonal is determined by which pair of the horse’s legs are moving forward when the rider rises out of the saddle, as determined by the foreleg. The “outside diagonal” is when the horse’s outside foreleg (and inside hind leg) are moving forward. The “inside diagonal” is when the horse’s inside foreleg (and outside hind leg) are moving forward.
When riding circles or in a ring, the correct diagonal is for the rider to be “on the outside diagonal” - to rise as the outside front leg is moving forward, and for the rider to sit when the horse’s inside foreleg and outside hindleg are moving forward.
Posting on the correct diagonal is important because it helps riders balance themselves over the horse's back. As the horse bends through a turn, the muscles on the inside of his ribcage and back contract while those on the outside of his body stretch, and the inside hind leg takes more weight as the outside leg takes a longer stride. Rising out of the saddle just before this happens allows the horse to stretch his rib and back muscles, less encumbered by the rider’s weight.
How to Tell if You’re on the Correct Posting Diagonal
The correct diagonal depends on the direction you’re traveling (or, specifically, circling). The correct post is to move up and out of the saddle as the outside front leg and inside hind leg move forward.
There are 2 basic ways to tell if you’re on the correct diagonal (and no, your coach yelling at you isn’t one of them!): by look and by feel.
The easiest way is to take a quick glance down (without tipping your head forward) and check the movement of his shoulders. You should be posting upwards as the outside shoulder blade moves forward, and returning to the saddle when the inside shoulder blade is moving forward.
A quick way to remember this is “up and out” - you go up (post) with the outside shoulder.
If you want some extra help, you can use two different-colored pairs of polo wraps, one on each diagonal. You'll follow one color when you're tracking left, and the other when you're tracking right.
If you’re posting on the wrong diagonal, you’ll also notice the trot is bouncier than usual, because your body is working against the horse’s natural muscle flexion.
Which brings us to the other (and best) way to tell if you’re on the correct diagonal - feel.
Eventually, you’ll begin to feel a noticeable difference between the correct diagonal and the wrong one. The correct diagonal just feels better - smoother, less jagged and bouncy, and not like your body is “fighting” your horse.
Getting the correct trot posting diagonal every time isn’t something that comes easily - even the most experienced riders can lose focus and find themselves on the wrong diagonal from time to time.
But if you give yourself time to develop a feel for the difference of the correct vs incorrect diagonal (and back it up with a quick ‘shoulder check’ to visually confirm the diagonal you’re on), you’ll be nailing your posting trot before you know it!