You may wonder why any discussion on horseback riding for beginners should include ‘trot diagonals.’ Surely they’re surely too complicated for horseback riding beginners to comprehend?
They’re actually very simple to grasp (honest!) and because trot diagonals are in the same league as canter leads, they’re essential for the beginner rider to learn.
A trotting horse moves his legs in diagonal pairs. One front leg and its opposite hind go forwards together, followed by the other diagonal.
If you haven’t learned how to rise to the trot, you’ll bounce around in the saddle. This is uncomfortable for you and the horse.
Rising to the Trot
In English riding, you learn to rise and lower your seat in and out of the saddle in rhythm to the two-time beat of the trot. Called ‘rising,’ or ‘posting,’ this is easier than sitting to the trot, and also the way to ride a horse in trot when warming him up even at the higher levels.
Posting to the trot relieves the pressure of your weight off the horse’s back and makes it easier for him to move underneath you than if you stay in the saddle.
The Correct Diagonal
As you learn to ride a horse you’ll notice it feels more natural to rise to the trot on a particular diagonal. The temptation is to rise to the same one all the time.
But the horse would develop lopsided muscles in his back, so it’s important to ensure you post to each diagonal equally. The notion of the ‘correct diagonal’ takes care of this.
How to Tell Which is the Correct Diagonal
You should rise out of the saddle when the horse’s outside shoulder is going forwards.
In horseback riding, for beginners it’s acceptable to glance down to see if you’ve got it right when you start to trot. The outside shoulder is the one on the right if you’re riding to the left, and the left shoulder when you’re riding to the right.
If you find yourself on the wrong diagonal, simply sit in the saddle for two beats, instead of one, before rising in the one-two beat again. This will be a little uncomfortable, but lasts less than half a second.
When trail riding, be careful to switch diagonals from time to time even though you won’t have a clearly defined inside and outside shoulder.
Feel free to ask me any questions you may have about diagonals: it can sometimes take a while before it’s clear whether you’re rising to the correct one.