Have you ever considered the reason behind why you teach trot diagonals? Do you teach it because it was taught to you? Do you teach it as a learning exercise? Maybe you teach it so your equitation students will be correct at horse shows. The are a lot of good reasons to teach trot diagonals.
Rise and Fall- or sit gently
We’ve probably all heard the old adage “Rise and Fall with the one on the wall.” I think I’ve mentioned my personal distaste for this ditty before but before, well, it does paint the picture. It’s important for your equitations students to know that in a horse show they must rise and fall (or sit gently!) with the horse’s shoulder that is closest to the arena fence or indoor wall or they will be marked down.
But why do we do it?
It’s really a mater of consistency and using the outside should as a rule allows for the consistency. Here’s why.
How the Horse Moves
The horse moves in diagonal pairs at the trot. In other words his left fore and right hind work as a team and his right for and left hind work as a team.
When your rider is on the left diagonal the horse is pushing him out of the saddle with his right hind leg. When your rider is on the right diagonal the horse will push him out of the saddle with his left hind leg. The contracting and lengthening of the muscles used during the lifting process is an exercise for the horse. Logic says if we always have students post to the outside shoulder and they make the same number of tours around the arena in each direction, the hindquarters will receive the same amount of work on each side.
The Direction Preference
Have you ever noticed that riders usually have one direction they prefer? They can work the horse into the corners and get bend one direction better than the other? I’ll leave the reason for this as the subject for a different article. However, because they have a favorite direction, left on their own they will likely work the horse in that direction more than toward their unfavored or uncomfortable side.
Likewise the horse usually has a favorite direction, one lead he likes better than the other, one direction he will move off the leg. On his less preferred direction he might counter-bend, drop his shoulder, get heavy on the rider’s inside leg, cut his turns, have a difficult lead. He will be more comfortable to ride in his favorite direction than he will in the other.
Left to their own choice most riders prefer to ride in the more comfortable direction. Consequently the horse is in danger of being worked more in one direction than the other and the stronger side is strengthened. Having a rule like rise and sit gently (okay fall rhymes better)with the one on the wall makes sense.
In the same way that horses favor a lead or direction, they can have a favorite diagonal. If you want to determine whether a horse has a favorite, ask for a trot on a loose rein and begin trotting whenever you feel comfortable. Then take a peek down at the shoulder to see which you’re posting with. Try it several times in a row. If the horse throws you more frequently onto one diagonal you can probably consider it his favorite.
Sometimes It’s Physical
There are times some horses prefer a particular diagonal so strongly that they will try to force the rider to post to it. The horse take a quick step to make the rider change. If you discover that one of your horses is constantly putting a student on the wrong diagonal or if you get on the horse yourself and can feel him try to shift you, there is a good possibility that your horse has a physical problem. He may be shifting you because his back is sore or he may have a hindlimb lameness. If this is the situation with one of your horses consult your veterinarian. You may need to seek a recommendation for an equine chiropractor or massage therapist to help relieve his pain. Follow treatment up with a logical conditioning program for the horse’s hind legs.
For More on Trot Diagonals
Check out Sharpen Your Eye for Trot Diagonals
Why do you teach trot diagonals? Share your ideas with us in the comments.
Thanks for joining me at The Riding Instructor
Barbara Ellin Fox