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


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Barbara Ellin Fox TheRidingInstructor
  • Thanls for such a good artical i always had a hard time with my diagonals and know im a horse instructor and that pic really helped me out explain it alot better

  • Posting on the “outside” diagonal is, and should be, for the benefit of the horse, particularly on a circle. When you get out of the saddle as the outside fore is coming forward, you are also getting off of their backs to better allow the inside hind to step in and under their bodies for better balance and support. That is the main reason. The rest is secondary.

  • Good article! I teach foundation training to all levels of riders as I’ve found modern day horse and rider training focuses too much on a particular discipline verses a good solid foundation for both horse and rider. The posting trot on the correct diagonal is one of the first things I have the rider master. I feel it is the best exercise to teach riders how to develop timing and to learn to “feel” their horse. It is an easy gait for the horse, has a “built in” reminder when on the wrong diagonal (why is this such a rough ride?) and is generally a slow enough speed not to over excite the novice rider. Additionally, its a great tool to help riders strengthen their legs and improve their balance. Coupled with riding standing up in the “crouching tiger” position it is excellent for help riders learn to use their legs and quit balancing on the reins. In regards to horses being better one direction to the other, I find a lot of that has to do with the rider. Right hand dominate riders are more comfortable going left and vice versa, subsequently, the rider will spend more time riding in the direction they are most comfortable. My riding sessions always start going to the right! Keep up the good work!

  • For me, teaching the correct diagonal is about balance. Balance for the rider, teaching the rider to balance the horse and an overall balanced picture. Additionally, posting on the correct diagonal helps to teach correct use of the inside/outside legs! Sneaky training aid: If you press with your inside calf muscle just a wee bit more than with your outside calf muscle when beginning the post to trot, you are pressing in a cross diagonal manner which should allow you to pick up the correct diagonal easier.

    We ride out in the open, so teach inside/outside, no rise and fall…. Eeewww. Now, Up/Down is different. And, yes, you are absolutely right… I pay attention to make sure my riders work both sides of the horses equally and teach them to change directions frequently. Thank you for this morning’s lesson!

  • Barbara,

    Love all your articles. Thanks for taking the time.

    I teach the diagonals for the reasons you mentioned above -equal exercising of the horses’s muscles, and so if they decide to go in a show ring,t hey’re correct. However, I teach them to pick up the “correct” diagonal by feel instead of using rise and fall with the shoulder on the wall as I don’t want them looking down to check to see if they are correct. So, I call out “up” right when the inside hind is just about ready (hoof on the toe) to leave the ground. I have them sit and learn the feel at the walk first, and then the feel during a sitting trot. Most students that have not had prior instruction pick the feel up very quickly.

    Kathy Boettcher
    Meadowsweet Ranch

    • Hi boettcherk,
      Thanks for your comment. Helping riders to develop feel for diagonals is really important. In fact any time you can help a rider with feel as opposed to site you’ve given them a little extra depth. Good job. Barbara

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